The Eighteen-Day Running Mate

The Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis

Joshua M. Glasser
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Eighteen-Day Running Mate
    Book Description:

    No skeletons were rattling inhiscloset, Thomas Eagleton assured George McGovern's political director. But only eighteen days later-after a series of damaging public revelations and feverish behind-the-scenes maneuverings-McGovern rescinded his endorsement of his Democratic vice-presidential running mate, and Eagleton withdrew from the ticket. This fascinating book is the first to uncover the full story behind Eagleton's rise and precipitous fall as a national candidate.

    Within days of Eagleton's nomination, a pair of anonymous phone calls brought to light his history of hospitalizations for "nervous exhaustion and depression" and past treatment with electroshock therapy. The revelation rattled the campaign and placed McGovern's organization under intense public and media scrutiny. Joshua Glasser investigates a campaign in disarray and explores the perspectives of the campaign's key players, how decisions were made and who made them, how cultural attitudes toward mental illness informed the crisis, and how Eagleton's and McGovern's personal ambitions shaped the course of events.

    Drawing on personal interviews with McGovern, campaign manager Gary Hart, political director Frank Mankiewicz, and dozens of other participants inside and outside the McGovern and Eagleton camps-as well as extensive unpublished campaign records-Glasser captures the political and human drama of Eagleton's brief candidacy. Glasser also offers sharp insights into the America of 1972-mired in war, anxious about the economy, ambivalent about civil rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18337-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. The Conundrum
    (pp. 1-6)

    Around 11 p.m. on Sunday night, July 30, 1972, George McGovern sat opposite Thomas Eagleton in the library of a campaign donor’s suburban Washington mansion. McGovern was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, and Eagleton was his running mate. The fifty-year-old McGovern’s graying hair had receded to expose a vast forehead cut by deep lines. Thick eyebrows and a protruding chin defined a warm, familiar face. Eagleton was forty-two, and, at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach three weeks earlier, a Tom Eagleton vice presidency had seemed to make sense.

    Described by the media as a “casting director’s ideal...

  4. The Candidate
    (pp. 7-22)

    On September 1, 1970, when the Senate rejected the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment that would have set an end date for the Vietnam War, George Stanley McGovern could not contain his frustration. “Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending fifty thousand young Americans to an early grave,” he told the floor in a well-publicized remark. “This chamber reeks with blood.”

    George McGovern had built his presidential bid on early and fervent opposition to the Vietnam War, as well as on the candor evident in his disgust at the Senate’s McGovern-Hatfield vote. But in the heat of the primary season,...

  5. The Campaign
    (pp. 23-39)

    Nearly a year after Chappaquiddick, on Sunday, June 14, 1970, Dartmouth College awarded McGovern an honorary degree. Ever since Chicago, McGovern had been tantalized by the idea of running, and the senator had just hired thirty-four-year-old Denver lawyer Gary Hart to help organize a presidential bid. They intended to use McGovern’s visit to the New Hampshire campus as an excuse to scout out the political climate of the early primary state.¹

    Hart was born Gary Hartpence, the son of Nazarene evangelicals from Kansas. His father sold farm equipment, and his mother taught Sunday school. Like McGovern, Hart grew up forbidden...

  6. The Wrench
    (pp. 40-48)

    “If things keep going the way they are, it won’t be a convention, it will be a coronation,” Frank Mankiewicz boasted after the June 6 California primary, looking ahead to Miami Beach. He assumed the validity of winner-take-all primaries, and there seemed little reason to doubt it. McGovern’s chief rival at this point in the contest, Hubert Humphrey, had even told CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite two days before the California primary that “only a spoilsport” would challenge the rules after the fact. And Humphrey likened a loss there to “getting the Asian flu and having to carry a fifty-pound...

  7. The Upstart
    (pp. 49-73)

    At 7:30 a.m. on Monday, July 10, the first day of the convention, Tom Eagleton’s telephone jolted him from sleep in a sixth-floor suite at the Ivanhoe Hotel. George McGovern was on the line.

    “Tom, I hope I didn’t wake you,” McGovern said.

    “Hell no, George, I was lying here in bed waiting for my wakeup call,” Eagleton quipped, blinds still shielding him from the Florida sunlight.

    “Tom, I need your help on this California Challenge,” McGovern continued. “I know you are still a Muskie supporter, but I appeal to you as a fair-minded individual that this California Challenge simply...

  8. The Game
    (pp. 74-85)

    Just hours before the thud of Larry O’Brien’s gavel was to open the convention at 7 p.m. Monday, July 10, Ed Muskie summoned a last-minute meeting with all the candidates, including McGovern, intending to broker an agreement that he believed would unify the party. By this point, there was little chance that Muskie, Humphrey, or any of the other anti-McGovern candidates would receive the nomination; the best the Anyone But McGovern coalition could hope for was the introduction of a new candidate on whom most, including the McGovernites, could agree—Ted Kennedy, perhaps. But McGovern saw no point to meeting....

  9. The Pipedream
    (pp. 86-102)

    As George McGovern saw it, to concentrate on selecting a vice presidential nominee before stamping out the California Challenge would have been, at best, imprudent and, at worst, arrogant—“like talking about a no-hitter in the fifth inning,” as Mankiewicz later remarked. McGovern needed to secure the nomination if he ever wanted the privilege of selecting a running mate. The vice presidency had also been an afterthought at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The framers never intended to include the role. Rather, the job arose as a solution to a problem, and not the conundrum most would guess inspired its...

  10. The Selection
    (pp. 103-122)

    Eagleton slept late the Thursday morning of the convention, July 13. After ordering a room-service breakfast, he called Ed Filippine, his St. Louis assistant and principal political adviser. Already wearing his brightly colored swim trunks, he told Filippine that he planned to spend the day by the pool, hoping to relax as the hectic convention wound down. But Filippine, an approximately six-foot-tall and fair-skinned family man whose association and friendship with Eagleton dated back to the circuit attorney’s office, warned otherwise: taking a swim would mean confronting the press corps and the inevitable barrage of questions about the vice presidency....

  11. The Running Mate
    (pp. 123-133)

    In the hours immediately after McGovern picked Eagleton, Marc Howard, a television reporter for the local New York City station, WPIX, heard murmurs in Miami Beach that Eagleton had a history of alcohol abuse. Throughout the spring, Howard had developed a cordial relationship with Frank Mankiewicz, calling him every few weeks or so for updates on the campaign and verification of various stories. So he gave him a ring to check out the report, and Mankiewicz persuaded him not to broadcast this story that evening. Robert Sam Anson, the McGovern biographer, also heard from a source that Eagleton “has some...

  12. The Investigation
    (pp. 134-164)

    Late nomination night, after fêting Eagleton’s selection and the end of the convention with the McGovernites at the Doral’s Starlight Roof restaurant, the Eagleton crew returned to the Ivanhoe, stopping by the senator’s suite for a final nightcap. Greg Wierzynski, theTimereporter who had dropped in the previous night, told Bob Maynard of Eagleton’s staff that he had heard rumors about Eagleton’s hospitalizations. When Ed Filippine returned to his room, he found a message awaiting him from St. Louis County Democratic chairman Dr. Martin Greenberg, marked “important.” Filippine returned Greenberg’s call and found out thatTimewas investigating a tip...

  13. The Disclosure
    (pp. 165-182)

    On Sunday, July 23, the running mate’s tenth day on the ticket, Eagleton was still in Washington, on ABC’sIssues and Answers, accusing Nixon of pursuing “an election-year schedule” for withdrawing the nation’s troops from Vietnam. In South Dakota, McGovern also took to the airwaves, appearing onFace the Nationand referencing his running mate throughout the program. And it was there, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, where Knight Newspaper reporters Bob Boyd and Clark Hoyt found Frank Mankiewicz alone in his Sylvan Lake log cabin, with the fireplace lit on the cool summer day. The reporters handed over their...

  14. The Aftershock
    (pp. 183-214)

    Soon after the Eagletons left Sylvan Lake, McGovern wanted to hit the tennis courts. As he was preparing to head out, Tom Ottenad, the top political reporter for Eagleton’s hometownSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, approached McGovern for an interview, and the candidate invited Ottenad along for the ride to his tennis lesson. As they made their way through the woods to the courts in nearby Custer, McGovern recounted how he had discovered Eagleton’s problems, starting with the late-night party at the Doral Starlight Roof, the night he selected the Missourian in Miami Beach. McGovern said his aides’ initial findings had not...

  15. The Muckraker
    (pp. 215-225)

    At around 11 a.m. in Washington on Thursday morning, July 27, exactly two weeks after McGovern named Eagleton his running mate, Bennet heard that a station in the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network was previewing a report by Jack Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning nationally syndicated columnist. Apparently Anderson was claiming to have “located” evidence of Eagleton’s history of drunk driving, Photostats of the citations that seemed to undercut the running mate’s insistence that he had no history of alcohol abuse. In addition to his column, “Washington Merry-Go-Round”—which appeared in 965 newspapers worldwide—Anderson’s reach extended to his own...

  16. The Tablehopping
    (pp. 226-234)

    Press secretary Mike Kelley has likened Eagleton’s vice presidential candidacy to “being in the middle of a hurricane,” and the morning of Friday, July 28, helped illustrate why. When Eagleton awoke at Del Webb’s Townhouse motel, yet another pitfall awaited him: aNew York Timeseditorial calling for the vice presidential candidate’s voluntary withdrawal. Like theLos Angeles TimesandWashington Postbefore it, theNew York Times—the nation’s most influential newspaper—refrained from labeling Eagleton’s history of mental illness alone as grounds for his removal, arguing instead that his departure would allow the campaign to return to “the...

  17. The Sunday Shows
    (pp. 235-253)

    The next morning, Saturday, July 29, desperate to preserve his boss’s national candidacy, Bennet telecopied his proposed strategy from Washington to San Francisco, where Eagleton was campaigning. “We have reached the crunch,” Bennet declared. “Further speculation and uncertainty can only damage the credibility of the ticket.” He recommended that, in speaking with McGovern, Eagleton acknowledge the backlash he had provoked, apologize, then emphasize his belief in the transiency of the mental illness controversy, predicting that his departure would, conversely, only exacerbate the problem, alienating “the Aliotos of the world,” whose support was essential to McGovern’s chances of victory. Bennet then...

  18. The Precedent
    (pp. 254-258)

    Twenty years earlier, another ticket had loomed on the brink of destruction. Republican presidential candidate General Dwight David Eisenhower confronted widespread doubts about his running mate and nearly heeded calls for his nominee’s removal. In an irony that escaped few in 1972—certainly not McGovern and Eagleton, and definitely not the press—it was Richard Nixon whose fate lay in jeopardy that fall of 1952. The thirty-nine-year-old junior senator from California was, like Eagleton, a dark horse when Eisenhower picked him to join a campaign similarly predicated on integrity and candor.

    At a campaign stop in Iowa, on Thursday, September...

  19. The Decision
    (pp. 259-278)

    At McGovern’s request, Eagleton spent Sunday afternoon, July 30, 1972, trying to track down Dr. Frank Shobe of Barnes Hospital. The running mate’s staff had gathered at his Chevy Chase house, with television trucks and news crews swarming the neighborhood. Though the Eagleton aides had been thrilled with hisFace the Nationappearance,Meet the Presshad forced them to confront reality and prepare for Eagleton’s resignation. “The question was [now] not whether to get out, but how,” Bennet recalled. Eagleton’s departure had become a “fait accompli.”¹

    Ted Van Dyk, the McGovern insider friendliest with Bennet from their days together...

  20. The Aftermath
    (pp. 279-286)

    On October 7, 1972, sixty-seven days after he withdrew from the ticket, the Missouri junior senator returned from out of state ahead of schedule at the presidential candidate’s request. McGovern had asked Eagleton to join him at a rally in the parking lot of a shopping center near St. Louis. Eagleton obliged, and the former running mates hit the campaign trail together for the first time all year. “No matter what others may think,” McGovern told the crowd sprawled across eighty-five hundred cars that filled the concrete expanse, “there will always be a special bond between the Eagletons and the...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 287-302)

    In the aftermath of the campaign, Eagleton complained of being the McGovernites’ scapegoat for their loss. McGovern himself said the Eagleton affair was “the saddest part” of his whole run. “Many people never forgave me” for dropping Eagleton, he reflected in a television interview with Dick Cavett. “I thought I was acting in the national interest but many thought I was not.” Then, in March 1973, McGovern allowed the journalist Joe McGinniss to spend some time with him in South Dakota, and the resulting magazine piece appeared to have caught the senator with his guard down, throbbing with resentment toward...

  22. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 303-308)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 309-366)
  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 367-370)
  25. Index
    (pp. 371-381)