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For a GOP nominee, picking a vice president is like picking a Supreme Court Justice.
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Which brings us to Mitt Romney, Richard Nixon, and those two polls taken at two different conservative gatherings in Chicago and Las Vegas.
If the vice presidency itself has grown more powerful, the recognition of the importance of the job to the future — in this case — of the conservative movement has been less than insightful. The selection of Nixon in 1952 should be the beginning of that understanding.
According to the late historian Stephen Ambrose, a biographer of both Ike and Nixon, Nixon’s selection as Eisenhower’s running mate was based on four criteria, in the following order of importance:
1. He (and in 1952 the GOP was one long way from picking a she) must be a “card carrying member of the Old Guard [meaning, in that time, a Taft conservative] who nonetheless was acceptable to the moderates.”
2. He must be a “prominent leader of the anti-Communist cause.”
3. He must be “an energetic and vigorous campaigner.”
4. He must be a “relatively young man, to offset Eisenhower’s age,” a man from the West, to offset Ike’s association with the East and New Yorker Thomas E. Dewey’s moderate machine, and last but not least in the fourth criterion, the choice had to have actively helped Ike win the nomination.
California’s 39-year old Senator Richard M. Nixon met all four of these criteria. He got the job.
Eisenhower was a moderate. More importantly, while Ike was getting this presidential nomination certainly because he was a genuine American hero from World War II, the career politicians surrounding him — men like Dewey, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, lawyer and campaign manager (and later Eisenhower Attorney General) Herbert Brownell — were all moderates.
The conservative movement in the day basically consisted of Taft, who would die a year later, and a blossoming core of conservative intellectuals. But blossoming is the word. The young William F. Buckley, Jr. was a precocious 27 year old, his boat-rocking God and Man at Yale published only a year earlier, while National Review wasn’t even a gleam in its future founder’s eye. Russell Kirk was 34 in 1952, his groundbreaking book The Conservative Mind not to be published until a year later in 1953. Barry Goldwater himself was in 1952 a Phoenix City Councilman running a long-shot campaign for Senator from Arizona that very year. And actor Ronald Reagan, still a Democrat, was beginning his journey from left to right — voting for Eisenhower that fall.
The criteria for picking Nixon, then, had nothing to do with the conservative movement. In fact, as time would tell, Nixon himself was a moderate. His rise to fame as a fierce anti-Communist in the Alger Hiss affair gave him a life-long image as a “conservative” — but in reality he was never, ever that as the term is applied to Reagan.
But the picking of Nixon should be seen as Lesson One for conservatives as they rally behind Marco Rubio.
The 39-year old Nixon went on to be a major player in American politics until he died at the age of 81 in 1994 — some 42 years after he was named to be Eisenhower’s vice presidential running mate. Alone with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nixon shares the record of being on a national ticket five different times. Twice for vice president in 1952 and 1956, and three times for president in 1960, 1968 and 1972. And it’s no accident that liberal champion FDR, a Woodrow Wilson progressive favorite, was the Democrats’ VP choice in 1920 — which in turn led to FDR’s being the Democrats’ presidential nominee four times — 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?