In hindsight, the magnitude of Richard Nixon's reelection victory in 1972—the largest Republican landslide of the Cold War—leads some to ask why the President ever got involved in the Watergate cover-up. Nixon won 49 out of 50 states, taking all but Massachusetts. He established an early lead over the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and never lost it.

McGovern, on the other hand, stumbled early. He selected Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, only to learn later that the senator from Missouri had undergone treatment for mental illness. A political firestorm immediately erupted over whether a man with a history of mental illness should be next in line to become commander in chief in the nuclear age. McGovern hastily declared himself to be "1,000 percent" behind Eagleton. He then dropped him from the ticket. If selecting a vice president is the first presidential decision that a nominee ever makes, McGovern, by choosing and then rejecting Eagleton, had in effect admitted he made the wrong decision. Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, an architect of John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps and Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, replaced Eagleton, but the damage was already done.

For Nixon, it was the best year of his political life. His diplomatic opening to China reached fruition with a widely televised trip to Beijing. Détente bore fruit with the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and a summit in Moscow. And Nixon's decision to bomb North Vietnam and mine Haiphong Harbor to stop a Communist offensive proved highly popular. When Henry Kissinger announced shortly before the election that he had resolved most major negotiating issues with North Vietnam and that therefore "Peace is at hand," it was only icing on the cake.

During most of this outwardly triumphant year, however, a scandal of epic proportions was quietly growing within the administration.

Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. “Richard Nixon: Campaigns and Elections.” Accessed May 24, 2016.­/president/biography/nixon-campaigns-and-elections.

Anonymous. 1972. "The Nation needs coolness more than clarion calls; intelligence more than charisma; a sense of history more than a sense of histrionics." Committee to Re-Elect the President.  From the Yanker Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 

Anonymous.  1972. "McGovern: Come Home America." Handmade poster.  From the Madison People's Poster and Propaganda Collection, 1969-1976, the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Accessed: May 24, 2016. 

Alix Nelson, Paul Weller, Paul Bacon. 1972. "Getting it all together: McGovern."  Darien House, Inc. Poster [unofficial].  The Yanker Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540