On 23 September, 1952, Richard Nixon made one of the most important speeches in his political career.
In the midst of the Presidential campaign, a story had broken that GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had had access to a fund to defray campaign expenses.
The initial reporting about ‘the fund’ were matter of fact, but as time went on the stories became more sensational, with headlines about a ‘millionaires club’ and ‘secret rich man’s trust fund’. The story took on dangerous proportions due to the fact that the Republican ticket was running on a platform of public integrity and making the most out of a series of corruption scandals in the outgoing Truman administration. By 20 September over 100 newspapers had run editorials in regard to the fund, with their content being 2 to 1 negative against Nixon. Republicans became so nervous there was open talk of dumping Nixon from the ticket.
Determined to save his rising career, Nixon went on the air with a nationwide broadcast to answer the charges, and gained the largest audience in television up to that time.
Nixon’s technique was memorable and effective. First, Nixon he kept media and public speculation at a fever pitch by announcing that he would make a broadcast but steadfastly refusing to provide any details as to what it might cover, thereby fueling speculation that it may be his withdrawal from the race. Next, Nixon outflanked his political opponents by not so much addressing the particulars of the fund, but meticulously going through the assets and debts of his own family finances. As Nixon was a 39-year-old first term Senator at the time, they were appropriately modest. In addition, Nixon out maneuvered his own Republican Party by making a plea at the end of the broadcast that people should wire, write and call the Republican National Committee saying if they thought he should stay on or be removed from the ticket. The RNC office was flooded with pro-Nixon calls and telegrams. Lastly, Nixon manipulated the audience itself by distracting their attention away from the fund by relating an anecdote in which he had mentioned his young daughters desire to obtain a dog and that a supporter in Texas had sent a black and white spotted cocker spaniel in response. Nixon concluded that regardless of what anyone might say regarding this being an improper gift, he was going to keep the dog that his six-year-old daughter had named, ‘Checkers’.
The Eisenhower-Nixon ticket would go on to win a decisive victory in November. Nixon would thereafter celebrate the anniversary of the fund speech with each passing year.