When presidential candidate and former Vice President Richard Nixon arrived in Miami Beach for the 1968 Republican convention, he was given a hero’s welcome. Before he had even clinched the nomination, he was greeted at the airport by an estimated 700-person crowd, 2,000 balloons were released when he arrived at the convention headquarters and he was treated to two bands who simultaneously launched into a rousing rendition of “Nixon’s the One.”
“With a smile as wide as Biscayne Bay, Richard M. Nixon and his confident entourage blew into this convention city late this afternoon, one day later than his principal rivals for the Republican Presidential nomination, but perhaps 100 times more confident,” an August 6 lead on the front page of The New York Timesread.
Two days later, Nixon would officially become the Republican presidential nominee with Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Less than six months after that, he would be sworn in as the 37th President of the United States of America.
What Happens in Miami…
It was a scorcher of an early August week in Miami Beach when the Republican party gathered to elect their 1968 contender for the highest office in the land. While Nixon clearly had the lead going into the convention, his two main competitors were famous forces in their own right—actor-turned-governor of California Ronald Reagan and business tycoon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
But Rocky and the Gipper were no match for Nixon, who went on to effortlessly seal the nomination. “The first roll-call was halfway over before the head counters felt absolutely certain that, as usual, two and two make four and the small nagging possibility that this would be what Nixon’s rivals extolled as an open convention vanished into the hot air whence it came,” Arthur Krock wrote in The New York Times.
Among the pledges he made in his acceptance speech, Nixon promised to open a dialogue with the Communist powers, to begin to wind down the Vietnam War, to “restore the strength of America,” and, of course, to reduce taxes.
And Then the Dems Took Chicago
At the end of the Republican convention, reporter Clive Barnes complained in The New York Times that the proceedings had been dull. “The convention was not a dramatic event but a charade, a charade of power, predictable and boring,” Barnes wrote, going on to note that, chiefly, “it lacked style.”
Several weeks later, Democrats gathered in Chicago to choose their own presidential contender, but their convention had a distinctly different vibe. While debate over party policy raged inside, around 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protestors gathered in the streets to march, chant, and demonstrate their opposition to the war.
As the DNC attendees began to descend on the city, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley prepared to quell any unrest that broke out. He gathered 12,000 police officers, 6,000 members of the National Guard, and 6,000 U.S. soldiers in the city. Emotions were running hot on both sides—the anti-war protestors were fervent in their cause and the city’s defenders were heavily armed and ready to go—so it should have been no surprise when the confrontation between the two sides quickly ignited in violence. By the end of the multi-day demonstrations, 668 protestors had been arrested and 1,000 reportedly injured.
Give Us an Election Day Drum Roll, Please
Against the backdrop of the drama and brutality that occurred around the conventions and across the nation in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president on November 5 in what was a very close race for the popular vote. When the ballots were counted, Nixon had squeaked out a win over then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey by only 500,000 votes (although he took a 210-vote electoral college lead).
In the Washington Post, journalist David S. Broder announced that “Richard Milhous Nixon, the 55-year-old former Vice President who lost the Presidency for the Republicans in l960, reclaimed it yesterday to climax one of the greatest personal comebacks and one of the closest elections in the history of American politics.”
The presidency that would begin with a storybook comeback story and Nixon’s own pledges to unify the country would end on the other extreme. In 1974 after winning a re-election, Nixon would divide the country even further as his presidency descended into the chaos of impeachment proceedings and, ultimately, his resignation.