1968–“Nixon’s Life”–Gavin McGuire
Richard Nixon’s bid for the presidency in 1968 was his second in eight years and that brought with it many advantages, but also some notable disadvantages. With his loss in the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, and to a lesser extent his loss in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, Nixon began to gain the reputation in the media as “un-electable” and the notion that he could never be elected president became more and more prevalent. This problem of image in the media came to a head when Nixon blamed, in part, his loss in the 1962 California gubernatorial election on how the media portrayed him negatively, remarking to reporters after the election, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentleman, this is my last press conference.” Of course, it was not his last press conference. While on one had, the countries familiarity with Nixon was a positive, on the other it was a negative because that familiarity was with Nixon as the candidate who lost the last two elections in which he ran.
It was because of this that one of the main goals of the Nixon campaign was to reinvent, or repackage Nixon as a viable, legitimate presidential candidate that people knew and could trust to run their country. Nixon and his advisors sought to put Nixon in controlled situations to deliver his campaign messages and communicate with voters and stayed away from debates and spontaneous situations. One of the most effective ways Nixon did this was by appearing in a serious of hour long programs and extended interviews in which Nixon not only discussed policy issues, but also gave the voters a better sense of who he was as a man and how his upbringing, views on life, etc. made him the right choice to be president. One of these interviews titled, “Nixon’s Life” is available online here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/40630/historic-campaign-ads-nixons-life-nixon-1968 and is a very good example of how Nixon focused on communicating in controlled situations and attempted to avoid public appearances with the media. This extended ad is also a fine example of Nixon’s attempts to repackage himself and create a new image for voters to see as a large part of this particular ad is focused on Nixon’s personal life and less on policy, campaign messages, etc. While presidential candidates had been using biographies or a revealing of their personal lives as a part of their campaign communications for many years prior, this particular Nixon ad is interesting because despite being forty-three years old it has the same look and feel of many current presidential campaigns similar types of ads.
Nixon’s efforts to repackage himself proved to be effective because he won the election fairly handedly, but that was due in large part Lyndon B. Johnson not seeking a second term and George Wallace doing incredibly well as a third party candidate and winning a few states in the south that were typically democratic. This, along with other ads like it were a large part of Nixons repackaging effort because it provided a forum where Nixon could focus on presenting his presidential qualities as well as focus, or not focus, on those policy issues that he perceived to be important or not important to his campaign. This falls right in line with the theme of keeping Nixon only in controlled situations, which based on the election results appeared to be an effective strategy. Nixon chose to communicate with the voters through ads like these and declined to engage in debates with the democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey which could be attributed to the fact that Nixon did not fare well in his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy.
Repackaging himself as a viable presidential candidate was arguably the most important mission of Richard Nixons 1968 presidential campaign. With the help of Roger Ailes, who produced the ads like the one linked about, Nixon was able clean his slate in a sense and come at the 1968 campaign in a different way, as a different candidate. All things considered it’s hard to say whether Nixons efforts to repackage himself are what won him the election. Lyndon Johnson not seeking a second term, the tumultuous Democratic National Convention, and the presence of George Wallace were all arguably more influential in Richard Nixon winning the 1968 election. However, watching ads like this one, its not difficult to see that Nixon did place a large emphasis on creating a new image, or reinventing himself as a viable presidential candidate.