Kenneth L. Khachigian (born September 14, 1944, in Visalia, California) is an Armenian-American campaign strategist, speechwriter, and attorney. He was a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon and was chief speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan.
Khachigian is a senior partner in the Orange County, California law office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
He sits on the boards of the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation, the UC Berkeley Foundation, the Armenian Eye Care Project, and Campaigns & Elections Magazine.
He served on the board of overseers of the Hoover Institution from 1986–1992, as a board member of the Armenian Assembly of America from 1983–1989, and as President Reagan's appointee to the National Institute of Justice advisory board.
He received his BA in political science, with honors, from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1966 and his JD from Columbia Law School in 1969. He was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Khachigian is married to Meredith Khachigian, who served for three terms as Chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of California.
Work for Nixon
Khachigian joined Richard Nixon's presidential campaign in December 1967. He was hired by Pat Buchanan answering correspondence and was later hired for the summer as a research and policy aide reporting to Alan Greenspan. Khachigian handled agriculture, housing and transportation issues and worked full-time through the campaign.
In January 1970, soon after graduating from Columbia Law School, he joined the Nixon Administration as part of the nationals goals research staff. In August 1970, he became staff assistant to Herbert Klein, the director of communications. He became involved in the 1970 congressional midterm elections, writing speeches and preparing political analyses. In the early months of 1971, his assignment was to generate support for specific administration proposals. In the spring of 1971, he was transferred with most of Klein's staff to Charles Colson, his duties remained unchanged.
By May 1971, Khachigian was working on the 1972 Presidential re-election campaign. In a memorandum of May 27, 1971, Buchanan described to the chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, the duties which he proposed to delegate to Khachigian: "to keep tabs on candidates, to keep the 'relevant' research on hand, to write materials needed to get into hands [sic] of various speakers, to communicate with party leaders and the like in states where opposition candidates appear." By late spring of 1972, he was regarded as the White House's major research source on the McGovern campaign.
In early 1973, Khachigian transferred to the President's speechwriting staff, working under chief speechwriter David Gergen, with the title of deputy special assistant to the President. At first his subject areas of expertise were agriculture, natural resources and the environment, and political and legal affairs. Beginning in June 1973, however, he took on the tasks of researcher and writer on issues and problems evolving from the Watergate break-in.
Khachigian worked for President Gerald Ford for two months, until the fall of 1974, before moving to San Clemente, California to write speeches and help Nixon write his presidential memoirs. In 1977, he served as chief researcher for Nixon's interview with David Frost.
Work for Reagan
Khachigian joined Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, having been recruited by Reagan's campaign manager, Stu Spencer. Khachigian traveled on the campaign plane to punch-up speeches between campaign stops. He helped coin the term "fatally flawed", which was used throughout the campaign, in reference to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) II with the Soviet Union.
In 1981, Khachigian was named chief speechwriter and special consultant to the President. Within the first 100 days, Khachigian wrote Reagan's inaugural address, his three main economic speeches, and the welcome home to the Iranian hostages.
He resigned after six months to return to the private sector in California; however, he would continue to write many of the major political and policy speeches throughout the President's two terms, including the 1984 nomination acceptance speech, the 1985 remarks at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, and the 1988 Republican National Convention farewell address.
During the 1984 presidential campaign, Khachigian served as chief campaign speechwriter, senior advisor, and director of issues and research. He wrote the 1984 nomination acceptance speech and was one of only two campaign aides who accompanied President Reagan aboard Air Force One throughout his landslide re-election. Khachigian also, along with Stuart Spencer, James A. Baker III, Richard Darman, David Stockman, and Michael Deaver, helped prepare Reagan for his presidential debates with Democrat Walter Mondale.
In May 1985, Reagan delivered a Khachigian crafted speech at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. In the previous month, the Administration had announced that Reagan would visit the Kolmeshohe Cemetery near Bitburg, at the suggestion of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, to pay respects to the soldiers interred there. The visit was intended to be symbolic of the goodwill between the two countries, but unbeknownst to the Reagan Administration, 49 of the graves contained the remains of men who had served in the Waffen-SS. In an effort to placate the protesters, Reagan added a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to his itinerary. Reagan famously said, "... we can and must pledge: Never again." TIME magazine praised the address as a "skillful exercise in both the art of eulogy and political damage control". Reagan biographer, Edmund Morris regards this as the best speech of Reagan's career.
In August 1988, Khachigian drafted Reagan’s farewell address to the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, and then joined the Bush presidential campaign as an aide to vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle. He traveled with Quayle for 10 weeks through election day, preparing him for debates and writing campaign speeches.
Work on California campaigns
Khachigian has been active in California elections since the early 1980s. He is regarded as the "lion" of California GOP politics. Nationally prominent political commentator Bob Novak has written that Khachigian is "perhaps the state’s premier Republican strategist and wordsmith."
During the 1982 and 1986 California gubernatorial campaigns, Khachigian was senior adviser and principal strategist for Governor George Deukmejian. He also served as campaign chairman, campaign manager and senior consultant to Dan Lungren for his two victories as Attorney General and to U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn — engineering come-from-behind wins for Lungren’s first campaign and for Herschensohn’s primary victory in 1992. For Herschensohn’s dramatic upset victory, The San Francisco Chronicle’s leading political reporter, Jerry Roberts, described Khachigian as “the wily veteran GOP message-maker” and dubbed him “best manager” for his efforts.
Work on presidential campaigns
Khachigian is a veteran of nine presidential campaigns.
In addition to his work on the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush-Quayle campaigns, he served as a senior advisor to the Bob Dole, John McCain, and Fred Thompson presidential campaigns.
He was a senior adviser traveling with Senator John McCain to New Hampshire, South Carolina and California during the primaries, as McCain sought the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination. Subsequently, he served as an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign nationally and in California.
Most recently, he served as senior advisor to Fred Thompson's 2008 presidential campaign.
Khachigian wrote many of Reagan's most important speeches, including:
- President Reagan's First Inaugural Address
- Welcome home ceremony remarks for the hostages taken during the Iran hostage crisis
- Acceptance speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention
- 1985 remarks at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany
- Farewell address at the 1988 Republican National Convention
In popular culture
- In the 2008 historical drama film based upon the play of the same name, Frost/Nixon, actor Gabriel Jarret portrays Khachigian, who serves as the lead researcher for the Nixon team.
- "Biography at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck". Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- "Board of Directors: Ken Khachigian". Armenian Eye Care Project. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- "Board of Directors: Meredith Khachigian". Armenian Eye Care Project. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- "Former A.S. President Recounts Career". The Daily Nexus. 2007-04-13. Retrieved 2009-01-02.[dead link]
- "Kenneth L. Khachigian Textual Materials". Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 2009-01-02.[dead link]
- "Kenneth L. Khachigian Textual Materials". Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 2009-01-05.[dead link]
- Gold, Sylviane (2008-11-02). "The Interview That Was a Play Becomes a Film". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- Cannon, Lou (2000) President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. PublicAffairs, p. 73.
- Paterno, Susan (August 16, 1988) "The Speech Writer: OC Man Helps Reagan Bow Out In Style". The Orange County Register, p. A13.
- Curtis, Diane (May 9, 1981) "An Ex-White House Speechwriter Compares the Styles of Reagan and Nixon". United Press International.
- "Biography at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck". Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Doerner, William R. (May 13, 1985) "Paying Homage to History". Time.
- Beitiks, Edvins (1999-10-17). "Embattled Author Braves Enemy Turf". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah Palin?". Salon. 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Marinucci, Carla (2007-06-04). "The Spin Cycle: Thompson Hires Veteran California Pol". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "Thompson On Heels of Frontrunners, Adviser Says". National Public Radio. 2007-07-19. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "Former A.S. President Recounts Career". The Daily Nexus. 2007-04-13. Retrieved 2009-01-08.[dead link]
- "Frost/Nixon (2008)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-01-02.