Publication Date


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Committee Members

Jonathan Winkler (Advisor)

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


This work examines the relationship between President Richard Nixon and the American conservative movement, 1969-1974. Nixon's anti-communist persona proved pivotal in winning the 1968 Republican nomination, with support from the party's consevative base. The foreign policies orcherstrated by Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, however, which sought to reduce tensions with China and the Soviet Union, infuriated the conservatives. In 1971-1972, they suspended their support of the administration and even drafted their own candidate, the Ohio congressman, John Ashbrook, to challenge Nixon in the 1972 primary campaign. Although the Ashbrook campaign had a minimal impact, it set a precedent for conservative opposition to detente in the 1970s and 1980s. The Watergate scandal that cut Nixon's second term short also revealed his strained relationship with the right, which decided to withdraw their support of Nixon. The conservative reaction to detente also led to a convergence with the neoconservatives, an alliance of anti-communist liberals, who united behind Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The thesis argues that Nixon and the conservatives developed fundementally different approaches to diplomacy. Although both regarded communism as the gravest threat American ever faced, they disagreed on the proper means to deal with the threat. Nixon's realist outlook on foreign affairs allowed the United States to make substantial progress in relations with China and the Soviet Union, on the belief that all sides had mutual interests. Since Conseratives saw communism as a monolithic force intent on curbing America's influence in the worldm, it made them favor a more aggressive foreign policy. The work concludes that anti-communism remained a major force in American politics in the post-Vietnam era, largely in response to detente, which is evident in the strong conservative reaction to the policy.

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Department or Program

Department of History

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