In a rather fascinating taped conversation with John Connally, former governor of Texas, and Bob Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, President Nixon expresses his views on the vice presidency and the replacement of Spiro Agnew.
The discussion took place on July 21, 1971 at which time Nixon offered the vice presidency to Connally because Agnew did not show the leadership qualities the president thought necessary in a vice president. He told Connally that he had tried to engage Agnew in various policy initiatives in an attempt to groom him as a leader, but Agnew just didn't have it.
It is possible that Nixon was also frustrated with Agnew's difficulties with the press, and the gaffes which caused significant consternation for Nixon, but he may have seen Connally as having more political capital.
In any event, Connally dismissed the offer out of hand, explaining that the office of vice president was a sinecure or make work position for which he would not feel comfortable.
Nixon's response was that he would refashion the office more closely to that of his tenure under Eisenhower where during the last 2-3 years Nixon presided over cabinet meetings and the National Security Council. While not elaborating on the reasons for Eisenhower's power sharing, it was clear that Nixon alluded to the former general's poor health after suffering 2 heart attacks while in office.
The real carrot from Nixon was the promise to assure a succession from vice president to president. He promised Connally that he would do all he could to make the transition inevitable. The offer is interesting in its own right because Nixon did not have coattails or a dynasty to pass along; so this overture to Connally may have been his way of hand picking a successor.
Connally probably found the discussion galling because Nixon said that the vice president should be the alter ego of the president, a contemplation which probably made the Dealey Plaza survivor nauseous. Connally was a thorough going pompous ass in his own right.
Toward the end of the meeting, Nixon reviewed possible vice presidents, of whose first mention was Gerald Ford. Nixon's assessment of Ford was that he was a good guy but not presidential timber. Of Rockefeller Nixon stated that neither the party nor the country could accept him. Of Reagan he said that it just couldn't be. Although he recognized Reagan's strengths, he thought him too simplistic to be the bold, imaginative leader the office of president required.
In general Nixon's conversation was political bluster and flatulence. It may have been that Nixon wanted to reward Connally for his role in the Kennedy murder and his silence in concealing the conspiracy. Nixon said that Johnson's selection as vice president was a shot gun marriage. He also noted that Johnson had no respect for Humphrey, disdain he expressed for practically everyone but himself.
Nixon did offer Connally the job of Secretary of Treasury, a position he accepted, and which was quite in keeping with his comments that secretaries had more responsibility and impact than the vice president.
We question Nixon's sincerity in offering Connally a role of vice president which had substantive powers and responsibilities. We suspect that Agnew was chosen because he was a serviceable door mat, was owed political favors, and would not upstage Nixon. Connally we believe could have upstaged the president, a situation which would have caused significant stress in a stressful presidency.
Nixon Tapes, Conversation 541-2, July 21, 1971, Audio accessed 5/25/2015 at nixonlibrary.gov
Copyright 2015 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.