For my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972, I'll use as my starting-point something that Ambrose says on page 140:
his life, Nixon revealed what he wanted to reveal, and hid what he
wanted to hide. The staff had hit on the best way to present their man,
but he was still the same old Nixon. Newspaper reporters' indignation
to the contrary notwithstanding, the Nixon campaign of 1968 was
brilliantly conceived and executed. It was geared specifically to
Richard Nixon's strengths and weaknesses, it was well thought out, it
had nuances too detailed to go into here, and it was successful."
Nixon as a Presidential candidate in 1960 campaigned in all fifty
states. He was even campaigning in Alaska on the weekend before
Election Day! Nixon was exhausted in the 1960 campaign, and, according
to a number of analysts, that showed.
But Nixon's adviser H.R.
Haldeman advocated a different approach for 1968. Ambrose summarizes
Haldeman's proposal as follows, on page 138:
"The right way,
Haldeman wrote, was to use television to the maximum while keeping
direct voter and reporter contacts to a minimum. One minute on the
network evening news would reach more people than three months of
barnstorming. Nixon would have to make only one speech a day to provide
the necessary footage."
Essentially, Nixon would answer questions
within a townhall sort of format, for which panelists would be
recruited from the community. Panelists who were critical of Nixon were
included, since Nixon often shone when he was answering hostile
questioners, "assuming", Ambrose narrates, "that the questioner did not
know many details and in any case had no chance to follow up" (page
139). The meeting would be edited for five-minute TV segments, and so
Nixon could relax, knowing that "the embarrassing or awkward moments"
would be edited out (Ambrose on page 139).
There was a scene about Nixon's use of this townhall format in Oliver Stone's Nixon.
Nixon was being grilled by an African-American, who was accusing Nixon
of creating divisions in the country. Haldeman in the movie was upset
that someone let that questioner in! But Nixon managed to artfully
circumnavigate the question. I can't find the scene on YouTube, but
part of it is in the movie's trailer (see here), starting at 1:36.
And John Bircher Gary Allen talked about this townhall format in Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask, saying that Nixon often gave the same stock, generalized answers to the same stock, generalized questions.
Ambrose says about the 1968 campaign stood out to me because it made me
think about the topic of hard work. Hard work is not always a good
thing. Don't get me wrong----Nixon was not lazy, even when it came to
the 1968 Presidential election. Nixon spent the years between 1962 and
1968 meeting with foreign leaders and learning about the world, such
that, according to Ambrose, Nixon had more knowledge and understanding
in 1968 than he did in 1960. But Nixon in 1968 did not over-exert
himself, for over-exertion did not serve him that well in 1960. My
impression from Ambrose is that Nixon's campaign in 1968 was more
The key, I think, is to work hard, but to do work that is
necessary, and to allow for some relaxation so that one can be fresh
and maybe come up with original ideas. On a related note, see Sam Tee's
post on hard work here.
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