Hillary As Nixon Circa 1968

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NOVEMBER 8, 2007

Hillary As Nixon Circa 1968

Via Ben Smith, I see that pollster Peter Hart is drawing an analogy between Hillary and Nixon in 1968, which, as Ben puts it, means she's respected among voters but not loved. For a while last year, I thought Al Gore might play the this role--the historical analogy between him and Nixon was even tighter (lose a close presidential election, drop out of public view for a while, then build up goodwill among your party's rank and file, run successfully eight years later)--but I agree that it fits Hillary pretty well this time around.

I think the lesson of 1968 is that a respected-but-not-loved figure has to be relentlessly stage-managed, and that spontaneous interaction with journalists and voters is extremely risky. You hear a lot about the way Kennedy benefited from television in 1960, but it was really the Nixon campaign in '68 that first grasped the full, image-manufacturing potential of the medium. If you're interested in this stuff and haven't read Joe McGinnis's The Selling of the President 1968, you really should. From McGinnis you see how the TV and ad men around Nixon (including a brash, young Roger Ailes) almost perfectly anticipated the Bush campaign in 2004. For example, one of the great innovations of that '68 campaign was a series of "spontaneous" televised forums around the country in which Nixon would take questions from a panel of local voters, all of whom had, of course, been painstakingly selected and their questions meticulously screened. (The forums were Ailes's baby, as it happened.)

I won't pass judgment on whether Hillary's communications operation is willing/able to pull off this kind of effort. But Mike gets into it a bit in his forthcoming piece on Hillary and the press, which will be out in a few days.

 --Noam Scheiber

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