By Seth Blumenthal from processhistory.org
Running for president in 1968, Richard Nixon offered a flattering view of the nation’s youth, those Americans born during or after World War II. “They are more socially conscious, more politically aware, and much better educated than their parents were at age 18,” he gushed in an eighteen-minute speech on NBC radio. “Youth today is just not as young as it used to be.” Baby boomers’ rising influence on American politics and society made youth politics a necessity. “Never before have the boys in the backroom of American politics paid such obeisance at the altar of youth,” cried one reporter. Thus, the candidate pundits and historians labeled the “New Nixon”–one that embraced the politics of image and ran a public relations-savvy campaign–created the Young Voters for Nixon.
To form this group, Nixon initially looked to the New Right’s mobilized cadre, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). YAF, established by the conservative movement leader William F. Buckley Jr., gathered leading young conservatives to counter “liberal educationism” on campuses. Virulently anti-communist and supportive of the free market and states’ rights, YAF included over twenty thousand members and proved its influence on the GOP’s conservative shift in 1964 when its leaders formed Youth for Goldwater. They organized to promote Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy that opposed Civil Rights legislation and supported a more aggressiveCold War policy against communism. While Goldwater lost the election to the incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide, his young voters coalesced into a lasting conservative influence on GOP politics.
After meeting with YAF leader Pat Buchanan in 1966, Nixon hired the young “thoroughgoing conservative” as a research assistant to bolster his credibility and network with young political activists on the right. Buchanan’s role inNixon’s campaign, however, proved the exception as many young ideologues preferredRonald Reagan’s ardent attack on the costly government programs that emerged from the 1930s New Deal and the 1960s Great Society. These conservatives in theNew Right especially advocated for Reagan’s “law and order” stance against campus unrest. After all, nearly three-quarters of Americans, including half of the Americans who called the Vietnam War a mistake, saw protesters in a negative light.