The phone call that comes in the early afternoon saying that the Vice-President has resigned is astonishing. I had thought about the event, even anticipated it. Now reality, as it has done in other instances, other contexts, has betrayed anticipation. We had been getting ready for this, and we hadn't.
The twenty-fifth amendment was only ratified in 1967. Up until that point, a vacancy in the vice-presidency would just remain empty until the next election; LBJ had no VP until Hubert Humphrey took office after the 1964 elections. So for the first time, a sitting president would choose a new VP, to be confirmed by a majority of both Houses of Congress. No one knew how long that would take; there were no precedents to consult.
In the meantime, Democratic Speaker Carl Albert was next in line to the presidency. That, too, was a relatively recent development. From 1886 to 1947, Congress was excluded from the line of succession, with the Secretary of State next in line. New legislation in 1947 put the Speaker back in, followed by the president pro tem of the Senate. So suddenly a president defending himself against a massive scandal also had a designated successor from the other party (and one who few would ever have thought of as presidential, for that matter).
Drew reports the list the Great Mentioner was churning out for the VP vacancy, or at least those who Walter Cronkite mentioned that evening: Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, John Connally, Gerald Ford, Hugh Scott, William Rogers, Elliot Richardson, Melvin Laird, George Bush, William Scranton, and Howard Baker.
Nixon still wanted Connally; he had wanted Connally in 1972, but had believed party regulars would resist him -- after all, Connally only finally formally switched parties during the 1972 campaign. Now, it was Democrats on the Hill who told Nixon they would not abide the party traitor.
Meanwhile, back on October 9, Peter Rodino's House Judiciary Committee staff had concluded their lengthy study of the topic of impeachment. Nixon's approval rating was down to 30% in the latest (October 5-6) Gallup reading, and fully immersed in Watergate. Still, impeachment remained to most people at this point a theoretical possibility. It wasn't yet something that was actually happening. But Richard Nixon knew what was in the tapes, and the special prosecutor and the courts were moving rapidly.