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:
“Through 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.”
Richard 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.
What 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 relaxed.
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.