Four More Years - The Presidency of Richard Nixon
“It would be unwise of me to comment on the criminal charges or the settlement, but I will say that Mr. Agnew has served the country with distinction over the last five years. His actions were disappointing, of course, but that does not invalidate his achievements as Vice-President.”
“Mr. President, can you tell us if any decision has been reached regarding the Vice-Presidency?”
“I’m afraid I’m unable to answer that at this point. I am of course consulting with the leadership of my party, and there are a wealth of suitable candidates, be they Congressmen, Senators, Governors, current and former, or from elsewhere. It is of course very important that we have a new Vice-President in place as soon as possible, so I will urge the Congress to ensure a speedy confirmation. I hope to make an announcement shortly.”
Presidential press conference, October 10th 1973
The President’s first choice was former Treasury Secretary John Connally, but he knew that Connally would never be confirmed by the Democratic Congress. With the decision to seek a third term already made, Nixon decided to wait until 1976 to create his dream ticket with Connally, to create a new centrist movement to unite Republicans and conservative Democrats. Therefore the President would have to select someone who would be happy not to serve beyond the end of the term, and also would have no desire to oppose Connally for the Presidency in 1980.
The press had speculated that likely candidates were former California Governor Ronald Reagan, Senators Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, Howard Baker of Tennessee and Bob Dole of Kansas, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Administration’s list had Senators Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and Carl Curtis of Nebraska, as well as House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. Hawaii Senator Hiram Fong was also briefly considered, but it was felt the selection of him would be seen as symbolism for symbolism’s sake.
After consultation with Republican leadership over the course of a few days, it was decided that Ford was the best candidate. The Minority Leader was open to the prospect after a Saturday evening phone call from the President, and after talking it over with his wife, Ford informed the President that he would happily be his candidate. He also made clear that he had no presidential ambitions, and saw the Vice-Presidency as a suitable way to end his political career.
Richard Milhous Nixon - The Invincible Quest, by Conrad Black
“When making my choice for Vice-President, I quickly determined that the chosen candidate had to pass three criteria. The candidate had to have suitable experience, support the policies of this administration, and thirdly, they had to be a man of upstanding moral character. The candidate I have selected has all of these qualities in abundance, and it is a great honour for me to have him as my Vice-President. I know that if he had to assume the duties of this office, he would lead this country with honour, distinction and dignity. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour and privilege to present to you the next Vice-President of these United States, Gerald Rudolph Ford.”
President Nixon’s address announcing his Vice-Presidential pick, October 12th 1973
President Nixon and Representative Gerald Ford with their wives just after Nixon announced Ford as his Vice-Presidential pick
“I knew Gerald well, of course, and while we disagreed on many issues, I had, and indeed have the utmost respect for him. He was a true gentleman, always courteous to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and I thought he was perfect for the Vice-Presidency. It was a fitting end to his political life.”
Former Speaker of the House Carl Albert, interviewed in 1988
The confirmation for Ford was speedy, with the Senate voting 92 to 3 to confirm him on November 27th, and the House of Representatives following suit on December 6th, 387 to 35. Just a few days later, President Nixon announced that he would adding another face to his administration. Henry Kissinger would be relinquishing his role as National Security Advisor, and the role would be taken up by former Treasury Secretary John Connally. Kissinger was far from happy with the decision, and felt that the President was supplanting his authority. In a bitter rant to his deputy Al Haig, Kissinger talked of resigning, and predicted that the President would try to run foreign policy through Connally’s office rather than his own.
Privately, Nixon admitted to his closest aides that the decision was made in order to better prepare Connally for the Vice-Presidency. On December 8th he told Haldeman that “the right will look for any goddamn excuse to keep John off the ticket. He needs foreign policy experience. If Henry doesn’t like it, he can goddamn well resign.”
The President was already thinking about the 1976 election, and particularly the race for the Democratic nomination. “They’ve got nobody, not one person who can win. They’re too busy squabbling amongst themselves. Kennedy will throw his hat in, I’ve no doubt about it, but he can’t win the election. Chappaquiddick ruined him. If he runs, I’ll kick his ass.”
The Yells of the Silent Majority: The Presidency of Richard Nixon, by Frank Thomas
In the New Year the President flew to the Middle East in an attempt to end the oil embargo. Accompanied by Kissinger, he visited Israel and Saudi Arabia. At first it appeared that the meetings with King Faisal and Prime Minister Golda Meir had failed to force a breakthrough, but only hours after Nixon arrived back in Washington, Israel announced a withdrawal from the Suez Canal. A meeting of the OPEC nations the following week resulted in the lifting of the embargo.
A delighted Nixon addressed the nation from the Oval Office that evening. In addition to announcing, “with great pleasure, that the energy crisis which has engulfed our nation is finally over”. He also warned that the United States could never again be at the mercy of other nations. Nixon told the nation that in order to ensure that such a crisis would never happen again, he was going to ask the Congress to create a new cabinet department, the Department of Energy. This new department would be charged with ending the United States’ dependency on foreign oil.
President Nixon - Alone In The White House, by Richard Reeves
President Nixon moments after his address announcing the creation of the Department of Energy