A Chance to Lead
(TIME, August 16, 1968) -- As they start on the road to November, the Republicans are united. Now what will they do with the unity? Richard Nixon is clearly in tune with his party. Will he be in tune with the country?
These are the chief questions that emerge from the Republican Convention and will dominate the political scene for the next 2 1/2 months. The American party system allows a measure of plasticity every four years. The Republicans are making the most of this chance. The painful ruptures of the past have been treated and very nearly healed -- almost in a spirit of harmony or bust. After pulling back from its heartfelt but self-indulgent right-wing position of 1964, the 1968 party once more stands in the middle of its ideological spectrum.
Within his party Richard Nixon represents the only centripetal force. The country is troubled, the opposition divided. The rational course is to play it safe, to bet that self-preservation -- just staying together as a party -- will be nine-tenths of victory. It is, after all, an election in which the incumbents are in danger simply because they are incumbents. Nixon's choice of the factionally neutral Spiro Agnew as running mate was part of that strategy.
These assumptions, of course, may prove too neat. Unity is essential for a minority party, but the G.O.P. may find the price tag troublesome. Does harmony require straddling at the expense of commitment? Does it mean combining the vocabulary of change with the policies of conservatism? The convention offered mixed portents.
Boldface Type. Symbols of unity and progress flapped like so many ensigns at fleet review. Barry Goldwater sounded like a man from the N.A.A.C.P. New York's John Lindsay agreed to second Agnew's nomination rather than serve as the rallying point for opposition to it. The platform, the keynote address, Nixon's acceptance speech and the subsidiary verbiage were on the whole impeccably progressive in tone, promising jobs, justice, education and a "piece of the action" to the poor, peace in Vietnam, honorable conciliation with the Communists.
Those who wanted to could find less obvious signals bearing a slightly different message. Only one sentence in the platform's domestic-policy section appeared in boldface type: "We will not tolerate violence!" Somehow Nixon manages to sound more forceful and specific in emphasizing the need for law and order than in pleading for social justice. The targets of his acceptance are the "forgotten Americans, the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators." They are "good people. They're decent people. They work and they save and they pay their taxes and they care."
His critics might reply that Nixon's "good people" really have little cause to protest in the streets. But more to the political point is that the whites, the mature, the securely employed and the affluent combine to form a voting majority. This massive bloc belongs permanently to neither party. It follows no one ideology. Nixon seeks to attract enough of it to form an electoral majority. To do it, he must capture the imaginations of many Democrats and independents who are largely reconciled to the Big Government he likes to berate and have been cool toward Nixon in the past. At the same time, he must reckon with the disinherited, principally Negroes, who in some states can hold the balance in a tight election.
Tasteless Opulence. Nixon seems to be giving considerable weight to the kind of argument expressed by one Southern lady on the convention floor. She declared: "This is a protest year. We've got to get that protest." She did not mean Negroes or fractious students. The protesters that concern her are people "who are sick and tired of their money going out of their pockets to keep people sitting in front of TV sets all day."
A great many Americans quite understandably feel this way, and there may be political wisdom in paying heed to such feeling -- especially at a time when George Wallace can be found soaring on gusts of middle-class discontent. Nixon adopted the old-style Southern strategy in the convention, extending it to put together a coalition of Southern, Border and Midwestern states, indications are that he may use a similar strategy to try to win the general election. This makes sense particularly if one bets that conservative sentiment will run wide and deep between now and Election Day, and by no means only in the South. This formula might lose Northeastern states -- but it might also attract significant numbers of disgruntled voters in the North. This plan is reinforced by the echoes of riots past and prospective. A bloody battle was raging in a Negro area just across Biscayne Bay from Convention Hall. Each ghetto upheaval will make things tougher for the Democrats this year.
Compared with the Miami riot, the scene in Convention Hall seemed a little unreal at times. All political conventions, of course, convey a certain air of fantasy. But last week's assembly went somewhat further than usual in this respect because of the lack of real contention over men or issues. The very idea of nominating a self-proclaimed "unknown quantity" such as Agnew hardly helped. Neither did the tasteless opulence of Miami Beach or the well-coiffured, well-dressed appearance of the delegates. "They're nice people," said one big-city Northern Senator, "but they've just never ridden a subway." The comment was not altogether fair. It is such people who work long and hard for their political parties; affluence, or the lack of it, is not necessarily an index of social conscience. Still, the contrast between the people in the Convention Hall and the nation's grubbier problems could not be ignored.
Leeway. The Democrats will doubtless try to sharpen the contrast. Both Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy professed satisfaction at the prospect of running against a Nixon-Agnew ticket, although Humphrey had more reason to be happy. Had the Republicans picked Nelson Rockefeller, the temptation for the Democrats to desert their front runner would have been greater.
Nixon, as the challenger, will have considerable leeway in shaping the debate. He may choose to capitalize primarily on the sour mood of the moment, or he may choose a more positive, upbeat approach. He may shuttle between the relatively conservative and relatively liberal lines. He is in a good position to take any course, for so far, at least, he has retained an uncommon degree of flexibility. Nothing in the platform, nothing he himself has said, binds him in an unalterable position. Within a few weeks the nation should be able to see how Richard Nixon intends to use his new strength.
Now the Republic
At the end, he took the podium the way he had taken the convention -- as if it belonged to him. He stretched out his arms to take it all in. The fingers on both hands wigwagged victory Vs at the clapping, stamping, shouting, pulsing heart of the Republican Party. Four years ago, introducing Barry Goldwater at an identical moment, he had described himself as a "simple soldier" in the Republican ranks. Now the fortunes of political conflict had recommissioned him a five-star general. Richard Nixon was back for one more chance at Commander in Chief.
Which Richard Nixon? Friends, enemies and those in between could not agree. They never could before. In a generally sympathetic biography nine years ago, Earl Mazo found in Nixon a "paradoxical combination of qualities that bring to mind Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Joe McCarthy." The intervening years have polished Nixon and made him well-to-do, but they have not simplified him. He can still sound like the high-minded statesman and act like the cunning politico. He can talk eloquently of ideals and yet seem always preoccupied with tactics. He can plink out Let Me Call You Sweetheart for reporters on a piano or rib himself on television talk shows, but the grin never seems quite at home on his strong, heavy face. The almost mysterious quality about Richard Nixon is that he is a man of exceptional abilities and solid virtues, but somehow his many parts have always added up to less than a convincing whole. Today he seems closer than ever to overcoming this elusive handicap. He is certainly more confident, more self-assured -- and with good reason. He has made an extraordinary comeback. He worked harder than anyone else for the nomination, with total dedication to his goal and to the party. In that sense, he amply deserved his victory.
No Millennium. At any rate, the 29th G.O.P. Convention, looking up at its nominee, was not in a mood for character analysis. After a conclave made dull by the swift rout of Nixon's foes and enlivened only briefly by a spat over the vice-presidential nomination, it was time for exultation. One thing that his detractors have never understood about Nixon is his total identification with the Republican Party and his understanding of it. His acceptance speech was pure Nixon, telling it as the party would like it to be -- 1968 style.
He had worked for two weeks on the speech, writing it out himself on yellow legal pads. It contained major elements of the basic speech that he had delivered again and again during the primaries, and reporters who had followed him during those campaigns could finish many of the sentences as soon as they heard the first word or two. But the nation as a whole had not yet heard it. It was a mixture of carefully balanced political calculations and genuine personal warmth. It was, by any reasonable standard, corny, but it also was one of Nixon's most effective speeches in years. Gone was the excessive partisanship and professional anti-Communism of his early days. The nation wants a high-roader after Lyndon Johnson. The republic has survived subversion. The cold war is passe. Vietnam is something to be settled, not won. So Nixon told them what they wanted to hear. "Tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I don't promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination in the space of four or eight years. But I do promise action. And a new policy for peace abroad, a new policy for peace and progress and justice at home."
To the Communist world, he declared an end to the "era of confrontations," now that the "time has come for an era of negotiations." But the new Administration must "restore the strength of America so that we shall always negotiate from strength and never from weakness." He did not touch on arms control, a major point to be negotiated.
Greatest Engine. In parts, the speech followed the Nixon pattern of giving and taking away, of praising and then attacking. He paid his respects to the courts, but they have "gone too far in weakening the peace forces as against the criminal forces." And his Attorney General would be a real gangbuster. The black and the poor need rescue, but they "don't want to be a colony." Federal antipoverty efforts have not helped at all: "We have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustrations, violence and failure." Therefore, urged Nixon, the Government must use its power to "enlist in this battle the greatest engine of progress ever developed in the history of man: American private enterprise."
He was curiously touching in describing the son of the slums who "dreams the dream of a child. And yet when he awakens, he awakens to a living nightmare." He was rather embarrassing in the sketch of another child, himself, who hears a train go by and dreams of faraway places. "It seems like an impossible dream." But a self-sacrificing father, a "gentle Quaker mother," a dedicated teacher, a minister, a courageous wife, loyal offspring, devoted followers -- plus a cast of millions of voters -- combine to put that boy on the train that stopped last week in Miami Beach, possibly on the way to the White House.
The fact that Nixon spoke of himself as the hero of this American dream, even though his intent was plainly modest, seemed cloying to some. And the reference to a train whistle was an oddly old-fashioned note: trains do not symbolize escape and movement to today's young. Yet there could be little doubt that Nixon was sincere here, just as Lyndon Johnson is sincere when he talks about his years of poverty along the Pedernales. Certainly Nixon's audience in Miami knew what he was talking about, and responded.
Good Avocation. His ability to evoke the good old days and look eagerly to the year 2000, and to make the mix sound coherent, points up his talent for accommodation, which is one explanation for Nixon's return from political limbo. The G.O.P.'s liberals can live with him. He picked up much support from the Goldwater wing (and won the blessing of Barry), not because he belonged to the party's right wing, but because he was acceptable to it. Many of the stauncher conservatives preferred Reagan, but they realized that the California governor was not a viable national candidate. Tom Stagg Jr., national committeeman from Louisiana, acknowledged: "We've had our shot at a candidate who totally met our qualifications, and that candidate got six states. We've had our druthers. Now shall we win one?"
Another factor is Nixon's capacity simply to endure. As a child, he survived serious illnesses and a buggy accident that gashed his skull; two of his four brothers died in childhood. As a politician, he lived through youthful success and middle-aged failure by dint of total industry and a fatalistic belief that in politics conditions create a right time for a man despite his actions. A Navy veteran in 1946, he won a House seat at the age of 33. He was elected Senator at 37 and Vice President at 39. Ten years later, defeated for the Presidency and the governorship of California, he certified himself politically kaput. Most of the press agreed, including TIME. In 1966, sensing the vacuum in the party, Nixon campaigned tirelessly for G.O.P. candidates in 35 states and claimed a major share in that year's victory. Nixon is only 55, but he has been a national figure for nearly a generation. He has made survival an avocation.
In large measure, his current success flows from the ineptness or vulnerability of his opponents inside the party. George Romney, first in the ring, was the first to drop out. Ronald Reagan had possibilities, but was too new on the scene and too rigid in his views. Nelson Rockefeller, while a strong and attractive candidate in many ways, has never fully understood the differences between the politics of nomination and the politics of election. In three leap years, he approached the party as if it were a collection of voters on election eve instead of a coalition of interests about to hold a convention. It is a failing shared by the liberal Republican leadership, which apparently learned little from its rejection in 1964.
While Rockefeller fumbled with Romney's candidacy, supporting him with money (at least $250,000), staff help and increasingly hollow pronouncements of loyalty, Nixon continued to capitalize on the contacts and loyalties he had built up during 22 years in and around politics. Rocky staged his great revolving-door act over whether he would be an active candidate, in the process losing such important friends as Spiro Agnew. Nixon advanced cautiously, tying up delegate after delegate and winning primary after primary. The former Vice President was able to campaign at a leisurely pace, usually accompanied by wife Pat -- who looks more chic than in 1960 -- and their pretty daughters, Tricia, 22, and Julie, 20.
Fargo Friend. By the time Rockefeller clumped back into the race April 30, Nixon's momentum was almost impossible to stop. Rockefeller roared around the country, berating Nixon for refusing to stand up and fight. It was a weak argument coming from a man who had ducked the primaries. Rocky had style and good humor, and the crowds liked him. But he bet heavily on the public-opinion polls, only to have them backfire after the Harris and Gallup surveys clashed. When Rockefeller visited delegates, it was to get acquainted, "to show I don't have horns," as he himself acknowledged. When Nixon visited, it was old-home week. Nixon could drop in at Fargo, N. Dak., and say: "Hiya, George, remember that night when you were telling me about that time with Harry..."
Nixon took the Oregon primary on May 28 against the disembodied competition of Rockefeller and Reagan, and that 73% vote, he believed, assured him the nomination. Only some self- inflicted stab or an act of Providence could stop him. Privately, he said: "Everyone is waiting for Nixon to blow his stack or confront Rockefeller directly. Well, it hasn't happened up to now, and I think it's too late to start."
In the final days before the convention, it was not Rockefeller who kept a whiff of competition alive but the increasingly obvious availability of Ronald Reagan and the threat that George Wallace would cut into Nixon's post-convention strength in the South. By this stage, Nixon's campaign organization was tooling along flawlessly. He had assembled a talented crew of old and new aides from in and out of politics and from varying ideological backgrounds.
Logistical plans for the convention were already being made in November of 1967, three months before Nixon announced that he was running. Rooms in the Hilton Plaza were booked even before the hotel was finished. Finally, Nixon established a virtual colony in Miami Beach populated by 500 staffers and roughly 1,000 volunteers. An elaborate telephone and radio communications system was created. Besides command posts in Nixon's hotel and in a trailer outside Convention Hall, branch operations were maintained in 35 hotels housing delegates.
Nixon's game is poker, and in poker, he observed upon arriving in Miami Beach last among the candidates, "it's the fellow without the cards who does the strongest talking. I've got those cards." Nixon was so confident of his hand that he tarried on Long Island during the preconvention weekend. On Monday morning, he appeared at a naturalization proceeding in New York on behalf of his Cuban driver and cook, Manolo and Fina Sanchez. When he got to Miami Beach that evening, Rockefeller and Reagan were frantically and forlornly scampering after delegates. By this time, the hot Florida sun had finally hatched Reagan's official candidacy.
Stirrings. Behind the convention scene of mixed turmoil and torpor (from her pinnacle of 84 years, Alice Roosevelt Longworth pronounced it "soporific"), there was a good deal of political jostling and even some drama. During the three days leading up to the Wednesday-night balloting, the main maneuvering centered on three elements: 1) a handful of uncommitted delegations, of which Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the most important; 2) the South, which was largely in Nixon's camp already but vulnerable to Reagan; and 3) Nixon's choice of a running mate.
Michigan, under Governor George Romney, and Ohio, under Governor James Rhodes, were subject to raiding by Nixon. But the gains to be made there were not worth the cost of antagonizing their powerful leaders, who clung to their status as favorite sons. Romney was apparently prepared to hold out indefinitely. Rhodes, who had been generally regarded as eager to be in line with the winner, remained surprisingly stubborn. Not so secretly, he wanted a Rockefeller-Reagan ticket as the strongest draw in Ohio and, despite a well-earned reputation for sagacity, held out some hope for its success. "We've really stirred things up," he said at one point. "We've turned this into an open convention."
Most of the important stirring, however, was being done on Nixon's behalf. New Jersey was restless under its commitment to the favorite-son candidacy of Senator Clifford Case, and the Nixon forces decided to move in on it. On a golf course over the weekend, Nixon Aide Peter Flanigan told State G.O.P. Chairman Webster Todd: "Look, we need your delegation right now." Todd, whose wife was openly supporting Rockefeller, shot back: "Hell, no!" But pressure continued on individual delegates, who saw no purpose in holding out for a lost cause. By Tuesday night it was open knowledge that New Jersey would break, just as it had at the 1964 convention.
Conservative Trio. Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer had dropped his favorite-son role in order to back Rockefeller. But neither Shafer's influence nor his choice to nominate Rockefeller could hold the entire delegation in line. Some of the Pennsylvanians had scant respect for their Governor, privately referring to him as "Dudley Do-Right," after the feckless cartoon character who usually ends up doing the wrong thing for the right reason. And Nixon had powerful supporters in the delegation, including George Bloom, chairman of the state public-utility commission, and Congressman James Fulton. When Rockefeller visited the Keystone Staters, District Attorney Robert Duggan of Allegheny County demanded: "And where in hell were you in 1964?" It became increasingly clear that Nixon would get some help from Pennsylvania.
Agnew's defection to Nixon was all but official before the convention started. Meanwhile, though, Nixon men were compelled to mount a defense operation among the Southern delegations. Reagan had been making inroads in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas particularly, and this trend could not be allowed to go on unchecked. Barry Goldwater, Senator John Tower of Texas and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina -- three of the most conservative men in the party -- counterattacked on Nixon's behalf. Goldwater chatted with Southerners in his hotel suite. Thurmond and Tower took some waverers for boat rides. Their message was basic and concise. The real contest was between Nixon and Rockefeller; every defection to Reagan would ultimately only benefit Rockefeller.
Rumors that Nixon was going to pick a liberal as a running mate were everywhere. When a Miami paper printed a front-page story that it would be Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield, Rockefeller's and Reagan's men distributed 3,000 copies on the convention floor to make sure that no one missed the point. Thurmond and company denied the report, but the most effective disclaimer came from Nixon in private meetings with Southerners. "I won't do anything that would hurt development of the two-party system in the South," Nixon told them. "I won't take anybody that I have to shove down the throats of any section of the country." Thus such Nixon loyalists as Party Chairman Harry Dent of South Carolina were able to tell skeptics on the floor: "I've got it written in blood."
Nixon was also artfully placating Southerners on certain sensitive issues. The Miami Herald managed to get a tape recorder into one of the private sessions. In the transcript it printed later, which Nixon's spokesmen did not knock down, he explained his public support of this year's open-housing civil rights bill as a matter of political tactics rather than conviction. "I felt then and I feel now," said the transcript, "that conditions are different in different parts of the country." But he wanted the issue "out of sight" so as not to divide the party and risk a platform fight. The Southerners also remembered Nixon's criticism of Johnson's Supreme Court appointments. While Nixon did not quarrel with Abe Fortas' designation on personal grounds, the Southerners who did looked kindly on Nixon's position.
Collapsed Movement. Vote projections by the networks and the wire services bounced about a bit between Monday and Wednesday, while Rockefeller men insisted on talking about the "erosion" of Nixon's strength. The most accurate count, as it turned out, was by the Nixon organization, which earlier had talked about 700 and privately refined its calculations to 702. Needed to be nominated: 667. As the nominating speech droned on, Nixon visited his command trailer outside the hall and got word that a first- ballot victory was assured.
As the roll call progressed, it was obvious that Nixon was faring exactly as he had expected. The candidate, watching television and keeping his own tally in his penthouse suite, could have noted in the first several states an extra vote here and there beyond his minimal requirements. Then Florida and Georgia came through with large majorities -- evidence that the Reagan movement had collapsed. Maryland delivered 18 out of 26. Four Michiganders deserted Romney. Mississippi's unit rule held for the entire delegation of 20. The undermining of Case's position in New Jersey produced a welcome 18 out of 40. In Pennsylvania, Nixon picked up 22 more.
By the bottom fifth of the alphabetical listing, the fight was really over. After West Virginia, Nixon had 650, and Wisconsin's 30, won in that state's primary, broke through the magic number to make it 680. Wyoming added its twelve, for a first-ballot total of 692, compared with 227 for Rockefeller, 182 for Reagan and 182 sprinkled elsewhere. It was even less of a race than it seemed. Nixon had reserve votes in several favorite- son delegations that he could have called upon if necessary. Minnesota Congressman Ancher Nelsen, one of the nine whips working the floor for Nixon, had only one complaint: "We got rather hungry. Getting a hot dog -- that was the biggest crisis we had." Floor Manager Rogers Morton told reporters: "The only time I got worried was when my shirttail came out and I couldn't get it back in."
Coffee and Cokes. Nixon won with no help at all from California and Massachusetts and only token support from three of the other large states, New York, Ohio and Michigan. He owed his victory to Illinois, most of the smaller states in the West and Middle West, and particularly to the South and the Border States. Excluding Arkansas, which stayed with Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, 14 Southern and Border States delivered 298 votes, or 45% of the number needed to nominate. Thus Nixon's determination to keep the South happy.
It was after 2 a.m. Thursday when the voting ended. With scarcely time out for a round of congratulations, the candidate plunged into a round robin of meetings with advisers, aides and party leaders about the vice-presidential nomination. Ten days earlier, he had sent notes to a number of supporters, asking them to send suggestions to a post office box in New York, "anonymously, if you prefer." Whether he got any ideas from that source was not clear, but he did arrive in Miami with Agnew definitely on his mind.
As the meetings progressed through the early-morning hours, with a kaleidoscope cast of participants sipping coffee and Cokes, a list containing scores of names was gradually shortened. New York Mayor John Lindsay, probably the most discussed possibility up to that point, was dismissed early as too unpopular among conservatives. John Gardner was briefly mentioned, soon dropped. Among others considered were Reagan and Tower, both of whom would have antagonized liberals. Hatfield, Romney and Keynoter Dan Evans were mentioned, then Tennessee Senator Howard Baker.
Overwhelmed. The shifting group of conferees contained its own roster of notables: Thomas Dewey, Herbert Brownell, Billy Graham, Everett Dirksen, Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater, Karl Mudt, Party Chairman Ray Bliss. Finally, after a brief break for a nap and a breakfast of cold cereal, Nixon convened still another meeting. By this time, the possibilities had been reduced to five: Senator Charles Percy; Lieutenant Governor Robert Finch of California, a longtime Nixon friend and associate; Congressman Rogers Morton of Maryland; Governor John Volpe of Massachusetts ("It might be nice," Nixon observed, "to have an Italian Catholic on the ticket"); and, of course, Agnew, Finch and Morton attended the meetings but left while they were being talked about.
It was past noon when Nixon ended the talks by observing: "Well, I think the meeting has accomplished about all that it can accomplish." Morton put in a call to Agnew. "Are you sitting down?" Morton inquired. Nixon got on the phone and broke the news. "I'm overwhelmed," said Agnew, whose stoic expression rarely admits of such a condition.
The Criteria. Overwhelmed also, but hardly in the same way, were many of the Republicans and much of the country when Nixon went on television 15 minutes later to announce the selection. Nixon laid out three criteria for the No. 2 man on the ticket: 1) he must be qualified to become President, 2) he must be an effective campaigner, and 3) he must be capable of assuming the new responsibilities for domestic affairs that Nixon says he will entrust to his Vice President.
Attaching Agnew's name to these requirements shocked many, because they knew virtually nothing about the man beyond the fact that he was a very new, moderately successful Governor with no national or international status. Many Northern Republicans were rankled by the ready acceptance of the selection by Southerners and by conservatives generally. Although Agnew is a moderate by Maryland standards and a liberal by Deep South criteria, there was the suspicion that he was on the ticket to placate Thurmond and other segregationists. Not only liberals protested. Colorado Senator Peter Dominick howled: "There are 2,000,000 people in my state who have never heard of Agnew. It's a terrible choice."
Events during the rest of the day began to take care of Agnew's anonymity. Irate over the aura of a shabby deal that surrounded his selection and disturbed by some of his recent criticism of Negro activists, leaders in a number of delegations talked revolt. As usual, however, the liberals were disorganized. By the time the final night's session convened to name a vice- presidential candidate and hear both nominees' acceptance speeches, a coalition had been assembled to second Agnew's nomination: Lindsay, Percy, Tower and California's William Knowland. They covered all factions of the party.
The dissidents scrounged for a candidate willing to oppose Agnew, but were turned down by Lindsay. Rockefeller refused to cooperate with the revolt, even though some of his allies, notably Rhode Island Governor John Chafee, were leading it. Finally George Abbott of Nevada nominated Romney. The ensuing vote was a cruel slaughter: 1,128 for Agnew to 178 for Romney. The loser then followed tradition by moving to make the nomination unanimous.
Although the minirevolt against Agnew's selection may have satisfied bored delegates' desire for combat and excitement, it was not only futile but unwise as well. Both party tradition and U.S. history since Aaron Burr's day dictate that the President must have a No. 2 man whom he wants and trusts. And if by some fluke the convention had forced Romney or someone else on Nixon, and the ticket had gone on to win, the unwanted Veep could have looked forward to even more frustrations than the incumbent normally suffers.
Underrated. At week's end, as Nixon and Agnew went to the L.B.J. ranch for a briefing on national-security affairs, it was uncertain how much permanent damage to the ticket's chances in November had been caused by the scuffle. Initially, Nixon was forced on the defensive, arguing that Agnew was an "underrated man." Later Agnew complained that he was being unfairly tagged as an opponent of civil rights merely because he opposed civil disobedience.
Certainly the Marylander will be no asset to the ticket among Negro voters, although it is doubtful that Nixon will get much black support in any case. Agnew may be helpful, on the other hand, on the border regions and some Southern states, such as Virginia, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, in which Nixon has a fighting chance to beat George Wallace. This is what Nixon men call a "peripheral strategy," more or less conceding the Deep South to Wallace. To capture the Presidency, however, the Republicans must sweep much of the West as well, while carrying some of the vote-heavy states, including Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan. New York will probably be an insurmountable problem for Nixon. Illinois will be nearly as tough. California figures to be a tossup.
Humphrey's Problem. Nixon maintains that he will fight hard for all the crucial states, and says of the major industrial states: "I don't think we gave them adequate attention in 1960." He will avoid his 1960 mistake of barnstorming all 50 states. His mode of attack is best suited to opposing Hubert Humphrey. He sounded eager for it. "Two tough fighters like Hubert Humphrey and Dick Nixon," said Nixon after his nomination, "are going to slap each other around pretty hard on the issues. But I'm going to keep it on a high level -- no personal attacks, just on the issues." In an interview with TIME last month, he indicated his strategy: "Humphrey's problem," he said, "is that he carries the past on his back. He is the candidate of the past no matter how much he talks about his programs and the future." Nixon is hardly alone in his conclusion that "if there is one thing the American people don't want, it's what they've got."
Having won the Republicans, Nixon now has to win the Republic. Some of his friends and most of his foes are dubious that he can do it. At Rockefeller's headquarters before the Miami Beach convention, Gordon MacRae sang: "Richard Nixon's going far, In his snappy Edsel car. General Custer's coming in, Gonna show Dick how to win."
Rockefeller's people have company in thinking that Nixon is a permanent loser, and Nixon knows it. Just after the Oregon primary, he described his feelings: "You know, politics is the cruelest sport of all. There are few loyalties, very few friends. But coming off the floor, that meant something to me. I kind of get a bang out of demonstrating that the old saws, the old myths about Nixon have no validity." He has yet to prove that, of course, but he is perhaps in better shape to do so now than ever before. In the weeks to come, the nation will observe a fascinating and peculiarly American human drama, the final testing of a man who almost had everything, almost lost everything and is now given a rare opportunity to try again.
AllPolitics home page|
Copyright © 1996 AllPolitics