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The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon S Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics by Douglas E. Schoen

The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon S Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics by Douglas E. Schoen

Author:Douglas E. Schoen [Schoen, Douglas E.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Leadership, Presidents & Heads of State, History & Theory, United States, Biography & Autobiography, 20th Century, Political Science, Political Process, History
ISBN: 9781594038006
Google: cgRDCwAAQBAJ
Publisher: Encounter Books
Published: 2016-01-19T11:39:19+00:00


Nixonized until the Nineties

So popular was Reagan—and so trusted, by now, were Republicans on national defense—that he even got his vice president, George H. W. Bush, into office in 1988 for what some called a “third Reagan term.” The election of 1988 once again demonstrated the chasm that separated the parties on defense and security—the chasm that had been opened wide by George McGovern’s candidacy and Richard Nixon’s presidential leadership.

A story in the Chicago Tribune illustrated how widespread the public perception of Democratic weakness on defense had become. The Democratic nominee, the hapless governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, was not the man to redefine the party on national security. When Dukakis was campaigning with John Glenn at a General Electric defense plant outside of Cincinnati, he tried to convince his listeners that he would preserve the nation’s defenses—but they weren’t buying. They booed him, and when Dukakis insisted that he supported a strong national defense, the crowd responded with: “Bush, Bush” and “Give us a break!”76

The ultimate Dukakis moment, however—and the capstone to two decades of Democratic ineptitude on national security and in presidential elections—was the Massachusetts governor’s infamous tank ride, in which he dressed in General Dynamics coveralls and donned a helmet for a photo op that would, he hoped, demonstrate his commitment to defense. But Dukakis looked unnatural, to put it generously, sitting in the tank—one commentator compared him to Rocky the Flying Squirrel—and the contrived pose made perfect fodder for a Bush campaign ad.

Sid Rogich, working for the Bush ad team—headed by Roger Ailes, who had gotten his start with Nixon in 1968—saw the Dukakis footage and thought, “I can’t believe they put him in that position.” Rich Bond, Bush’s deputy campaign manager and later head of the Republican National Committee, remembered a staff meeting in which someone said, in reference to Dukakis in the tank, “My God, he looks like Alfred E. Newman.”77 Everyone dissolved in laughter.

It didn’t take long for Rogich and Ailes to get an ad together called “Tank Ride” showing the footage of Dukakis in the tank with a voice-over highlighting the incongruity. The effect was heightened by scrolling the text:

Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we developed.

He opposed new aircraft carriers.

He opposed antisatellite weapons.

He opposed four missile systems, including the Pershing Two missile deployment.

Dukakis opposed the Stealth bomber and a ground emergency warning system against nuclear attack.

He even criticized our rescue mission to Grenada and our strike on Libya.

Now he wants to be our commander in chief?

America can’t afford that risk.78

Dukakis was beaten in forty states, winning just 111 electoral votes to Bush’s 426.

The defeat capped off a decade of presidential drubbings for the party of FDR, Truman, and Kennedy: the Democrats lost forty-four states in 1980, when Carter ran for reelection; forty-nine states in 1984; and forty in 1988. And, in the period from 1968 to 1988, the Nixon-scarred Democrats lost every presidential election but one. The American center had drifted away from Democrats in presidential elections, and a



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