Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15, 1972

Nixon was working in the Oval Office at 4PM when he hears the news: George Wallace has been shot.

Just to back up a bit...Wallace had been a major third party contender in 1968, winning over 13% of the votes, 5 states, and 46 electoral votes. In 1972, he had entered the Democratic primaries. By mid-May, he had won three states, the same as McGovern (and Muskie) and one fewer than Humphrey; he had also finished second in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. I don't think anyone really takes seriously the possibility that he'll win the nomination, but there's still a threat that he'll run another third party campaign and compete with Nixon for conservative votes. So this is a pretty big deal (Wallace, as most of you know, survived, but he was done for 1972, although he would run again in 1976).

Nixon's reaction?


President Nixon: Is he a left winger, right winger?
Colson: Well, he's going to be a left winger by the time we get through, I think.
President Nixon: Good. Keep at that, keep at that.
Colson: Yeah. I just wish that, God, that I'd thought sooner about planting a little literature out there.
President Nixon: [Laughs]
Colson: It may be a little late, although I've got one source that maybe --
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: -- you could think about that. I mean, if they found it near his apartment that would be helpful.


And it wasn't just bluster; there's some dispute between Colson, Hunt, and Liddy about who initiated what, but there was definitely at least a false start to have Hunt and Liddy follow through on this idea. That is, to plant phony evidence at a crime scene in order to score political points. Either at the direction of the President of the United States, or at least with his knowledge.

The conversation above is from Kutler -- we're back to having Kutler as a source now, fortunately. A good description of Nixon's day is available at George Mason's history site, based on several WH tapes from the day which are, alas, not transcribed (or at least not transcribed and available that I can find). Bonus detail of the president talking to his chief of staff about the Secret Service:


President Nixon: I’m not going to let them get away with this this time. They are to report to me directly. I don’t want to read it in the press, and I don’t want to hear it on the radio. I want a report, and I don’t want any cover up. You know, this could be like the Kennedy thing. This son of a bitch [Secret Service head James] Rowley is a dumb bastard, you know. He is dumb as hell. We’ve got to get somebody over there right away. Get Ehrlichman on him! Get Ehrlichman over there right away, Bob, to work on it. Don’t you agree? Secret Service will fuck this up! They do everything!”


Here's a summary of the president's day, from Luke Nichter at that George Mason site:
[I]n the midst of crisis immediately following the shooting, all of the classic elements of the Nixon persona were in place: having little faith in the appropriate government agencies, he gathered his closest advisors to manage the event. Being fearful of history, rather than learning from it, he demonstrated a fatalistic belief that the investigation into the Wallace shooting would be botched just as he believed that cover-ups were made following the Kennedy assassinations. Finally, wanting to counteract the spin control he expected the press would leverage against his handling of the crisis, he tasked his own spin masters with creating a portrait of Arthur Bremer as a loner who was sympathetic to left-leaning political causes even before the FBI had finished questioning him.


Found one more. May 15 is also the only taped conversation between Nixon and Mark Felt, who later would leak information to Bob Woodward as the famous source "Deep Throat." Full conversation here; I'll just quote a bit:


Felt:  This man, [Arthur H.] Bremer, the assailant, is in good physical shape.
Nixon:  Yes?
Felt:  He’s got some cuts and bruises, and—
Nixon:  Good!  I hope they worked him over a little more than that.
Felt:  [laughes] Ha.  I think they did pretty well.
Nixon:  Good. 


  1. Republicans haven't changed all that much, have they?


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