Book Review: The Greatest Comeback

The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat To Create The New Majority, by Patrick Buchanan

[Note: This book was proved free of charge by Crown Forum books in exchange for an honest review.]

This book answers a question that I have seen framed with in other contexts [1], the question of how Richard Nixon went from losing a close campaign to JFK in 1960 and losing the gubernatorial election in 1962 in California and announcing his retirement from politics and his comeback six years later to win the presidency in 1968. This novel tells that story, focusing mainly on the period from 1965 onward when Pat Buchanan worked with him as a speechwriter and political aide. This book is to Nixon what the writings of Hay and Nicolay are to Lincoln, the work of a clever and ambitious aide who still today remains best known for his work with Nixon, a man whose career ended in scandal (presumably left for a future volume, as it is only discussed in passing here, with a great deal of exoneration attempted) but who was a compelling political figure of the highest order.

For those looking for secrets into Nixon’s political prowess are likely to be disappointed. He was naturally bright, a complicated person [2] who had plenty of contradictions, and who was not a particularly ideological man, an anti-Communist centrist with law and order tendencies who was widely recognized as intelligent but reviled and loathed by most of the press. This book focuses over and over again on the adversarial relationship between Nixon and the press, and how it governed his behavior in the run-up to the 1968 election (including his savvy strategy of letting Romney campaign early and get bludgeoned by the press before joining in a few months later). The real secrets to Nixon’s success are a handful of qualities: hard work, preparation, a desire to be surrounded by a wide variety of perspectives to have a sounding board as to how a given tactic would resonate with different audiences, a desire for flexibility, a combination of loyalty as well as surprising amounts of both rancor and graciousness, and a depth of thinking that few leaders of his time were able to match.

Where this book particularly succeeds is in providing a behind-the-scenes look at how a campaign took an opportunity for a comeback bid and did so by dint of a lot of hard work, with a few gaffes but nothing particularly critical (except a tendency to play it a little too safe towards the end of the general campaign in 1968). A large part of that was loyalty to Republicans, working hard even in difficult campaigns (like 1964) to show that whatever his own private disappointments that he was willing to support and encourage others in their hour of need, winning him a lot of people who were in his debt because of his loyalty and hard work on their behalf. The campaign of 1966, when Nixon made bold predictions about a Republican resurgence and then went out and worked hard for it, was critical in providing Nixon with the support of a wide variety of Republicans who quite correctly saw a great deal of worth in standing beside someone who campaigned hard for them.

Buchanan’s role in this is certainly not modest, for although he affects a modesty in the beginning stages of the book, it is clear that he saw a chance to view and help make history, and he took that chance and ran with it. Buchanan is honest about Nixon’s savvy and trickiness, but perhaps the most telling quality of Nixon is his prickliness at the double standards he chafed under, where everyone seemed to get easier treatment than he did. Buchanan certainly courted a lot of danger, drawing more attention than is safe for someone who is supposed to be read but not seen or heard of, to the point of deliberately going to riots and other historically significant scenes where America started to fray apart. Where this book succeeds is in two tasks, showing the nuts and bolts of a successful political campaign as well as providing a humane and sympathetic look to a man who is not often viewed sympathetically. Buchanan is skillful enough at showing the human side of Richard Nixon to make one want to cheer for him against the divisive liberals who started the culture wars that we are still fighting, and that is a significant achievement.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The Greatest Comeback

  1. Pingback: The Shy Tory | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: 11 Essential Conservative Thinkers You Won’t Read In College (But Should) | Edge Induced Cohesion

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