Today is the birthday of Richard Milhous Nixon. He was the 37th President of the United States and until January 20, 2017—the most controversial. His first vice president was Spiro Agnew who resigned in disgrace and plead no contest to tax evasion (but was accused of much more). He was replaced by Gerald Ford who is most remembered for issuing a presidential pardon for the man who appointed him.
Richard Nixon was America’s “long national nightmare” long before Donald Trump’s second official try at the presidency gave him the White House. Unlike Trump, Nixon won. A lot. He won two terms in the House of Representatives from California in 1946 and 1948. He won a Senate seat in 1950 and served two years before being tapped by General Dwight Eisenhower to run as his vice presidential nominee. The ticket won in the 1952 election, and together, they won a second term in 1956. His first big political loss came in 1960 to Democratic Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Unable to succeed his boss, he tried in vain to become the governor of California, famously telling the press, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Having his winning streak ended by JFK and having Jerry Brown add insult to injury by defeating him soundly in the following California governor’s race, Nixon then moved to New York and returned to practicing law. In ’63 Kennedy was assassinated and his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, took the helm and by most accounts righted the ship as the country reeled from its loss. But among the mistakes made by President Johnson was the generation-sized disaster in Vietnam. After winning in a landslide in 1964, he was terribly unpopular leading up to the 1968 election. In his book Playing with Fire, TV personality—and former Senate staffer—Lawrence O’Donnell describes in detail the battle for leadership of the Democratic Party. The “Dump Johnson Movement” claimed victory and Johnson decided not to run for reelection (Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Robert Caro gave more likely reasons for the president’s withdrawal).
Identifying the vulnerability in the presidential race, Nixon, with the help of a little known operator named Roger Ailes, decided to stage a comeback. It was during this presidential race that Richard Nixon acted more despicably than at any time in the better known “Watergate Scandal” era. During this race, Nixon arguably violated the Logan Act and prolonged, unnecessarily, the Vietnam War. Candidate Nixon interfered in the peace process that President Johnson was completing. By doing this he cost the lives of every man, woman and child who died as a result—all for political gain.
Nixon would eventually win the 1968 presidential election. During his time in office, he was able to institute much of his “law and order” agenda. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and enjoyed broad power over the Republican Party. But he would grow increasingly paranoid and shortly after he won a second term in an electoral landslide, he was brought down by his own doing—the “Watergate Scandal” and subsequent cover-up brought down the 37th President of the United States. A delegation of Congressional Republicans visited the White House to inform Nixon that impeachment and conviction was imminent and to avoid these things, the president resigned. Because his resignation was not punitive for the crimes he committed, criminal indictment was sure to follow. Upon resigning his post, Vice President Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency and pardoned his disgraced boss.
-Adam James is the editor-in-chief of Majority 60 and a political scientist. Before founding “M60” as a place for Democratic movers and shakers to meet and discuss important topics, he traveled the United States while earning his MBA and later his MA in political science. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife. Follow him on Twitter @adamjamesm60 Majority 60 was founded in 2016.