Had Nixon’s attitude toward Communism changed over the years? “Oh no, absolutely not,” he said, obviously glad to praise his candidate. “He understands those people. He knows you have to be tough or they’ll take us over. You see, I have some special knowledge—though, of course, Mr. Nixon has more. I happen to know he’s had top secret briefings—but I have some knowledge from old friends in the military. They come back and tell me the way it really is. If we don’t stop the Chinese here, they’ll keep right on going. Of course, he can’t say anything about Vietnam because it might interfere with the talks in Paris. Mr. Nixon’s a man of real integrity—he won’t take advantage of his special knowledge if it would help Ho Chi Minh, But he knows the enemy, and he knows they hope to win because of all these misguided sympathizers pressuring us here. I’m for him because he won’t let that happen. I’m the head of this company, and I wouldn’t go out in the field for anyone else.”
“Press conferences only come about when a dozen or so important reporters threaten headlines: NIXON HIDING FROM PRESS.”
On the plane, I learned that chances of a personal interview were almost nil. Even press conferences only come about when a dozen or so important reporters band together and threaten headlines: NIXON HIDING FROM PRESS. Herb Klein, Nixon’s polite and very intelligent press secretary with whom I registered my interview request, is so confident of no controversy and no crises that he frequently stays in New York, leaving most day-to-day press dealings to two personable young men: Pat Buchanan, a former newspaper man and Young Americans for Freedom advisor, who is brought in when the press gets obstreperous; and Ron Zeigler, formerly J. Walter Thompson’s account executive for Disneyland, who takes care of the press when it’s calm. There are some exceptions to the no interview rule. Monday, Nixon is to have a ritual lunch with the editorial board of the New York Times, and reporters with a certain amount clout—influential columnists who may endorse him, Time-Life executives, wire service representatives, and the like—are sometimes allowed to sit next to him on the plane. But many of those privileged few joke about “three bump interviews”: they’re taken to the candidate as the plane descends and can stay only till the plane stops at the ramp, so length of talk is evaluated by number of bumps while landing.
“Don’t worry about it,” said a kindly Midwestern newspaperman. “You don’t learn much anyway. His technique is to take the first question and run with it. Maybe he doesn’t use the Western Behavioral Institute the way Reagan did—they fed issues cards into a computer, you know, and came out with all the positions that would fit a basically conservative frame of mind; Reagan just took out the card file when we asked him questions. But this campaign is being run by two psychologists in a backroom somewhere. I’m sure of it.”
With open cars full of Secret Service, local Republican candidates, and Nixon staff, we paraded slowly down Philadelphia’s main streets, the air clogged with ticker tape and confetti and balloons. I got out of the press bus to walk through the crowds; whether they were there because it was lunch time or in support of Nixon, it was hard to tell. Standing in a convertible half a block in front of me, I saw the dark suit and short hair cut of the Secret Service man who was guarding Nixon. But when he turned around to wave to the crowd, I saw that it was Nixon himself. He may be the first President since Warren Harding who seems more the servant than the master.
For a block or two, homemade anti-war and anti-Nixon signs were clustered among “Nixon’s The One” banners. “Nixon’s the one, Humphrey’s another one, and Wallace is another.” “Support your local revolutionary.” “Nixon: Biggest Hawk of ‘em All.” Even one lonely sign in support of Cesar Chavez, the Gandhian leader of the migrant workers’ union in California: “Nixon Eats Grapes.” (Nixon, the only Presidential possibility to come out against Chavez’s organization of the poor and against his grape boycott, did so as a favor to his ex-campaign manager, Bob Finch, now Reagan’s Lieutenant Governor. He has been picketed in several cities already as a result.) Two neatly dressed young men were still wearing McCarthy buttons. A matron with four young children held a sign, “Mr. Nixon, if you’ll please God end the war, we’ll be for you.” A cardboard waved from the back of the crowd said, “Nixon is no Soul Brother.” Another simply: “Nixon—No Soul.”
Ahead of me marched one phenomenon I couldn’t understand: a young Negro with his arm around his girl, smiling and waving a placard at the crowd. Every reporter in the Nixon entourage knew about the game called “$1 for the first black face.” Not even in New York had anyone had to pay off. As the crowds began to thin out behind the barriers (“The people stood ˝ deep,” a New York Times reporter said acidly), I tapped the man on the shoulder and asked to see his sign. “Sure,” he said cheerfully, and turned around the block-lettered placard: “NIXON IS A RACIST.”