Fifty years ago Richard Nixon made his famous speech to the press that included “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Ah, the long tradition of blaming the media for election losses.
He lost on 6 November 1962 to Jerry Brown‘s dad, Pat Brown. The next day Nixon surprised reporters by coming out with a rambling statement about how he was leaving politics. With barely-disguised bitterness, he blamed the press for not being very nice to him. To really get the feel of Nixon’s cry-babyness, you need to see it:
Of course, Richard Nixon was wrong. He got back into politics all right, and won the presidency in 1968. He ran for re-election in 1972 and trounced Democrat George McGovern.
We know from the diaries of H.R. Haldeman, one of Nixon’s closest aides, that on election night of 1972 — 7 November and the 10th anniversary of his “kicked around” remark — Nixon lost a tooth when an old dental bridge fell out. Nixon called Haldeman about it. Haldeman wrote, “I could hear his Victory at Sea record playing loudly in the background.”
Haldeman continues: “Along about 2:00 in the morning, maybe it was 2:30, he suggested that he ought to have some bacon and eggs, so he ordered them up from the White House Mess, and the three of us [Chuck Colson was there] ate bacon and eggs, and they finally brought up some toast and some milk.”
Nixon knew how to party. Maybe he wasn’t in a celebratory mood because Republicans lost the House and Senate in that same election. Maybe he was down because he knew that looming on the horizon was this little scandal called Watergate, a scandal that would expose his administration as being built on a foundation of petty vindictiveness toward perceived enemies.
Even after winning a landslide re-election, Nixon wasted no time in directing his guys to kick the press around.
Haldeman tells us that the day after the election, President Nixon “got into the whole media reaction.” Nixon ordered an “embargo” on Newsweek and the New York Times. “He wants total discipline on the press,” Haldeman says, “they’re to be used as enemies, not played for help.” Of course, Nixon then immediately instructs his staff to “get a leak out” about a major shake up in the State Department and the Department of Defense.
Nixon was also about to shake up his inner circle, but he couldn’t exactly get rid of them, being as how they were all co-conspirators in obstructing justice.
His plan to get revenge on the press didn’t really work out. It was the press — a couple of reporters for the Washington Post — who hurried his demise. But they didn’t cause his demise. What caused his demise was Richard Nixon.
[For more analysis of whether Nixon said “you won’t” or “you don’t” in his remark, go here.]