Prologue August, 1965 “Doc, you’ve got that look on your face.” “Ron...I’m afraid it’s not good news. The results came back; we found a malignancy.” The next few minutes pass in a blur of technicalities, but he finds his eyes and attention glued to the x-ray projection of his throat on the back-lit wall. “Non-fatal” is a phrase that cuts through, and he immediately thinks of Nancy and the relief that will grant her, not thinking of himself at all. A moment’s pride accompanies the realization. But he knows this cancer. He knows what’s coming. He pops back into focus when he hears the word: “Laryngectomy.” “...You’re gonna take my voice, doc.” “I’m...I’m so sorry, Ron. But with the surgery you can live a long and full life. The doctor’s words fade away as he turns inward, folding into himself. And this time he doesn’t really come back again. Not really. Not ever. October, 1966 George Christopher Makes a Decision He’s getting sick of it. Another deployment of one of his favorite lines from his stump speech, the one that ends in, “renewing the promise of the Party of Lincoln,” another round of tepid applause from the room stuffed wall-to-wall with county-level officials of the California Republican Party. It’s so frustrating! He’s on track to win the governor’s mansion- by at least nine points if the polls are to be believed- and perhaps even swing the legislature back to the GOP as well. And here are these...these...country club conservatives looking at him like he’s suggesting he give their daughters the clap. All because he embraces civil rights, an issue that shouldn’t even be an issue in California! “They’ll have to go,” he says to himself. March, 1967 Tricia works for the governor as a community liaison. In this capacity, she’s giving a formal dinner to a County Republican Club in central California. It was like a eureka moment, like the sun was emerging from behind the clouds. She could see the realization dawning on the room. They’d been dominated by “conventional wisdom” for years now, and were just realizing how much control they had over what conventional wisdom was going to be. Trish had planned the event well in advance. Done her research. There were really only three die-hard conservative “American Enterprise” types in this particular county club. Unfortunately, they were the President, the Secretary, and one of the biggest donors. Any first-year anthropology student could’ve explained how the entire county fell in line behind a few men of will and means. It took more subtle means to dismantle that power. First, Trish had waited until the donor was out of town on business. She then made sure the president would have a place on a blue ribbon panel in Sacramento formed by the governor to promote agricultural best practices (blue ribbon panels were a fantastic, meaningless tool for removing pompous obstacles from her path). She decided to risk the wrath of the secretary, who seemed like the weakest link anyway. Next, Trish organized the dinner, booked the speakers, hired the caterer, and put herself in hostess mode. The rest took care of itself. Diverse speakers. History lessons. Celebrations of Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the great California progressives of the 20s and 30s. Introductions to potential candidates running for state legislature and county supervisor. Facilitating plans for fundraising dinners. And throughout, talk of adopting environmental and civil rights language into the club’s statement of beliefs. It was usually that easy. Most people didn’t hew to their beliefs as steadfastly as they thought they did. Most people examined familiar patterns for familiar conclusions. All you needed to do to shake things up was show them more exciting interpretations of those familiar patterns. Republicans often fought against civil rights because people told them they were already wicked for not supporting civil rights, which only caused them to grow even more iron-bound in their assertion that their present beliefs were completely reasonable, and that if continuing the argument meant not supporting civil rights, well then that’s what they’d do! The trick was not convincing Republicans to support a given position. It was to convince them they were already supporting a given position, to assert that every true Republican already believed a thing to be true, and since they were true Republicans obviously they’d been on the right side of things all along. Most people would accept this as praise without any degree of self-examination to determine if it was true. A pat on the back was infinitely more pleasing than a painful mental audit. And it certainly helped that Governor Christopher had won the election, and (narrowly) brought the state house in on his coattails, too! Nothing succeeds like success. The Reaganites were on the ropes, the moderates were advancing. People left the dinner happy. They left inspired. They left with a change in local leadership in mind. They left as Christopherites. December, 1967 Of course this was still politics. Some persuasions were less admirable than others. “Paving.” “Paving?” “You asked what it would take, I’m telling you.” “Okay, but you’re gonna have to give me more than that, Jimmy.” “You know my development off Garden Avenue, near the 5?” “Do I need to know it?” “...Well, look, I got this development, see? Seven houses off Garden Avenue, near the 5.” “Congratulations.” “Look, smart-ass, I can always walk over to Schlafly’s goon if you’re not interested-” “Okay, okay, sorry, okay. Okay. So you’ve got these houses, what about them?” “Well when I say ‘off Garden Avenue’ I guess what I should really say is that they’re about a half mile from Garden Avenue on this beautiful hill, see? Beautiful views all the way down. But the county won’t pay for a public connection road on anything over a quarter mile. Now how is that fair? So I gotta shell out for a half mile of road? I mean, unless I can shift that cost onto the home buyers, but who’s gonna accept that in this market?” “Jimmy, that’s a cryin’ shame. I mean an upstanding businessman like you? Stymied like that. Just a shame. I mean, it would be a shame, except here’s what’s going to happen, Jimmy. Your friend the governor, see? He likes his public works. We’ve got a road safety measure working its way through the state house right now, plenty of provisions for improved highway connection dollars meant to ease the access of public interstates, like the 5, and which funds are available to any project within five miles of said interstates. I don’t see your problem lasting much longer, Jimmy.” “Well that’s amazing, sounds like a great bill. And I’ll tell ya, if that were to happen, I’m sure I can convince my friends in the Rotary to back your man for county supervisor.” “Your man, Jimmy. I want you to start thinking of him as your man.” November, 1968 California. Early November, before the election. Tricia’s having dinner with Nick. Nicky doesn’t work in politics like Trish; he’s in pictures. “I’m telling you, we’re building a new coalition here.” “And I’m building up an appetite. Where’s our food?” “It’s only been a few minutes, give them a break.” “I just find it galling to have to wait for health food. Let’s get it over with already.” “Nick, you said you’d give this a try. The doctor says your gut’s a ticking time bomb.” “I’m about to show this waiter a ticking time bomb if we don’t get some food soon. What did you order for us, again? I wasn’t listening.” “Do you ever listen?” “Sure! I was listening to your work...thing, about the...the...coalition?” “It’s a new coalition for the 1970s, Nicky, and it’s going to secure Republican fortunes right through the goddamn millennium.” “You know how often people say that in politics? You know what usually happens to your ‘new coalitions’ nine times outta ten?” “I’ll take those odds. I swear to you, just watch. Next Tuesday, Nicky.” “So what do you think would be a good night for you?” “Well, I guess...you know what, this is going to sound like a weasel answer, but-” “Not too late to not give it!” “No, I think it’s important to look beyond number of seats for a second. Do I think we’re going to win some seats? Yes, I think the California GOP is going to win some new seats, maybe five seats if we’re lucky. But you know how we’re going to win them? You know how the Christopher faction won all those primaries earlier this year?” “You got more votes than the other guy?” “But those votes, Nick! What votes! Such votes! 35% of the Afro-American vote in the primaries, you have any idea the last time Republicans scored 35% of the Afro-American vote in a goddamn primary?” “I do not. But I doubt we were calling them ‘Afro-Americans’ at the time.” “You’d be right. And women! We’ve been losing women slowly since about 1956, but now we’re back like gangbusters. Since Christopher backed the call for the Equal Rights Amendment the demographic trends have flipped on us!” “Don’t let’s get started with your demographic trends, Trish, I won’t be able to control myself.” “That’s the future, Nicky: we temper the Chamber of Commerce types, we bring in minorities and women, and we get the national conservative types to take a hike with their backwards social agenda and antebellum fantasies. And next Tuesday is when it all begins.” “Thank god, the food!” A waiter deposits two plates, asks if there will be anything else, and departs. “I don’t half hope you’re not wrong, Trish. But California’s California. The rest of the country already thinks we’re out of step.” “Oh you’re paying even less attention than I thought if you think this is just California, buster. Governor Christopher’s been talking to people all over the West, building connections. We’ve got a few candidates this go-round, but even more for local elections in the pipeline. We’ve got a progressive running in the Nevada district, though he’s not going to win. And we successfully primaried that lunatic Steiger in Arizona. Our man might have a chance there.” “Goldwater country?” “Surest way to take the wind out of the conservatives' sails is to bring up that failure of a man.” “Speaking of failure...Trish, what the hell am I eating?” “It’s called seitan.” “...It’s what? Satan?” “Seh-ee-tan!” “You’re making me eat something called Satan? I mean it’s apt.” “Nick, the doctor said-” “Doctor? I need a priest.” Nick crosses his knife and fork in front of his chest. “Seitan, I rebuke thee!” “Are you going to play with your food or- “Get thee behind me, Seitan!” Trish starts laughing. Pretty soon they leave and go grab a burger. August, 1974 A thousand Republican political operatives watching Nixon make his announcement on a thousand television sets exhale as one: “Well. Shit.” (Then most of them grab a scotch.) November, 1975 “This is absurd. This is absolutely god damned absurd.” “I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, Mr. Vice President.” “Who are they choosing? No, don’t tell me: Dole.” “That’s...Senator Dole is a strong possibility, sir, yes.” “You’re afraid Ted Kennedy will be the challenger and you’re already trying to push to the right, is that is? I’m not fascist enough for those pricks in the John Birch Society, so you’re bringing in a Quisling they can nod at without putting off the housewives?” “I’m authorized to assure you, sir, that there will be a place for you in the next adm-” “Oh save your breath, Dick, just tell me the West Wing isn’t seriously considering this cockamamey idea. It’s pandering! It’s pandering and it’s...it’s...such inside baseball, the voters are going to hate it. You’re talking about changing horses mid-stream, Dick, acknowledging the incumbent made a bad decision, and what’s more, you’re gonna make me the sin-eater. I’ll have to take responsibility for all the crap that’s gone wrong here over the last two years. How is that remotely fair, Dick? How is that remotely fair?” “It’s a done deal, Mr. Vice President. I really am sorry.” “Mr. Vice President,” he repeats it, venom dripping from every syllable. “Mr. Vice President. You know how much god damned water I’ve carried for the Republican Party? I was clean, Dick, I was untainted, Watergate didn’t touch me. But Nixon comes to me, he says, ‘George, the party needs you.’ So I waded in, I god damned waded in up to my god damned eyeballs and held the party together! Party Chairman in 1973, when the god damned roof was off the barn, Dick! And I did my job! Then this sorry appointment. Vice President. Tell me, Dick, what was the point of giving me the job in the first place if you bastards were just gonna kick me off the ticket again in two years?” “Sir, you were told at the time that this was a possibil-” “Tell me, dammit! Because right now it feels like the whole thing was an exercise in wasting my time.” “That’s not true, sir. George, you know that’s not true. There’ll be something. I can’t promise State, but maybe State. Something. Just stay the course and the president will take care of you.” “Bullshit. Bullshit, Dick! This is it for me. I’m done. The people know it, the ones that matter anyway. Passed over for renomination to a sinking ship? I won’t be able to get elected dog-catcher after this. No, I’m done, this is the last straw. I’ll finish out my term- and they should be god damned grateful I’m man enough to do that, by the way- and then I’m done. You won’t get me back in this town if you appoint me emperor.” “This is raw, sir, I know. I think it’s best if we just table this for now and come back to it once perspective sets in. This doesn’t have to be the end of anything, George, but that’s for you to decide; you and Barbara. I’ll just say one more thing before I go: we need you to announce this soon, within the month. We don’t want it coming out during campaign season, it can’t look like a political move.” He sighs and it’s enough to return his composure. His father always insisted on composure, and even at 51 his filial training never abandons him for long. “Go on, Dick, you’re just the bagman, I know. Get out of here and let me think.” He rises to shake the aid’s hand. “Thank you, Mr. Vice President.” His thoughts are a red hurricane whipping around cyclically from one point to another, eventually back to the beginning, picking up speed with each rotation. The face remains placid, unmoving, though the color slowly deepens. What will he do? Go along to get along? No. Surely not again. Every man has his pride, his breaking point. He is about to be publicly embarrassed in front of the whole country. And for what? So that Ford can score a half a percent in five key battleground states; so that his inevitable defeat is marginally less of a landslide. It makes him a little less mad to think about it, to think that he isn’t the only sacrificial lamb. That’s all Ford ever was, after all. God damn Dick Nixon. He’d ruined this party for a generation. The hurricane passes but the sky remains dark and low. Big sky. He wants- needs- big sky now. Texas has big sky. There’s the oil business, always an option. And Rice had left an open invitation for...whatever job he wants, really. That could be a good change of pace. He can tell he’ll never get over the disappointment. In some other world he knows he could’ve been president. Just not this world. Not anymore. “God dammit.” Early January, 1976 Dateline: Iowa “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” - President Gerald Ford Late January, 1976 DC. Two mid-level drudges from the RNC, sharing a newspaper at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove over a much-needed afternoon drink: “Well how the hell did that happen?” “I still can’t believe it.” “Those are the numbers? They’re verified?” “Verified. Certified. All of it. He beat the pants off us.” “Phil Crane. Sonofabitch. Against a sitting president.” “We didn’t take him seriously. I mean. It’s Iowa.” “It’s Iowa!” “Fucking Iowa.” Fucking, fucking Iowa.” The two men pause and drink. “What’s New Hampshire look like?” “I mean...I thought I knew what Iowa looked like, so how much do I really know what New Hampshire looks like? I thought it was looking good.” “But come on, Iowa’s one thing, New Hampshire’s...well...he can’t win New Hampshire, right? Against a sitting president?” “It’d be unheard of, right? When’s the last time a party rejected a sitting president? They’d have been wearing powdered wigs or something.” “As long as they were wearing wigs in...I dunno, New Jersey or Georgia. And not fucking New Hampshire, that’s all I have to say.” The bartender speaks up: “Pierce.” “Huh?” “Pierce. Franklin Pierce in 1856. He was the last time a party rejected a sitting president.” “Huh.” “Huh.” “Yep.” The bartender goes back to his polishing. “Jesus. The bartenders in this town, am I right?” “It ain’t normal.” Early November, 1976 As usual, millions turn their dials to CBS to hear the evening news. Walter Cronkite looks fresh tonight, despite having covered the general election the night before. And why shouldn’t he? It was an early night. “Good evening. Yesterday, shortly before 9 pm, before the polls had even closed in the west, Jimmy Carter reached the end of his improbable 2-year, half-million mile political quest...and won the presidency. Later in the evening, Congressman Crane conceded Carter’s victory. Bob Schieffer has the story.” Christmas Day, 1979 A Jewish-owned deli in a protestant part of town. Three men pass the day in peace, without customers to interrupt their usual discourse. “It has to be Anderson.” “You don’t think it’ll be Dole?” “God, no.” “What’s wrong with Dole? I mean, I know what’s wrong with him, but what makes him unelectable?” “A failed vice presidential candidate? When’s the last time one of them amounted to anything? FDR? And Dole is no FDR.” “Dole is too conservative! The Republicans are growing wise about nominating conservatives, finally. ‘Fool me six times, shame on you, fool me a seventh, shame on me.’” “They’ve never won.” “Not once. Not since the Depression.” “And yet they keep nominating them!” “But not anymore, this is my point.” “Crane lost bigger than Goldwater. Lost his home state, even. Embarrassing.” “You see if it stops them, you just wait and we’ll see. I say it’s Dole.” “Howard Baker is running.” “Howard Baker!” say two of them together. Then one elaborates: “Howard Baker isn’t running for anything but the vice presidency.” “He’d make a good one.” “They say everybody likes him, even the Democrats. Even the president.” “But Anderson’s too liberal.” “He’s not that liberal.” “He’s no Rockefeller.” “He’s liberal enough. The party’s in the middle of an identity crisis. You’ve got the moderates regaining ground in the west and the east, meanwhile the conservatives are going strong in the Midwest. Then there’s the south. The Republicans were just starting to win over some of those old Dixiecrats and now, what, they’re going back to the Eisenhower days? Those good ol’ boys won’t hear of it.” “That’s what Howard Baker’s for.” “To keep them in line.” “Yeah, right, see? Baker keeps ‘em happy.” “But you miss my point. What if there are enough of those, as you say, good ol’ boys, in the party now? We’ve got these primaries everywhere now, so what if, between the Cranes in the north, the Goldwaters in the west, and the Dixiecrats in the south they can push through for Baker? Or Dole?” “You bring up another problem, though, don’t you see? There’s only one liberal and two conservatives.” “Three conservatives, don’t forget about Connally.” “Connally!” say two of them together. Then one elaborates: “I think John Connally forgot about John Connally. A turncoat? And a Nixon ally? He won’t get one single vote outside of the south. Outside of Texas!” “He just splits the conservative vote even more, if anything.” “And let’s not forget, none of these men is a strong campaigner.” “They’re all pretty weak on the stump, compared to Crane. Or Goldwater.” “These men are no Phil Cranes, no Barry Goldwaters, no Robert Tafts. Not one more of those left in the Republican Party.” “The conservatives just don’t have any more lions to rally around. They’ve run out.” “They’ve just plain run out.” “So it’s Anderson, then.” “It has to be Anderson.” “It has to be.” There’s silence for a moment in the deli. “And nobody thinks Carter has a chance?” “Carter!” say two of them together. There is no need to elaborate.