It comes as no surprise to most voters that candidates are vetted, groomed, and closely instructed on what to say and how to say it.  In the television age a candidate’s image plays a vital role in the campaign, from the first Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960,

to the relatively new conversations on how a female candidate is expected to appear and behave.

But how often does the voting public consider the fact that a candidate may be advertised and sold, just like, to use Studs’ simile, a can of Right Guard?

Author Joe McGinniss went behind the scenes with Richard Nixon’s “image advisers” during the 1968 campaign to find out just exactly what they did and why.  (McGinniss makes it clear that Nixon was not the only candidate with a PR team, just the only candidate who would allow him to observe.)  The book that resulted from McGinniss’s observations was The Selling of the President 1968.

Nixon campaign rally, June 30, 1986.

Nixon campaign rally, June 30, 1986.

The team was made up of Ray Price, a former editor of the New York Herald Tribune; Len Garment, an attorney who had worked with Nixon; Harry Treleavan of the J. Walter Thompson ad agency; Frank Shakespeare, who had previously been with CBS; Eugene Jones, the campaign’s filmmaker; and to plan the televised panel shows, Roger Ailes.  Kevin Phillips was also on the team, serving as the “ethnic specialist”; he would go on to write The Emerging Republican Majority. The Daily Kos revisited the book in 2013 and reflects on where Phillips was right and where he went wrong.

The entire hour is full of insights into the campaign process then and now. (One timely gem from McGinniss: “A candidate is not as easy a commodity to hustle because there’s always the danger he’ll open his mouth”.)  But if you don’t have an hour, be sure to check out

  • 20:15: A 1967 memorandum from Ray Price on Nixon’s television image.
  • 22:15: On the televised panels and Roger Ailes’ responsibility for them.  Keep listening to hear about Philadelphia journalist Jack McKinney asking Nixon unexpected and difficult questions.
  • 33:57: A funny accident in one of Nixon’s commercial spots.
  • 38:59: Studs and Joe McGinniss making a comparison between Nixon’s television appearances and Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” on the radio.

Photo credit: Ollie Atkins, White House photographer, Public domain.

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