Thursday, October 11, 2012

1968: Richard Nixon

Sam Phillips
Poli Sci

After President Lyndon Baines Johnson decided against seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1968, his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, received the Party's nomination after a contentious primary centered on the Vietnam War that culminated in large protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Vice President Humphrey would face Republican former Vice President Richard Nixon, who had lost the 1960 Presidential election to John F. Kennedy, as well as Alabama Governor George Wallace, running on the American Independent ticket. Though the third party, segregationist, Wallace did gain some foothold around the country, his vice presidential pick of Curtis Lemay, an atomic bomb friendly air force official left many worried about his foreign policy qualifications, and therefore he did not garner enough votes to make significant inroads outside the deep south. Hubert Humphrey ended up close to Nixon in the popular vote, he was unable to shake his connections to Johnson's administration. Nixon ended up winning the electoral college 301 to Humphrey's 191 to Wallace's 45, winning the popular vote 43.4% to Humphrey's 42.7% to Wallace's 13.5%. 

Though he lived two millennia ago, the campaign tactics of Cicero are still widely studied and discussed as the tenets of successful campaigning today. Though Cicero wrote of many strategies to gain popularity, one in particular stands out as a particularly meaningful tip in the election of 1968-to come across as a traditionalist and connect with people. In an election dominated by foreign policy and strategies for Vietnam, the largest issue on the homefront was that of the proliferation of protests by college students, African Americans, women, and other groups fighting for civil rights, gender equality, and an end to the war in Vietnam. The chief goal of the various candidates was to come across as a law and order candidate that stood up for ordinary Americans that were not protesting. Nixon named these average people in his nomination speech, "It is another voice, it is a quiet voice in the tumult of the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans, the non shouters, the non demonstrators. They’re not racists or sick; they’re not guilty of the crime that plagues the land; they are black, they are white; they’re native born and foreign born; they’re young and they’re old." George Wallace ran as an even tougher law and order candidate and was known for his frequent tirades against hippies and his reverence for the working class. Democrat Hubert Humphrey also tried to shake his party's image as the party of protesters and students in a campaign ad entitled "Law and Order Democrat." All three candidates followed Cicero's advice in putting on the face of a traditionalist; however, Humphrey could not do this convincingly enough, and Wallace's support was too regional to prevent Nixon from winning the election. 

Richard Nixon was not considered a great campaigner due to his image, as was on display in his run against John F. Kennedy, and it was largely circumstances that allowed Nixon to be elected. Hubert Humphrey was an extremely weak candidate, even inside his own party. It took all the political clout of Lyndon Johnson to get Humphrey nominated over Eugene McCarthy, the more popular choice. Therefore, expectations were low for Humphrey due to the relatively little enthusiasm amongst his own party. On the other hand, George Wallace fired up crowds with his blunt nature, but had a message tailored for the deep south. Even he knew that he was unlikely to win, instead he wished to force an election in the House of Representatives and therefore have some power in the process. However, Humphrey was too weak a candidate to prevent a Nixon majority, therefore Wallace could not be a player. Nixon was clearly the favorite in the 1968 election, and his campaign strategy of being a man of ordinary Americans (whom he would term "The Silent Majority" in his inauguration address) reflected this. He did not need have the theatrics of John F. Kennedy's jingles, rather he needed to ensure that he remain ahead. Therefore, he was quite careful and safe in his strategy.

One such strategy Nixon had for the maintenance of his lead was to attack Democrats for being a party divided that would bring about a divided America. In his campaign ad "Failure" Nixon rips Democrats for not keeping order at their convention and for being divided as a party.

 The 1968 campaign was particularly negative due to the nature of the law and order issues being stressed by candidates. In his nomination speech Nixon does not explicitly attack Democrats, but he makes it clear that the alternative to his defense of average Americans is the New Left radicalism of college students. Nixon attempted to smear Democrats as being the party of students, and paint students as the antithesis to American values. Thus, these campaign issues allowed for attacks to become more harsh, as not only policies, but values were at stake. This type of values based policy attack is once again apparent in the modern day as social issues become increasingly important to voters of various demographics.


The American Presidency Project. Accessed October 10, 2012. 

1968 Nixon V. Humphrey. Accessed October 10, 2012. 

Democratic Party. "Law and Order Democrat." The Living Room Candidate. Video file, 1:01. 
     Accessed October 10, 2012. 

Nixon, Richard Milhous. "Acceptance of Nomination." Speech, Republican National 
     Convention, Miami, FL, August 8, 1968. 

PBS. "1968 Campaign." PBS. Accessed October 10, 2012. 

Republican Party. "Failure." The Living Room Candidate. Video file, 1:01. 
     Accessed October 10, 2012. 


  1. Did Nixon present any new policies or ideas in this campaign that showed he had learned from his defeat in 1960?

  2. i think this was a very good article, however i feel like, especially after seeing the "failure" commercial, that the issue of the vietnam war was more significant in the election than the article shows. were you making a point at the end that Nixon won because he was so hard on the attack?

  3. Thanks guys!!!!!!!!!

    The Vietnam War was very important in this election; however, it the campaigns took much of Cicero's advice when it came to their stances on Law and Order. The two were fundamentally linked, as it was anti-Vietnam protests that led to the candidates feeling as though they needed to crack down on protesters and come off as a traditionalist as Cicero advised. Nixon attacked, because he wanted to maintain his front runner status, but didn't necessarily need to propose groundbreaking policy because he was such a favorite.