OTD in History… August 8, 1968, Republican Party nominates Richard Nixon for President

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

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On this day in history August 8, 1968, The Republican Party nominates Richard M. Nixon for President at their convention in Miami Beach, Florida, and Nixon delivers his acceptance speech.This was the second time the Republican Party chose Nixon as their nominee, the first was in 1960, where then-Vice President Nixon went up against then-Senator John F. Kennedy and lost by a slim margin. In 1968, Nixon rehabilitated his image into a new Nixon devising a Southern strategy to win over the Southern states who were disenchanted with the Democratic Party and President Lyndon Johnson over his racial policies. Nixon’s campaign focused on the escalating Vietnam War and law and order issues.

Nixon chose as his running mate Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew. They would go on to beat narrowly Democratic nominee and Vice President Hubert Humphrey largely because of opposition to the growing Vietnam War. Although they would be reelected in 1972, neither Nixon nor Agnew would complete their terms. Agnew resigned after being charged with tax evasion and political corruption in 1973. While six years to the day after his nomination Nixon would become the first president to resign from office over his impending impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

In the primaries, Michigan Governor George Romney was the early front-runner. He faced opposition over being a Mormon and his support for the Vietnam War. Romney claimed, he “originally supported Johnson’s Vietnam policy because he had been “brainwashed” by government briefing officers.” Romney withdrew in February 1968 because of public ridicule over his Vietnam flap, and the public’s fear of his religion.

Since his 1962 defeat for the California governorship, Richard Nixon gained support and friendships with Republican Party leaders. In the 1966-midterm elections, Nixon campaigned successfully for Republican candidates. In 1968, Nixon became the front-runner winning all the early primaries. Nelson Rockefeller announced in a March 1968 press conference he would not run for the nomination. After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Rockefeller changed his mind announced his candidacy. California Governor Ronald Reagan was the conservative candidate, until April 1968, he did not commit to running beyond a favorite son campaign. Rockefeller and Reagan entered the race too late, and could not compete with Nixon, who accumulated enough delegate support to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.

At the Republican National Convention held August 5–8, 1968, Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African-American Senator elected as convention temporary chairman. Nixon won the nomination on the first ballot against Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan. Nixon amassed 692 votes, to Rockefeller’s 277 and 182 votes for Reagan. Nixon chose Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, an unknown eliciting the response of “Spiro Who?” as his running mate, Nixon chose him to appeal to the Border States and Deep South. Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy’s (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrated outside the convention hall.

In his acceptance speech, Nixon emphasized the bad state the country was in under the Democrats. Nixon expressed, “When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in Vietnam with no end in sight, when the richest nation in the world can’t manage its own economy, when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented racial violence, when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad or to any major city at home, then it’s time for new leadership for the United States of America”.

Nixon also mentioned the silent majority voting bloc he was appealing to in his campaign. Nixon stated, “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 good people. They’re decent people; they work and they save and they pay their taxes and they care…. And this I say, this I say to you tonight, is the real voice of America. In this year 1968, this is the message it will broadcast to America and to the world.”

Nixon faced competition in the general election from Alabama Governor George Wallace, his greatest competition for Southern votes; Wallace was also running on integration and law and order issues. Until September 25, Nixon led and Humphrey trailed in the polls. Then Humphrey broke with Johnson on Vietnam and announced he support of Vietnam bombing halt. Humphrey became the peace candidate, which increased anti-war Democrat and liberal support for Humphrey after the announcement, allowing Humphrey to close in on Nixon at the polls.

In October, President Johnson was attempting to reach an agreement with the North Vietnamese in the Paris peace talks. This would allow him to halt the bombing, which would salvage Humphrey’s campaign. Nixon realized that Johnson was attempting to use the power of the presidency to help Humphrey, and accused him of doing so on October 25. Johnson denounced such claims as “ugly and unfair.” Five days before the election on October 31, however, President Johnson announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam. The bombing halt allowed many people to conclude that the end of the war might be approaching, putting Humphrey in a favorable position. Humphrey went up in the polls, however, when the South Vietnamese government indicated it would not negotiate, Humphrey’s numbers slid again.

Nixon would go on to win a narrow victory over Humphrey with the popular vote, 31,783,783 and 43.42 percent of the vote to Humphrey’s 31,271,839 and 42.72 percent of the vote. The Electoral College votes would be more decisive 301 for Nixon and 191 for Humphrey. The Democrats, however, retained control of both houses in Congress. Despite the split results and the lack of resolution for many of the central campaign issues, historian Lewis Gould in his book 1968: The Election That Changed America, argues “In fact, the 1968 election proved to be a watershed event in American politics.”

Gould explains the reason, claiming, “Republicans used the skills they brought to Nixon’s campaign to create an ascendancy in presidential politics. Democrats, divided and torn after 1968, emerged as only crippled challengers for the White House in the 1970s and 1980s. Bitterness over racial issues and discord on the Vietnam War continued to shape national affairs. The events of 1968 changed the way Americans felt about politics and their leaders. An erosion of confidence in American institutions began that has not yet reached a conclusion.” (Gould, 8)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Boller, Paul F. Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Gould, Lewis L. 1968: The Election That Changed America. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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