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The Presidential election of 1972 had two strong candidates, President

Richard Nixon and George McGovern. There were many issues which had a great

deal of importance to the election. The Vietnam war and the stability of the

economy at the time were two main factors. The election ended in one the

largest political scandals in U.S. history, being the Watergate break-in, and

cover-up, by President Richard Nixon.

The Democratic party had a large selection of candidates from which to

choose for the primary elections of 1972. There were many well known candidates

who entered the race for the nomination. The leading contenders were Edmund S.

Muskie of Maine, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and Hubert H. Humphrey

of Minnesota. Other candidates who didn’t receive quite as much recognition

were Alabama governor George C. Wallace, Mayor Sam Yorty of Los Angeles, Rep.

Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas, Sen. Vance Hartke of Indiana, former Senator Eugene

J. McCarthy of Minnesota, Mayor John Lindsay of New York City and Rep. Shirley

Chisholm of New York. Chisholm was the first black to run in a series of

presidential primaries.” (Congressional Quarterly, “Guide to U.S. Elections”,

Third ed., 1994, pg.603-605.) 5

Governor Wallace had a devastating moment in his campaign while in

Maryland. “In early May a sick young man named Arthur Bremer altered the

politics of 1972. As Governor Wallace campaigned toward certain victory in the

Maryland primary, Bremer stepped forward out of a shopping-center crowd and shot

him four times. Wallace survived, but at the cost of being paralyzed from the

waist down. Maryland’s voters surged out on election day to give Wallace a huge

victory, his last of 1972. While Wallace recuperated, the millions who would

have voted for him as a Democratic or independent candidate began to move in

overwhelming proportions behind the candidacy began to move in overwhelming

proportions behind the candidacy of Richard Nixon.” (Benton, William. “U.S.

Election of 1972.” Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year. pg.12-13, 1973


When the California primary was approaching, Humphrey tried to save the

nomination for himself. “Humphrey excoriated his old senate friend (McGovern)

for his expensive ideas on welfare and his desire to cut the defense budget. It

almost worked. But McGovern won all of California’s giant delegation, and beat

Humphrey 44.3% to 39.1% in the popular vote.”5 That loss spelled out the end

for Humphrey’s Democratic nomination.

Many felt Edmund Muskie was sure to win the Democratic nomination for

the election of 1972. “All political observers agreed on the certainty that

Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine would be the Democratic party’s nominee.”1 “As

the front-runner, he wanted to snare the nomination early and so was committed

to running in all of the first eight presidential primaries. Prominent

Democratic politicians lined up eagerly to endorse him. Among them: Gov. John

Gilligan of Ohio; Leonard Woodcock, President of the United Auto Workers; Iowa

Senator Harold Hughes; and Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp.”1 Muskie had

many supporters, and a good chance of receiving the nomination, perhaps even

becoming the next President of the United States. President Nixon knew that

Muskie had a good chance of winning and felt he had to do something to get

Muskie out of the race. Nixon had seven men who were loyal to him make up false

press releases about Muskie, and his wife. These press releases claimed that

Muskie had had affairs with both men and women, that he beat his wife, and then

the topper which claimed that Muskies’ wife was an alcoholic. These false

statements destroyed Muskies’ campaign and reputation of being a calm

trustworthy candidate. Then one day “mounting the bed of a truck parked outside

the offices of the archconservative Manchester Union Leader, Muskie launched an

attack on the paper’s publisher, William Loeb. As he spoke of Loeb’s

unflattering remarks about Mrs. Muskie, the senator’s voice cracked, and the

crowd saw tears form in his eyes.”1 This incident badly dented Muskie’s image.

After that event, people saw Muskie as a weak person. They didn’t want a weak

person running the country. “Muskie had finished fourth in Pennsylvania, behind

winner Humphrey, Wallace, and McGovern, and a distant second to McGovern in

Massachusetts. He then withdrew with dignity.” 1 Muskie later said of this

incident: “It changed people’s minds about me, of what kind of a guy I was.

They were looking for a strong, steady man, and here I was weak.” ”

(Congressional Quarterly, “Chronology of Presidential Elections”, Fourth ed.

1994, pg.329-330)6

After a long primary campaign, and all the primary elections, Senator

George McGovern won the nomination for the Democratic party in the 1972

presidential election. “McGovern did not get to deliver his acceptance speech–

perhaps the best speech of his career–until 2:48 a.m., when most television

viewers were already in bed.”6 Senator McGovern had a difficult campaign ahead

of him. His opposition, President Richard Nixon, already had the upper hand on

him because he had been elected President four years before. President Nixon

was the Republican candidate. “President Richard Nixon told a reporter that

“the election was over the day he (Sen. George McGovern) was nominated.” “1

McGovern campaigned very hard. “Between September 3 and September 15, the South

Dakotan barnstormed through 29 cities and towns in 18 states covering some

14,000 miles and being seen by more than 175,000 people.” (U.S. News and World

Report, “Can Democrats Close the Gap, Sept. 25, 1972, Vol. LXXXIII, No.13,

pg.17-22)3 McGovern knew, if he wanted to win, he had to focus on the important

issues of 1972.

There were four very important issues. These were the war in Vietnam,

the economy, foreign policy, and defense. The two major ones were the war in

Vietnam, and the economy. McGovern was sure that if he was elected president,

he would be able to end the war. “We will be able to end the war by a simple

plan that need not be kept secret: The immediate total withdrawal of all

Americans from Southeast Asia.” (Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S.

Elections, “1972 Conventions”, Third ed., 1994 pg..127-132.)4 McGovern goes on

to say in another interview that “I will stake my whole political career on

being able to withdraw our forces and get our prisoners out within 90 days after

inauguration. I really think I can do it faster than that.” (U.S. News and

World, “How McGovern Sees The Issues,” August 7, 1972, Vol. LXXIII No.6, pg.18-

22)8 McGovern, like everyone else wanted to end the war in Vietnam as soon as

possible. McGovern felt the Nixon could have ended the war years earlier, and

could have spared all those lives. “There’s nothing that we can negotiate now

in ending this war that we couldn’t have done four years ago. We haven’t gained

anything in these four years of continued slaughter that’s gone on in this

present Administration.”8 “I’ll be one of those rejoicing even if Nixon does

end this war and it does accrue to his advantage. I just wish he had done it

four years ago. If he had, I might not now be running for the President.”8

McGovern makes it seem as though his sole purpose, and reason for wanting to

become President is to simply end the Vietnam war.

Nixon along with the Republican party, and their platform stated that

“We will continue to seek a settlement of the Vietnam War which will permit the

people of Southeast Asia to live in peace under political arrangements of their

own choosing. We take specific note of the remaining major obstacle to

settlement-Hanoi’s demand that the United States overthrow the Saigon government

and impose a Communist-dominated government on the South Vietnamese. We stand

unequivocally at the side of the President in his effort to negotiate honorable

terms, and in his refusal to accept terms which would dishonor this country.”4

“We insist that, before all American forces are withdrawn from Vietnam, American

prisoners must be returned and a full accounting made of the missing in action

and of those who have died in enemy hands.” (U.S. News and World Report,

“Promises Republican Make,” Sept. 4, 1972, Vol. LXXIII No.10, pg.28-29)2

Although the Republicans held the basic idea that the Democrats did, which was

to end the war in Vietnam as soon as possible, they didn’t specify an allotted

amount of time in which they would accomplish this goal as did the Democrats.

The second major issue of 1972 was the economy. “The Nixon record

increased unemployment by 3 million people.”8 There were price freezes, and

wage-price controls. McGovern and the Democrats stated that their goal was for

full employment, and for those who are unable to work, that they would receive a

guaranteed income. “The heart of a program of economic security based on earned

income must be creating jobs and training people to fill them. Millions of jobs

– real jobs, not make-work — need to be provided. Public service employment

must be greatly expanded in order to make the government the employer of last

resort and guarantee a job for all.” “What I offer is a balanced, full-

employment economy–where we can provide enough, both to protect our interest

abroad and to bring progress at home.”4

Part of McGovern’s economic plan included defense spending cut backs.

“What I offer is not simply a set of promises, but a specific plan to pay for

those promises. First, I would reduce by approximately 10 billion dollars in

each of the next three years the rapidly escalating, lavish Nixon military

budget. Current spending wastes billions of dollars on planes that do not fly,

and missiles that will not work. I will never permit America to become a

second-rate power in the world. Neither can we permit America to become a

second-rate society. And if we choose a reasonable military budget, we will not

have to choose between the decline of our security and the deterioration of our

standard of life.”(U.S. News and World Report, “From McGovern: A New Blueprint

For Taxes, Welfare,” Vol. LXXIII No.11, pg.14-16)7 Our country does not only

need to be strong militarily but also economically. Our military is an

important part of our economy, but it shouldn’t be one of the major influencing

factors that determines the health of the economy. The Democrats felt that

“Spending for military purposes is greater by far than federal spending for

education, housing, environmental protection, unemployment insurance or welfare.

Unneeded dollars for the military at once add to the tax burden and pre-empt

funds from programs of direct and immediate benefit to our people. Moreover,

too much that is now spent on defense not only adds nothing to our strength but

makes us less secure by stimulating other countries to respond.”4

Just as the Democrats want a healthy economy the Republicans want the

same thing. Our country needs a healthy economy to survive, and the Republicans

feel they can give us that strong economy. “We stand for full employment–a job

for everyone willing and able to work in an economy freed of inflation, its

vigor not dependent upon war or massive military spending. We will fight for

responsible federal budgets to help assure steady expansion of the economy

without inflation. The right of American citizens to buy, hold or sell goods

should be re-established as soon as this is feasible.”2 The Republicans agree

that the economy shouldn’t be based on war or huge amounts of defense expenses

to keep our economy, but they also feel that the military is an important part

of our country. Traditionally the Republican party has always supported a strong

military, and feels it is necessary to keep America as one of the world’s

strongest nations. President Nixon, and the Republican party stated that “By

adhering to a defense policy based on strength at home, partnership abroad and a

willingness to negotiate everywhere, we hold that lasting peace is now

achievable. We will not let America become a second-class power, dependent for

survival on the good will of adversaries. We draw a sharp distinction between

prudent reductions in defense spending and the meat-ax slashes with which some

Americans are now beguiled by the political opposition. We wholeheartedly

support an all-volunteer armed force and expect to end the draft by July, 1973.

We will continue to pursue arms-control agreements–but we recognize that this

can be successful only if we maintain sufficient strength.”2 Basically Nixon

and the Republican Party were stating that we need a strong military and a

healthy economy, but cutting defense spending is not the solution to the

economic problem.

Another major issue focused on during the election of 1972 was foreign

policy. Senator McGovern, and the Democratic party stated the next Democratic

Administration should “End American participation in the war in Southeast Asia.

Re-establish control over military activities and reduce military spending,

where consistent with national security. Defend America’s real interests and

maintain our alliances, neither playing world policeman nor abandoning old and

good friends. Not neglect America’s relations with small third-world nations in

placing reliance on great power relationships. Return to Congress, and the

people, a meaningful role in decisions on peace and war, and make information

public, except where real national defense interests are involved.”4 The

Democratic party didn’t want other countries to look upon the U.S. as the

policeman of the world. They also wanted to make sure the U.S. remained

friendly with small third world countries, because we may need to trade with

them, or we might need raw materials we don’t have.

The Republicans had a different idea on foreign policy. They said that

“Never before has our country negotiated with so many nations on so wide a range

of subjects — and never with greater success.” They go on to say “We will

press for expansion of contacts with the peoples of Eastern Europe and the

People’s Republic of China, as long isolated from most of the world.”2 The

Republican Party wanted to improve the relationships with countries that have

been cut off from much of the world. The Republicans felt they were doing a

good job with foreign policy, and didn’t think they should change much of

anything they were doing.

After all the months of campaigning, and voting were through, Richard

Nixon was reelected the new President of the United States. “Nixon swept back

into the White House on Nov. 7 with a devastating landslide victory over

McGovern. He carried a record of 49 states for a total of 520 electoral

votes.”5 Nixon did have a couple of advantages that McGovern didn’t. For one,

the people had confidence in him since he had been elected once before. They

knew what kind of a President he was, and what they as the constituents could

expect from him. Second, McGovern made a bad decision when he chose his vice

president running mate. McGovern had chosen Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri.

“Barely 10 days after selection of the Democratic ticket, on July 25, Eagleton

disclosed that he voluntarily had hospitalized himself three times between 1960

and 1966 for “nervous exhaustion and fatigue. “McGovern strongly supported his

running mate at the time, but in the following days, his support for the

Missouri senator began to wane. After a meeting with McGovern on July 31,

Eagleton withdrew from the ticket.”4 Eagleton badly damaged the image of

McGovern. The constituents lost their confidence in McGovern and in his

decision making power. They felt that McGovern may not make wise decisions if

he was elected the next President of the U.S. McGovern was also somewhat

radical views. “CRP focused early and often on the more radical-sounding views

of McGovern, highlighting his support of amnesty for young people who fled to

Canada to avoid the draft, his sometime musings that marijuana might better be

legalized, and his purported support of legalized abortion.”1 Many felt that

McGovern’s views may have been more radical and outlandish than some had


After Nixon was elected to office, “It appeared in 1972 that American

politics was entering an age of calm consensus. The economy was temporarily

strong: opposition to the Vietnam War had faded as the two sides negotiated in

Paris for an end to the war.”6 Then in Nixon’s political career “A warlike

atmosphere between the media (as well as other perceived enemies of the

administration that appeared on Nixon’s “enemies list”) and the mushrooming

Watergate scandal combined to create a dark side to U.S. politics in the 1970’s.

At its simplest level, the Watergate affair was “a third-rate burglary” and a

subsequent cover-up by President Nixon and his aides. In the summer of 1972,

several employees of the Committee to Re-elect the President were arrested after

they were discovered breaking into and bugging the Democratic National

Committee’s offices at the posh Watergate complex in Washington. The break-in

was not a major issue in the 1972 election, but the next year congressional

committees began an investigation.”6 Along with the congressional committees

investigation, two reporters from the Washington Post, named Bob Woodward, and

Carl Berstein did some investigating of their own. They had a politician who

knew about all that was going on with the Watergate scandal, nicknamed “Deep

Throat.” Deep Throat supplied the two reporters with the information they

needed to tear open the Watergate scandal. These two reporters open up the

Watergate scandal, and all the participants involved. “During the investigation,

a presidential aide revealed that Nixon had secretly taped Oval Office

conversations with aides. When the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox

ordered Nixon to surrender the tapes, Nixon ordered Cox fired. Then the Supreme

Court ruled that Nixon had to surrender even more tapes, which indicated that he

had played an active role in covering up the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned

the presidency when his impeachment and conviction appeared certain. The

impeachment articles charged him with obstruction of justice, abuse of

presidential powers and contempt of Congress. President Nixon resigned on

August 9, 1974. The Watergate affair was perhaps the greatest political scandal

in U.S. history. For the first time, a president was forced to leave office

before his term expired.”6

Vice President Gerald Ford became the President of the United States.

President Ford then granted Richard Nixon a full pardon of the crimes committed

against the presidency, and the people of the United States.

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