Buchanan joined Richard Nixon's staff in 1966 and
began a nine-year stint as Nixon's right hand man.
When we first asked him about the year 1968, he offered
the simple statement: "Well, we won." The
television commentator, former presidential candidate
and altogether conservative force then sat down with
us to give his brash but always compelling perspective
on Nixon and the year that restored the Republican
party's place in the political system.
'68 was developing and all the turmoil was happening
around the country, especially in the Democratic party,
what was the Nixon plan?
Our political game plan was to win primaries. We challenged
anyone and everyone to meet Nixon in the Republican
primaries, and we went through the primaries winning
them. [Nelson] Rockefeller and [Ronald] Reagan challenged
us in Oregon, but we beat them both.
we were affected by events. [At the end of the March,]
I was waiting at La Guardia Airport when Nixon's jet
came in, and I ran to the plane and said, "Johnson's
dropped out of the race." Four days later, Martin
Luther King was assassinated and the fires started.
[A couple months later,] I saw Bobby Kennedy in Oregon.
We had announced our victory in the primary, and I
waited around for Bobby Kennedy to come in and declare
his defeat—it was the first time a Kennedy had
ever been beaten. I was as close to him as I am to
you now when he made his concession to Gene McCarthy.
One week later, I called Richard Nixon at 3 in the
morning and said Kennedy had been shot. I had just
seen it on television. [Then, in August,] I was at
the Conrad Hilton opposite Grant Park in Chicago during
the Democratic National Convention. I was Nixon's
agent there and reporting back to him by telephone
what was going on. Mainly it was, "Sir, you're
not going to believe this." You know that story
from War and Peace of that doctor walking
across the battle field and everything's happening
but nothing happened to him and he went right through
to victory? Except I will say that in October, our
campaign faded badly. Hubert Humphrey came on very
strong. It was a dead heat at the end, and I was very
nervous. I thought we were going to lose.
did occurrences like the student riots or the assassination
of Kennedy affect the campaign?
the riots and student disorders and the convention
in Chicago, we made a simple point: If [the Democrats]
can't unite their party, how can they unite the country?
It was a very effective tactic. After the riots in
Chicago, one of Nixon's very first stops was a motorcade
right through the streets of Chicago where he got
a tremendously warm reception and the contrast was
did you think of everything that was happening with
the youth generation at that time?
was down there in Grant Park the night before everything
went on and some of [the demonstrators] were as obnoxious
as they could be. They were insulting me. They thought
I was the FBI because I had a coat and tie on. They
were insulting the cops. I watched the scene the next
day from the 19th floor with Norman Mailer and Jose
Torres. Torres was appalled at the cops, but I was
less appalled that [the demonstrators] were getting
beaten up and clubbed around in the park. The cops
were chasing them around. Still, it wasn't anything
I had seen in the 1950s.
violence didn't surprise you?
didn't surprise me. I wrote the speech Spiro Agnew
gave in Des Moines in 1969 where he talked about how
the media basically smeared the city and the police
of Chicago. Mayor Richard J. Daley said it was the
greatest speech he'd ever heard. Look, there's no
doubt the police shouldn't have been running around
in the park, but there's also no doubt that they couldn't
ignore the obscenities and all the filthy names and
stuff [the demonstrators] were throwing at them night
after night. The police were young guys, too—about
the same generation.
the environment of 1968 foster idealism in the country's
I don't know if what went on in Grant Park was idealism.
I thought it was hooliganism. They were a bunch of
overprivileged kids behaving obnoxiously, and they
got beat up. These things tend to happen. In what
sense were they idealistic? The idealists were the
kids that did their duty and went to Vietnam.
weren't some of these demonstrators campaigning for
peace and trying to end war?
By marching around? There was a war going on. Lyndon
Johnson and John F. Kennedy put 500,000 guys out there
fighting, and Bill Clinton was over in Europe demonstrating
against his own country and against the armed forces
who were fighting and dying. I think that's more self-indulgent
are the consequences of that period manifested today?
was the gutting out of the civil rights movement when
you had the riots. A lot of the good will was gone
after that, after the riots and violence. It did help
to create the great political coalition of Richard
Nixon that we put together in 1972. In '68, the country
was split three ways: George Wallace, Richard Nixon
and Hubert Humphrey. In '72, we got 61% of the vote.
So, clearly the American people were completely alienated
from the radical left, from urban violence, from using
civil disobedience to achieve your goals, from anti-war
protesters who didn't stay within the law, from the
rising crime rate. It was the creation of the great
silent majority which moved on to become the Reagan
coalition. It basically gave us 20 out of 24 years
of the presidency after that.