Richard Nixon

Simultaneously his own harshest critic and biggest fan, Richard Nixon fulfilled his biggest dream and worst nightmare when he returned to politics in the late 1960s.

"You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

Richard Milhous Nixon, perhaps one of the most widely recognized presidents of the United States, failed to make good on that statement.

In a political career that spanned three decades, Nixon earned a reputation for controversy and deceit. He has been denounced a liar and a hypocrite, but he has also been praised for his brilliant foreign policy tactics and enviable political acumen. By the time of his death in 1994, Nixon had earned a measure of begrudging respect as an elder statesman, although his name will forever be linked with the Watergate scandal.

Nixon's political career began in 1946, when he was persuaded by a group of California Republicans to challenge the Democratic congressman Jerry Voorhis for a seat in the House of Representatives. His first campaign pegged him as a fierce anti-Communist, a distinction that he solidified by his participation in the renowned Alger Hiss case. On the strength of his two-term record in the House, Nixon was nominated for the U.S. Senate in 1950. But his tenure was cut short when the Republican national convention selected him to be General Dwight D. Eisenhower's running mate.

At first considered a "sure-thing" by his GOP cohorts, Nixon faced a crisis when questions regarding illegal campaign funding nearly pushed him off the ticket. In a nationally televised appeal to voters, Nixon gave his now-famous "Checkers Speech," asking for forgiveness and understanding. He remained on the ballot and was elected as vice president of the United States in 1952. As Vice President, Nixon focused on foreign affairs, at one point staging an impromptu debate with Nikita Kruschev that made headlines around the globe. In 1960, Nixon easily won the GOP presidential nomination, which placed him opposite a young Democrat named John F. Kennedy. In an election that was one of the closest in history, Kennedy defeated Nixon by only 100,000 votes nationwide.

Nixon returned to California and ran for governor of that state in 1962. But his efforts were once again met with disappointment. Nixon angrily announced his withdrawal from active politics, saying "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentleman, this is my last press conference." Shortly after, Nixon moved to New York City where he entered into partnership with a successful Wall Street law firm. However, politics remained Nixon's passion, and he continued to speak out on foreign policy issues and address Republican fund rallies, thus preserving his influence in the GOP. By 1968, Nixon announced that he was back in the game, and ran again for the office of president against Hubert H. Humphrey.

This time he won. Yet he did not inherit an easy job: The country was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and domestic unrest and violence was all too common. His foremost concern and strength lay in international affairs, and Nixon strove to bridge the growing chasm between the U.S. and communist nations such as the Soviet Union and China.

With his popularity reaching all-time highs, Nixon was reelected in 1972. But then the Waterwater scandal and all of its damaging implications were brought to light during weeks of televised Senate trials, mudslinging, and scapegoating. On August 9, 1974, before the House could vote to impeach him, Nixon resigned the presidency, the first incumbent ever to do so. Nixon's political career was over, except for a brief resurgence of popularity in the early 1990s, when he was half-jokingly considered for a Republican nomination in the 1992 election.

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