For my blog post today on Jules Witcover’s Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, I have five items.
1. On page 186, Nixon criticizes Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s fraternization with Secret Service agents:
“In all the period I’ve been president and vice-president, or eight years prior, I’ve never had a drink with a Secret Service agent, never. Or lunch, or anything…That’s just the way I operate.”
In my post here, I was speculating about how Nixon treated the help, based on movies that I had seen about Nixon, as well as some of Nixon’s books that I had read. My impression was that Nixon got to know the help, rather than treating them like furniture.
But it turns out that he bragged about not fraternizing with Secret Service agents. Why he would have a problem with that, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps he felt that they wouldn’t respect him as an authority figure and take their jobs as seriously were he to have a drink with them.
Agnew’s fraternization with the Secret Service agents stood out to me, for Witcover depicts Agnew as someone who was not particularly social. Yet, Agnew fraternized with Secret Service agents. And Witcover also narrates that Agnew enjoyed socializing with celebrities. I suppose that one can make general observations about people’s personalities, but the observations are not necessarily absolute, for there can be exceptions.
2. On page 200, H.R. Haldeman talks about the press’s criticism of Agnew for playing golf on a trip to Portugal:
“And what he’s done, I’m sure, is he’s seen this bad press about the golf and said, ‘Screw the bastards,’ and gone out and played every day after that…He could have overcome that with just a little [skill].”
My impression is that Nixon probably admired how Agnew gave the middle finger to the press (not literally, but figuratively). But Nixon most likely also thought that Agnew was not being particularly discrete. On page 217, Nixon says that he hates the press even more than Agnew does, but that Agnew needs to stop looking as if he “enjoys fighting the press” (Nixon’s words).
3. On page 220, we read about how Frank Sinatra helped Spiro Agnew: “The care and feeding of Frank Sinatra was of particular concern to Agnew at this juncture, because the singer was strongly in his corner in the matter of his place on the 1972 Republican ticket…The stroking worked, in that Sinatra became a major contributor to the Nixon-Agnew campaign fund. According to Agnew aid John Damgard, when speculation grew in 1971 that the vice president might be dropped from the ticket, Sinatra passed the word that there would be no more money from him if that happened. Also, a group of prominent New York conservatives headed by William F. Buckley and calling themselves the Manhattan 12 warned Nixon that heavy contributions from them would be denied if Agnew were jettisoned.”
It’s interesting that Frank Sinatra was an Agnew supporter, since Sinatra supported John F. Kennedy in 1960.
The reason that I liked this passage is that it highlights a power struggle. Nixon and some of his aides are seriously thinking about dropping Spiro Agnew as Vice-President and replacing him with John Connally. Where would Agnew go if that happened? Nixon and his advisors envisioned a wide-range of possibilities, from Agnew becoming the head of a TV network, to Agnew become a Supreme Court justice (imagine that!).
But dropping Agnew from the ticket would not be easy, for Agnew had his own clout. Agnew was supported by major donors, such as Frank Sinatra and the Manhattan 12. I enjoy reading about powerful people running into roadblocks!
4. John Connally was a Democrat, yet Nixon was thinking of making Connally the Vice-President. According to Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman and author Robert Sam Anson, Nixon was seriously contemplating developing a new political party, which would attract the center and the right and would eventually replace the Republican Party (pages 209-210). It’s amazing to me that Nixon was actually thinking about this. It’s not exactly a mainstream idea!
What was the outcome of Nixon’s desire to replace Agnew with Connally? Essentially, Connally did not want to be Vice-President. Connally was drawn to the power that was in the Presidency, and he would eventually run for President. But he did not feel that the Vice-Presidency was that glamorous of a position. Plus, he wanted to focus on making money. Nixon kept Agnew on the ticket, but, even after winning the 1972 election, Nixon was contemplating dropping Agnew as Vice-President.
5. On pages 237-238, there is a discussion about the Vice-Presidential residence. I saw the Vice-Presidential residence when I went to Washington, D.C. as a child. It surprised me to learn in reading Witcover that the Vice-Presidential residence is rather new. Spiro Agnew did not live in a special home for the Vice-President, but he had an apartment. Nixon was thinking of getting him a special residence but did not get around to it. The Vice-Presidential residence came to be when Nelson Rockefeller was Gerald Ford’s Vice-President. Rockefeller was rich, and he had a mansion in Washington, D.C. Rockefeller donated it to the government, and it became the official residence for the Vice-President.