1968 Nixon VS. Humphrey VS. Wallace
The Living Room Candidate
"Laughter," Humphrey, 1968
(Man laughing hysterically)
[TEXT: Agnew for Vice-President?]
[TEXT: This would be funny if it weren't so serious.]
(Man continues to laugh, then chokes and coughs)
"Laughter," Citizens for Humphrey-Muskie, 1968
Maker: Tony SchwartzVideo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1968/laughter (accessed December 10, 2023).
By 1968, one of the most turbulent years in American history, the number of American troops in Vietnam had risen from 16,000 (in 1963) to more than 500,000. Nightly TV coverage of the "living-room war" ignited an antiwar movement. After a weak showing in the New Hampshire primary, President Johnson shocked the country on March 31 by announcing that he would not seek reelection. Just four days later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, sparking riots in more than 100 cities. In June, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered the race late and had not won any primaries, became the Democratic nominee at a tumultuous convention in Chicago marred by disorder inside the convention hall and by the televised spectacle of violent confrontations between police and antiwar protesters.
The Republicans nominated Richard M. Nixon, who was attempting a political comeback after losing the 1960 presidential election and the 1962 California gubernatorial race. Nixon claimed to speak for the "silent majority" of law-abiding citizens whose voices were presumably drowned out amidst the social upheaval, and he promised a return to the stability of the Eisenhower years.
Discontent with major-party candidates led to an independent run by Alabama Governor George Wallace, who waged the most successful third-party candidacy since 1924.
Spiro Agnew for vice president
"Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It"
The centerpiece of the Nixon advertising campaign was a superbly crafted series of spots by filmmaker Eugene Jones. With carefully orchestrated montages of still photographs accompanied by jarring, dissonant music, his ads created an image of a country out of control, with crime on the rise, violence in the streets, and an unwinnable war raging overseas. The ads implicitly linked these problems to the Democratic administration, of which Humphrey was a part.
The most controversial of Jones’s ads,
Nixon’s ad campaign was part of a carefully managed television effort that was detailed in Joe McGinnis’s The Selling of the President 1968. The book made the public aware for the first time of the critical role of consultants and advertising executives in creating a candidate’s image. The campaign designed a strategy by which Nixon appeared only in controlled situations. He limited his public appearances and press conferences, and refused to debate Humphrey. Instead, he appeared in a series of hour-long programs, produced by Roger Ailes, in which he was interviewed live by panels of carefully selected citizens. Nixon occasionally faced tough questions, but the discussions took place in front of partisan audiences from which the press was barred.
Edmund Muskie for vice president
"Humphrey-Muskie, Two You Can Trust"
The strategy behind the 1968 Democratic commercials was to convince the public that Hubert Humphrey could be trusted and Richard Nixon could not. While Nixon claimed that he had gained a fresh perspective during his eight years out of public office, the Humphrey ads capitalized on the popular notion that Nixon was an enigmatic figure with little record of public service. The press frequently wondered whether there really was a "New Nixon," and attacked his refusal to reveal the specifics of his "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War.
As the sitting vice president in an unpopular administration, it was easier, and safer, for Humphrey to attack Nixon than to promote his own accomplishments. His campaign produced several powerful negative ads reminiscent of Johnson’s anti-Goldwater campaign. One
Humphrey’s positive ads stressed his personality, portraying him as a trustworthy, compassionate man with a commitment to domestic issues such as civil rights, education, and Social Security. One spot,
Curtis Lemay for vice president
It was essential for Wallace, the least known candidate, to build public recognition. The Alabama governor appeared in all of his ads, speaking directly from a podium. In simple, straightforward style, Wallace outlined his conservative views, including an opposition to busing as a means of forced integration, a demand for an all-out war on crime, and a call for massive bombing in Vietnam to bring about a quick end to the war.