A bit of campaign history that never was — Richard Nixon’s promise in 1968 that he had a “secret plan” for ending the Vietnam War — reportedly has emerged as a snide putdown in Connecticut’s closely contested gubernatorial race.
According to the New Haven Register, Dannel Malloy, the Democratic incumbent, referred to Nixon’s purported “secret plan” in attempting to score points against his Republican foe, Tom Foley.
Malloy, the newspaper reported, said “’if you think Tom Foley has a plan, you are probably foolish enough to vote for him. He can’t tell what he wants to do. He won’t tell you what he will cut to get to a flat budget.’” The newspaper further reported that in remarks after a candidates’ debate last night, Malloy compared Foley’s positions “to President Richard Nixon promising he had a secret plan for ending the Vietman [sic] War.”
Now, state politics in Connecticut are but of passing interest to Media Myth Alert; far more intriguing is the reported casual reference to a dubious and mythical tale — a tale of impressive tenacity despite a dearth of evidence to support it.
The notion that Nixon promised a “secret plan” during his run for the presidency dates to the primary election campaign of 1968 and a speech in New Hampshire. In early March 1968, Nixon said that his “new leadership” would “end the war” in Vietnam.
In its report about the speech, the United Press International wire service pointed out that Nixon “did not spell out how” he would “end the war.” But the UPI dispatch noted that “Nixon’s promise recalled Dwight D. Eisenhower’s pledge in 1952, when Nixon was his running mate, to end the war in Korea.”
Nixon may have been vague in those remarks about Vietnam but claiming to possess a “secret plan” to end the war was not an element of his campaign: He did not stump for the presidency declaring he had one.
That much is clear in reviewing a full-text database of leading U.S. newspapers in 1968 — among them the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Wall Street Journal, and Chicago Tribune. The search terms “Nixon” and “secret plan” returned no articles from January 1967 to January 1969 in which Nixon was quoted as touting or otherwise speaking about having a “secret plan” for Vietnam. (The search period embraced Nixon’s campaign and its immediate aftermath.)
Had Nixon promised or run on a “secret plan,” the country’s leading newspapers surely would have mentioned it.
Nixon’s foes on occasion claimed that Nixon’s vagueness about how he would “end the war” was tantamount to having a “secret plan.” But such was their interpretation.
When asked directly, Nixon replied by saying that he had “no gimmicks or secret plans” for Vietnam.
Nixon further stated, according to an article published March 28, 1968, in the Los Angeles Times:
“If I had any way to end the war, I would pass it on to President [Lyndon] Johnson.” Nixon’s remarks were made just a few days before Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.
It is possible that Nixon in 1968 privately had in mind a “secret plan” of some kind for Vietnam. But it was not among his campaign promises.
Like many media myths, the anecdote seems too good not to be true. It is easily remembered and suggests guile and duplicity, qualities not infrequently associated with Nixon. But the evidence shows that “secret plan” is really more Nixonian than Nixon.
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