Compared to who won in 76 IOTL and 80 IOTL Grasso and Bryd are much better tbh
While I strongly agree that Byrd is much better than Reagan obviously, I have some doubts about Grasso. She is more radical and liberal in her economic policies, especially with the universal healthcare. Is it similar to the German model where the health care system is funded by both statutory and private health insurance, or to the NHS where the government fully owns the healthcare industry and provides free health care to everyone in the UK? I’m also very unhappy with her more imperialistic foreign policy, especially with the Panama war (what’s the latest news on that?).
While I strongly agree that Byrd is much better than Reagan obviously, I have some doubts about Grasso. She is more radical and liberal in her economic policies, especially with the universal healthcare. Is it similar to the German model where the health care system is funded by both statutory and private health insurance, or to the NHS where the government fully owns the healthcare industry and provides free health care to everyone in the UK? I’m also very unhappy with her more imperialistic foreign policy, especially with the Panama war (what’s the latest news on that?).
GrassoCare is basically a slightly modified version of the Kennedy-Griffiths plan from OTL - that is, it establishes a system of universal national health insurance. It was basically a plan drafted by the AFL-CIO and UAW, so it's not so much the NHS as it is the government insuring everyone in the United States, so while healthcare services are not nationalized the federal government is directly insuring everyone against the costs of healthcare.
As for the Panama War, it drew down pretty quickly - think of it as a kind of Falklands War / Gulf War type thing, where it came and went very quickly. It's imperialistic for sure, but it's in line with the sort of Trumanesque bend that the Democrats took as a counter to Bush's waffling - especially since IOTL Watergate was about the time that Truman started to be rehabilitated for his blunt honesty if nothing else.
As for the Panama War, it drew down pretty quickly - think of it as a kind of Falklands War / Gulf War type thing, where it came and went very quickly. It's imperialistic for sure, but it's in line with the sort of Trumanesque bend that the Democrats took as a counter to Bush's waffling - especially since IOTL Watergate was about the time that Truman started to be rehabilitated for his blunt honesty if nothing else.
Oh so the Democrats are more aggressive in their foreign policy and probably not support any restrictions on aiding anti-communist rebels, such as the Boland Amendment. also do not follow the more "peaceful" approach of Carter and Mondale.
Bit late to this but this TLIAW is really good! A blessed inverted colors TL, something that's really been growing on me the last month...
. To that end, the passage of the National Energy Act authorized a federal Department of Energy to coordinate strategies, encouraged the broader development of nuclear energy - especially with inaugural Secretary James E. Carter’s affinity for it
Jimmy as the first Secretary of Energy, I think, is a thing now, isn't it? (Looks at McGoverning, The President Lay Dying, and my own mini-project). It really makes too much sense, I suppose.
his refusal to talk incensed Omar Torrijos, who felt that he was being strung along. Deciding in a drunken stupor that the Americans would never negotiate in good faith, he gave the order to initiate a plan dreamed up by Manuel Noriega: Huele a Quemado.
Too much Ron Abuelo, Omar?
There is something about pictures of Byrd and his violin that is viscerally uneasy, man
Excellent slate of alt presidents! The guy who lost in 84 is a shoe in, I bet
Lowell Weicker as leader of the Republican Party is a blessed TL honestly, although it's hard not to see the ways in which TTL's party system is being challenged (the GOP is clearly in no position to absorb the culture warriors if Weicker is the nominee in '88 and is a lot less right-wing with Reagan being shot in '78 instead of elected in '80, while after Grasso and Byrd the Democrats are gonna have a hard time taking them in. Meanwhile Byrd's KKK past and his backpedaling on the education issue is alienating Black voters, which could have consequences come '88, especially given Jesse's party remarks. So that's two potential third-parties right there - gonna be fun when 3rd and 4th place in the presidential race are Jackson's party and the AIP or whatever party has attracted the culture warriors who hate each other). Meanwhile I think Jimmy is the most natural Dem nominee in 1988 - whoever is Byrd's VP is possibly tainted by association, if probably not unelectable, given Byrd isn't quite radioactive, but Jimmy's coming off strong on the ChemGate controversy, which I think gives him the national profile to make a candidacy on the basis of opposition to the Byrd administration, even if he's likely to have a number of ideological similarities.
Of course, this could all go in other directions - the culture warriors could decide Weicker is too weak on their issues (and possibly add in some unsavory remarks about whether or not Weicker is a natural-born citizen, which is going to be) and keep from the GOP nomination, but they'd have to go into the Republican Party, and this-
Those liberal Democrats found themselves losing to moderate Republicans who decried deficit spending and the culture wars alike.
-kind of implies that they're, at bare minimum, not really ascendant, especially since one of their champions (and among their few high-profile Senate nominations) in Gingrich lost to Carter. And people undoubtedly remember Grasso clapping Helms, which further weakens the conservative cause inside the GOP. But nothing's really keeping them from veering to the right if conditions align correctly. And if Carter fumbles or the post-Byrd mood in the Democratic Party wants someone more like Mother Ella (AKA someone to the left of Byrd, although maybe stronger on the abortion issue than Grasso) it's easy to see some other more leftist figure take the Democratic nomination. It's all up to Enigma-Conundrum, really. Overall I'm excited for whatever comes out!
Jimmy as the first Secretary of Energy, I think, is a thing now, isn't it? (Looks at McGoverning, The President Lay Dying, and my own mini-project). It really makes too much sense, I suppose.
In the alternate history story by Vidal, Jerry died and Rockefeller became president. Jimmy, who was also the Dem nominee during the 1976, later became his energy secretary
Last edited:
41. Bill Clements, R-TX (1989-1997)
Bill Clements, R-TX
January 20, 1989 - January 20, 1997

What does the Republican Party do for a poor kid from Texas? They make him president.

Anyone who lived through the 1990s probably remembers hearing those words at some point. Bill Clements’ biography, apart from being summarized in one of the most famous American political ads ever, seems to be the perfect encapsulation of what conservatives have declared the American Dream to be for years on end. Growing up in a poor family in Dallas’ wealthy Highland Park, Bill Clements worked for everything he had. He did not go to college, instead becoming an oil worker to care for his family. It was in the oil fields that Clements found his fascination with the mechanics of drilling. After a brief stint in the engineering program at Southern Methodist University - a school that would play a significant role in his presidency despite Clements’ lack of a diploma - Clements found himself an investor to back his purchase of two used oil rigs. By 1970, Clements’ SEDCO was one of the largest oil companies in the country and Clements himself a millionaire.

Like many wealthy Texans, Clements considered himself something of an independent - a Republican nationally, and a conservative Democrat locally. His friend Peter O’Donnell, a Dallas banker and stalwart Republican, convinced him to try otherwise. To O’Donnell, men like Clements were the future of Texas Republicanism, and he firmly believed his friend could help turn the tide locally. While O’Donnell would be rewarded for his foresight with eight years as Secretary of Education, in the moment it brought Clements to become a big-name Republican donor. He fundraised for George Bush’ failed Senate runs and co-chaired Richard Nixon’s Texas campaign in 1972, a campaign that would succeed in flipping the state amidst a national wave. For his efforts, Nixon vaulted Clements up to become Deputy Secretary of Defense - no small feat given his unwavering commitment to high defense spending - and, once Bush was president instead of Nixon, he was rewarded for his generous past support with a promotion to the cabinet level.

Then George Bush lost, and Clements returned to Dallas with a plan: he was going to run for governor. He was an atypical candidate for the Texas GOP, but he thought that if there was ever a year for the hundred-year streak to break, it was now. After all, despite the national Democratic victory, Bush had kept his home state blue by just over 10,000 votes. Surely an atypical candidate, a wealthy oilman with the ability to self-finance and a blustery roughneck persona, could do quite well for himself. Sure enough, even though the Democrats led in the polls for virtually the entire race due to sheer institutional power, after a dogged campaign railing against the powers that be in Washington for the poor economy and a number of gaffes from his opponent John Luke Hill - Clements’ campaign even jokingly published an anthology of them titled The Quotations of Chairman John - Clements found himself the first Republican governor since the army stopped supervising elections.

In true Clements fashion, the new governor came to Austin ready to battle. He and every major Republican in Texas knew that the state Democrats maintained their power through a vast spoils system in an entrenched state government bureaucracy. Though his decidedly top-down understanding of executive power shaped by SEDCO and the Pentagon clashed with Texas’ relatively weak governorship, he nonetheless succeeded in staffing the state government with his own friends and ambitious young Republicans. In a foreshadowing of his national term, his main policy targets were tax reform and the growing War on Drugs, started by Nixon and maintained by Grasso and Byrd. Despite a challenge by the young liberal reformer Bob Armstrong, Clements easily obtained a second term, where he decided to first set his sights nationally.

After a bruising primary where Lowell Weicker snuck up the middle between him and William Westmoreland, Weicker looked at his options and decided that he needed one of the two blunt southern conservatives. Appreciating the Texan’s ability to fundraise with wealthy southern oilmen and wary of tying his personal liberal Republicanism to the shadows of Vietnam, Weicker ultimately chose Clements as a running mate. Clements seemed an astute choice, as he was a southern conservative who toed the line between conservative populist and outright religious culture warrior, and he was an equally energetic campaigner with enough tangible foreign policy experience to add some much-needed heft to the ticket. Evidently, the voters agreed that Weicker and Clements would make an excellent duo.

Then the Supreme Court intervened. Republicans were furious, none more so than Clements. Weicker had promised him “the most powerful vice presidency in history,” with a slate of reforms within the executive offices to match, and now that had been taken away from him. Clements’ testy relationship with the national press hit its boiling point with him snapping at a question about his loss that “that’s what’s so dishonest here, we did win this election! Go ask Ralph Metcalfe’s boys in Chicago why that wasn’t good enough!” before storming out to fly back to Austin. While the beltway press tut-tutted about Clements’ temper, his mood reflected that of many Republicans, who would always view the increasingly-withdrawn Byrd as illegitimate. Amidst the Republican backlash in 1986, Clements won re-election by nearly ten points in a state that had once been held firm by Lyndon Johnson.

Republicans may have been furious about how the election was stolen from Lowell Weicker, but Weicker’s last Senate term saw him drift left with every passing day, joining in anti-Apartheid protests and even offering hints of praise to Fidel Castro’s “increases in the standard of living” at one point. Privately, the party hoped to avert a second Weicker nomination - though Weicker was privately uninterested in that prospect, having been so thoroughly disenchanted with national politics by 1984 - and as such sought to sew up the contest early. Sensing that sort of discontent, Bill Clements immediately began piecing together a national organization. Though the RNC was initially wary of Clements, remembering his tendency towards gaffes and seemingly-endless ability to irritate the beltway press. However, something about the distance between his first run and second had mellowed Clements. He quickly established himself as a more agreeable version of himself, no less fiery on the campaign trail but less openly combative with the media. Scores of favorable op-eds about the “new Bill Clements” filled the horse race, and with so much oxygen taken up by the Texan, other potential major candidates like Governor Arlen Specter and Senator Jeremiah Denton quickly dropped from the race. Within a month of the Iowa caucus, Clements had brushed aside his only challenger - a last-ditch effort by Newt Gingrich to rally the radical right - to become the presumptive nominee.

Jesse Jackson had indicated that he would run in 1988, and he intended to make good on this promise. He had only held off declaring to watch the 1986 midterms for the sake of seeing if the Democratic Party had fertile ground for him. With so many liberal primary challengers’ loss - whether it be in the primary or to Republicans - Jackson concluded that a new party designed to mobilize new voters was necessary. Announcing the formation of the PUSH Party to never let a good piece of branding go to waste, Jackson threw his hat into the ring and complicated the race overnight. For the Democrats’ part, the debate was largely over foreign policy. Vice President Bob Kerrey went tit for tat with Senator Jimmy Carter, but White House backing proved insurmountable for the fledgling Human Rights Caucus. Though it would not be Senator Carter’s last attempt for the White House, it was certainly a setback for his ambitions. For Clements, though, this was the ideal situation. The Democrats were divided, with Jackson focusing all fire on Kerrey and Byrd and the former hopelessly caught in the middle. Partisan battling had worn out much of middle opinion, and “the new Bill Clements” stayed focused on a simple campaign on cutting taxes and combating the high crime rates that had plagued the 1980s. Even so, good popular vote numbers hid the closeness of the electoral college race in statewide polling. So Karl Rove, the young Texas Republican recruit who had followed Clements diligently since 1978 turned campaign manager, changed the game. Vice President Kerrey was a Vietnam hero, a Democratic hawk who had lost a foot fighting the Viet Cong and received a Medal of Honor for it. He was relatively unassailable when it came to defending supposed “Democrat wars,” as Clements had accidentally dubbed them in his first debate with Kerrey four years prior. Rove figured that this was the ticket to driving Carter supporters away from voting for Kerrey, instead voting for Jackson or Clements or nobody at all. So he dug around in Kerrey’s service record, following every rumor available. Soon enough, he stumbled upon Kerrey’s Bronze Star citation for a raid in Thanh Phong. After some digging, a fellow soldier, Gerhard Klann, told Rove that Kerrey had ordered them to round up and kill women and children during the raid. Rove immediately found a way to get Klann’s story out that October, where it was picked up by the Washington Post, hoping to calm its reputation as a Democratic newspaper after having been slow to report on Byrd’s scandals. Though Kerrey zealously denied the incident, the damage to his campaign was terminal.


As Bill Clements lifted his hand from the Bible to become the forty-first president, Byrd’s Middle Eastern legacy reared its head. The Iraqi war with Iran and invasion of Kuwait had been broadly condemned, with only the United States and France holding out amongst NATO members. Furthermore, the overextension from two regional wars was pushing the Hussein regime to its breaking point, especially as Soviet and Chinese aid flowed freely to the Shariati government. Something needed to give. In a move driven entirely by the blunt realpolitik that’s come to define the Republican Party, Clements elected to change who the parties at the table were. Dissent at home was quiet yet thick enough to cut with a knife, especially within the Republican Guard’s command who had unfettered access to just how close the wars were to going south. CIA operatives met with Hussein Kamel al-Majid, the head of the Republican Guard, and found an agreeable negotiating partner, or at least an Iraqi leader more focused on biding his time than military displays. With CIA aid and assurances of some highly lucrative deals, the Republican Guard overthrew Saddam Hussein, in a nearly-bloodless coup and now-President Hussein Kamel al-Majid immediately opened negotiations with the IPRI and Kuwait. By the end of the year, the Cairo Accords were signed, finally removing Iraq from Americans’ headlines.

True to form with his Austin days, President Clements felt that the way to long-term conservative policy was to fill as much of the federal government with loyal supporters. With a sizable Republican Senate Jim McClure had no problem whipping votes to push through Clements’ appointments. Democrats like Senator Ralph Nader made significant noise about NOGA being staffed by oil executives, the EPA run by land developers, and the CPA headed by corporate lawyers, but nonetheless Clements succeeded in swinging the executive bureaucracy significantly to the right. Even so, Clements vastly preferred his own Texan loyalists to even other Republicans. Prominent Republicans, none more prominent than Vice President Donald Rumsfeld, complained of being “frozen out,” privately grousing that Clements-appointed task forces did half their functions for them and when possible, Texans like old friends Peter O’Donnell and George Strake, Bush allies turned new friends like Robert Mosbacher and James Baker, and even Texan military men like Richard Cavazos and Bobby Ray Inman held all the real power.

Regardless, the first Republican trifecta had been achieved since Eisenhower, and the party hardly wanted it to go to waste. Warren Burger retired shortly after Clements’ victory, allowing him to fill the Chief Justice’s seat with D.C. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman. Then came the economy, or rather taxes. Supply-side economic theories had grown in popularity amongst the Republican caucus, but Bill Clements was not a convert. Privately, he told his Texan loyalists that Jack Kemp and his ilk were “fucking loonies,” but publicly he sought to seize the initiative on one of the core party priorities. To that end, the Tax and Entitlements Revenue Reform Act (TERRA) was quickly put together by White House policy staff. While it modestly cut taxes on lower and middle-class Americans, it also represented the most significant entitlement reform in years, simultaneously cutting Social Security benefits, increasing revenue via payroll taxes, and streamlining GrassoCare benefits with Medicare and Medicaid to create one “AmeriCare” system. While cuts struck across the board - as Representative Harvey Milk protested, including a total defunding of federal AIDS research - one where cuts did not apply was defense. Clements was a strong believer in a robust defense, and it was the only budgetary area that actually saw significant expansions in funding to foster “peace through strength.” Next came an attempt at cutting the Byrd Bill down to size. While curriculum reforms focused on a more subtly nationalist telling of American history passed rather quickly, appeasing the radicals in his caucus, attempts to partially privatize the systems involved invoked fierce opposition. After a memorable incident where the American Federation of Teachers led a peaceful sit-in of every public area of the Capitol during debate, the amendments aimed at the funding model and encouraging private and charter schools were quickly scrapped. Not to let a loss hold him down, Clements quickly pivoted to his bread and butter: crime. Quickly, the Crime Enforcement and Control Act formed. Crime rates had been steadily increasing from the late 70s to 1990, and despite limited reforms by the Byrd administration, Clements had campaigned on his aggressive work in fighting drugs and violent crime in Texas for the past ten years. To that end, CECA increased national financial support for police departments, created a harsh system of mandatory minimums for drug possession and distribution, increased penalties for recidivism, provided lucrative subsidies for private prison construction, and even sanctioned police department demand-side programs with schools to fight drug addiction early. During his 1990 State of the Union, President Clements even brought evidence from a DC police operation with him, saying that “this bag of crack cocaine was seized from a drug dealer attempting to sell it on the steps of this very Capitol.” Though this was performatively exaggerated, it indicated just how seriously the crime epidemic was viewed that this move earned serious praise.

The administration did not simply wish to fight the drug trade at home, though. It would also serve to define their foreign policy. The Somoza regime in Nicaragua had fallen in 1978, being replaced by a wholly FSLN leftist revolutionary government. While the Grasso administration had quickly cut aid to Nicaragua, perceiving it as little more than a Soviet-Cuban puppet, Nicaragua had become one of the many cause celebres of the American right, with loud accusations that they were Soviet puppets filling the airwaves. Aid to the Contras had flowed freely since 1987, when Robert Byrd consented to such to avoid a government shutdown. The Clements administration introduced a new charge: drug smuggling. In January 1990, the FBI arrested Federico Vaughan, a top Sandinista aide, in Miami with a plane stuffed to the brim with narcotics. The reaction was immediate outrage. Testimony by Vaughan that he was just a lackey for a drug ring among the nine commandants of the Sandinista government was later found to be coerced and greatly exaggerated, but at the time it dominated the headlines. In a televised address to the nation, a furious Clements held up the pictures of Vaughan’s plane and made clear his policy. The United States was firmly opposed to the drug trade, and so-called “state sponsors of trafficking” would be dealt with swiftly and justly. He thus called on Congress to authorize the use of force in Nicaragua to remove the “outlaw regime,” ensure freedom, and fight the illegal drug trade wherever it may lie. Congress passed the measure by broad margins, with only Human Rights Caucus dissent, and American troops landed in Contra strongholds. By the end of the summer, Managua had fallen, and in an unusual step Daniel Ortega was taken to be tried and imprisoned in the United States on drug charges. The War on Drugs had become an international affair.

The intervention in Nicaragua signified a broader shift beyond just the drug trade. Despite the hawkish tendencies of the Grasso and Byrd administrations, Nixon-era detente policies had largely stayed in place. SALT II negotiations were completed in 1979 as Ella Grasso and Andrei Kirilenko found a stable working relationship. While Robert Byrd wished to continue the SALT III talks in his second term, he found himself increasingly hamstrung by ChemGate internationally. If Iraq was a weight around detente’s neck, Nicaragua may well have been an anchor. The Soviet Union was furious, decrying the move in all manner of Marxist-Leninist bromides. Nikolai Ryzhkov, the young economic reformer brought to prominence by a dying Kirilenko, personally announced Soviet withdrawal from SALT III and imposed a host of restrictions on Soviet exports to the United States, most notably including oil shipments. In response, before boarding Air Force One, President Clements was characteristically blunt: “good riddance!” Clements called for a retaliatory cut in agricultural shipments, widely considered the greatest Soviet dependency on the US. While farmers bore the brunt of this in the short term, most Americans approved when polled. A revival of Bush’s famous drilling pledge, now with a federal government afforded the tools to do so directly, saw a major surge in new drilling in the gulf and Alaska aimed directly at “declaring America’s independence from foreign oil,” as Secretary of Energy Kenneth Lay put it. The move to strip much of ANWR’s land away for new contracts was more controversial, but with virtually all Republicans right of Lowell Weicker onboard it sailed through on partisan lines. Even so, a modest midterm backlash removed Ed Madigan’s 5-seat house majority, though the fact that the Democrats’ majority was less than 230 seats supported by conservative Democrats and that the Republicans mostly broke even in the Senate was a shocking overperformance. Pundit analysis pointed to one conclusion: Americans must truly want what Bill Clements is selling.

Despite renewed tensions, America entered the 1990s in a state of relative calm. Divided government was no particular issue, as the Democratic majority was built on conservative southern Democrats who more often than not aligned with Clements on his pet issues. The bipartisan “Biden Amendment” to CECA focused on domestic violence passed, helping to apply harsher penalties to abusers and to penalize violence against women. Clements temporarily earned the ire of much of the public after saying the consequences of an Alaskan oil rig’s spill out into the Prince William Sound were “much to do about nothing.” The 29th Amendment came into force with its ratification by Ohio, affording Washington D.C. a single representative and two senators at the time of the next census. Two vacancies on the Supreme Court opened in quick succession with William Brennan’s retirement and Thurgood Marshall’s death, which Clements opted to fill with Edith Jones and Amalya Kearse respectively. This paid dividends for the radical right as Clements hoped, keeping them from demanding much of him with news of decisions that upheld all manner of state-level social legislation drafted by the Moral Majority’s politicians on school prayer, sodomy, and flag-burning. Troop levels in Nicaragua declined considerably as new elections were held, though the USSR and Cuba decried these elections as shams due to Ortega’s continuing imprisonment and the FSLN’s inability to compete. In another case of Clements’ selective hearing, despite privatizing impulses by the vast majority of Republican, Peter O’Donnell’s advocacy of science as proof of American superiority saved and expanded funding for a number of scientific projects like NASA’s Freedom Space Station and the Texas Superconducting Supercollider. True to form, Clements quite literally promised the moon - or rather, a lunar base - while speaking prior to the launch of the last Freedom-1 module, setting the goals higher than ever. TIME’s cover proclaiming Clements its Person of the Year for a second time in 1991 summarized it best with four words: AMERICA ON THE MOVE.

But the USSR was on the move too. Under the leadership of Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Soviets were more robust than ever, with a combination of market reforms, “Finlandization” of the Warsaw Pact nations, and Nikolai Ogarkov’s military modernization program aimed at “trimming the fat.” With the west veering towards hawkish anticommunism throughout the 1980s, NATO leaders were truly terrified of a Soviet Union able to legitimately outcompete them instead of the normal brinkmanship. To that end, “the two cowboys” promoted a solution. President Clements and Canada’s Prime Minister Jack Horner, now entering his twelfth year in office, believed that free trade was a net boon to the economy, but also could be used strategically to build a competitive economic bloc. Thus the North Atlantic Free Trade Area, or NAFTA, was born. A sister treaty to NATO’s charter, NAFTA would drop trade barriers between the member-states of NATO and would require such economic ties to join in the future. While some smaller members were wary of the agreement as an extension of American imperial might, anti-communist fears tended to prevail. The United States Congress saw a similar debate, with an odd coalition of the radical right and protectionist labor liberals both opposing the agreement and the broad center-left to right supporting the treaty’s passage. By January 1992, the last major holdout in France gave way to Michel Poniatowski expending much of his second-term political capital on its passage, entering the free trade treaty into force.

Fresh off NAFTA’s full passage, election season was once again upon America. To the credit of Karl Rove, now the RNC Chairman, the election was stage-managed to near perfection. Major Democrats sensed Clements’ immense popularity and chose not to contest, leaving such expected candidates as Senator Jimmy Carter and Governor Marcy Kaptur out of the race. Instead, amidst a highly fluid primary, New York Governor Charles Schumer - “just call me Chuck” - quickly surged to the front of the pack. Running against the oldest president in American history, Schumer was barely over forty and already a former congressman and a two-term governor of one of the largest states in the nation. Though he, like Bob Kerrey, had a split in the party to deal with, as Jesse Jackson announced his second bid as the PUSH Party candidate following NAFTA’s passage by Congress. Though Jackson initially polled quite high off of his 1988 overperformance, even competing for second place with Schumer, his campaign was quickly dealt a death blow after he was caught on a hot mic calling Schumer “the hymietown candidate.” Even Jackson’s running mate, Jewish New Yorker and former Alaska Representative Niilo Koponen, openly condemned the comments, and Jackson’s apology seemed stilted and insufficient to many of his would-be voters. With Jackson sinking to the single digits and the PUSH Party nearly defunct by the new millennium, Schumer reasoned that a middle lane had been opened up on kitchen-table economic issues. In another circumstance, he may have been right. But running on economic problems during a boom is no small feat, and his attempt at shifting from a pro-NAFTA stance to a qualified critique and his attempt to distance himself from Robert Byrd and Paul Wolfowitz after having defended them as a committee member during the ChemGate investigations saw him derided as a flip-flopper. Governor Schumer also had a strong civil libertarian streak as governor, allowing a weekend parole system for inmates and creating some of the earliest GLBT protection laws in the nation. So Rove’s attack campaign was simple: crime, crime, crime. Crime rates nationally were dropping quickly - incidentally, New York was one of the lowest-crime states in the nation - but it was all too easy to portray Schumer’s home in New York City as a den of criminals and drug dealers with cherry-picked stories of heinous acts. Ads banging on about Schumer “letting criminals run free” coated the airwaves in the most expensive presidential campaign in history. Clements, by contrast, sold himself heavily with biography. As a stable executive who made Americans safer and put money in their pockets, he had run the country just as efficiently and aggressively as SEDCO, and Americans were better for it. Evidently, Americans agreed.


At first, it seemed that the second term would be more of the same. Clements had won overwhelmingly, and while a Republican House had not followed him, it seemed that his priorities would still fly through. Clements’ proposal of a 600-ship navy and a handful of new, experimental military project authorizations came to fruition despite attempts by the Human Rights Caucus to fight such excess. A bill furthering transportation deregulation that had been started in the Grasso years sailed through Congress, making airfare and train tickets much more affordable even as detractors lamented the consolidation of airline giants like Braniff International. Such a bill for financial deregulation found much stiffer opposition, but enough haggling with southern Democrats desperately trying to fight the political divides in the “New South” between wealthy Gulf Coast Republicans and working-class Appalachian Democrats. A bill limiting the ability of public sector workers to unionize turned into a political firestorm, with Senator Ed Garvey leading a 16-hour filibuster against its passage. Negotiations for a pan-American alliance to fight drug trafficking without broad intervention began to prove fruitful, and economic projections showed that the US would actually achieve a budget surplus by 1996. All in all, the country seemed to be doing just alright.

Then the landscape changed, or rather, Mexico did. The PRI had held a monopoly on power for nearly seventy years, and as comes with institutional power corruption ran rampant throughout the government. No more was this present than in Elba Esther Gordillo’s administration. The head of the largest teacher’s union in Mexico, she was selected as the PRI’s candidate in 1988, and despite a genuinely close fight following a devastating earthquake and government inaction towards such she emerged victorious. Almost immediately, accusations of widespread fraud took hold. Gordillo had always been known as wealthy, and her luxury tastes were known to many in the country. Every bit of Nieman-Marcus she wore seemed a sign to Mexicans that she had bought her way to the top with her ill-gotten union funds. Eventually, through years of her corruption, the PRI feared that its already-shaky monopoly on power would fade completely. Leaks demonstrated her blatant fraud, her embezzlement, and just how deep her expensive tastes went into the pockets of the Mexican government. In 1993, the unprecedented step of impeaching Gordillo happened, and despite her attempt to flee to her American properties she was arrested. Her successor, the Secretary of the Interior Manuel Bartlett, was quickly confirmed as her successor. But Bartlett was no better, and in fact more of a dictator. Mexicans’ fury at their one-party government had festered ever since the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, and Bartlett’s attempts to clamp down on their protests only turned them violent. His use of the cartels, who he had been collaborating with throughout his career as Mexico’s top law enforcement officer, only incensed the demonstrations. The Second Mexican Revolution had begun, in Chiapas with the Zapatistas but also in the streets of Mexico City. Even the attempt to remove Bartlett and replace him with anti-Gordillo ex-PRI member Manuel Camacho Solis did nothing to stop the disorder. The cartels’ unfettered growth under Bartlett’s tenure as Secretary of the Interior and President allowed them to seize effective control under a corrupt and unresponsive federal government stretched thin handling a thousand other problems. Mexico was burning.

This was quite a headache for the Clements administration. The free reign given to the cartels flew in the face of the so-called “Clements Doctrine” formulated in Nicaragua and practiced peacefully in agreements with willing partners, yet Mexico was too large and too delicate a situation for a gung-ho US intervention. Furthermore, the growing stream of refugees from Mexico was an issue in itself, as Clements himself leaned towards harsh immigration enforcement but had largely punted on reform. To that end, the administration quickly flew President Camacho to meet with Clements in Texas directly. The Highland Park Agreement saw joint Mexican-American military operations against the cartels authorized to put the cartels that had evolved into warlords down. Furthermore, the US would take a capped amount of Mexican refugees yearly, aiding in resettlement elsewhere. Critics on both sides in the US were fervent, with more human rights oriented Democrats arguing that the use of American military force against glorified drug gangs was an absurd overreaction when more should have been done to protect Mexican refugees and the radical right of the Republican Party arguing that we should take a harder line on the flow of refugees and more time should have been put towards aiding the Mexican military in stopping the Zapatistas due to Cuba’s support for the group.

With ongoing reports of conflicts between American forces and cartel-warlords in Mexico - the fledgeling Turner Network launched the modern daily news cycle with on-the-ground coverage in northern Mexico, providing Americans more information but also increasing the expected frequency of news - Clements’ once-insurmountable popularity seemed to be sagging. But reporters were not only digging around in the operations in the ongoing War on Drugs for new stories in the steady stream. Bill Clements was perhaps one of the wealthiest presidents in history, with a personal net worth of over $30 million upon his entry into the Texas governorship. In the eyes of many enterprising reporters wishing to shine a light on the government - it was the right thing to do, but everyone wanted to be the next Woodward or Drew - this lent him an unprecedented number of opportunities for scandal. While most came up empty-handed early on and left his personal integrity alone, some kept digging. The Houston Chronicle broke the first major story about Clements in 1993, related to his Secretary of Energy. The bombshell article alleged that Kenneth Lay’s Department of Energy had been engaged in a litany of fraudulent activities, primarily designed to benefit Lay’s old corporate stomping grounds at Houston Natural Gas. HNG had not been financially solvent in years, and it seemed that Lay was purposefully directing his replacement as CEO to misrepresent the company’s finances to the government to gain outsized subsidies and NOGA support. Conveniently, SEDCO, Bill Clements’ old company, had also significantly benefited from the same system, though there was no sign that Clements’ successors had benefited. Nonetheless, reporters ran wild with speculation, seeing as SEDCO had been one of the top three largest beneficiaries of the same support system. Though Clements had deeply tried to suppress his old instincts towards hard questions, the attacks on a business he had built from the ground up were too much for him to bear. During a White House press briefing, the President practically bit a poor young NBC reporter’s head off with a tirade about how hard he had worked for his money. Many Republicans saw this as a justifiable rage, but those not already firmly behind Clements saw something else. They saw a cover-up, an unfeeling businessman trying to make a quick buck off the highest office in the land.

But the SEDCO case - not nothing, as Ken Lay faced charges upon resigning his office - was a drop in the bucket compared to Southern Methodist University. As governor, Clements had maintained close ties to SMU’s board of governors. When it broke that the SMU board of directors had maintained a slush fund for under the table payments to football players and their families to entice them to play at SMU, it led to the NCAA barring the program from playing entirely. The so-called “death penalty” was decried by Clements - after all, the “First Mustangs Fan” was known to show up to at least one SMU game a year while serving - and life went on. That is, until further investigation found that Clements’ repeated donations to SMU had been deposited into the slush fund almost directly. Immediately, questions over whether Clements knew or not were raised, and the president was expected to deny them all. That is, until Clements addressed the nation. In a primetime Oval Office address, he admitted his knowledge of the fund’s existence. Clements made clear his anger that the board had taken his money and solely used it for this purpose, as he was adamant about its use solely to better SMU’s services for its students. This sort of frank honesty was not expected of Clements. Attempts at impeaching Clements stalled out with only Democrats backing them, as Republicans were determined to not suffer another Nixon. Regardless of evidence later unveiled that it seems Clements absolutely knew how the board was using his money and actively bankrolled the slush fund, at the moment it seemed his gamble had worked.

Even if he had survived the SMU scandal and Ken Lay’s trial, Clements was certain to face a beating in the midterms - and indeed he did. Democrats swept their way back into power, building a strong majority in the House and flipping the Senate back from Jim McClure’s iron grip. Promises of rooting out corruption and holding an adventurous foreign policy accountable appealed to a weary public, who may not have wanted Clements impeached but certainly wanted to get to the bottom of all of this mess and keep the joint operations in Mexico from becoming an unwinnable quagmire. Notably, Clements’ own Texas even flipped, with San Antonio’s charismatic Mexican-American mayor Henry Cisneros defeating incumbent Senator George Walker Bush in an extremely narrow race for the ages despite Bush’s attempt at a last-minute revelation of an extramarital affair on Cisneros’ part to deflect from his own scandals.

Nobody was more infuriated by “W’s” defeat than Bill Clements. While Clements had picked Donald Rumsfeld, a Nixon official turned UN Ambassador turned Senator, he was not his first choice. While he recognized the need to win Illinois and Rumsfeld’s relative youth, Clements hated Rumsfeld personally for reasons only known to Bill Clements. As such, upon taking office, Clements quickly marginalized him at all turns, using him as a stand-in at virtually every international event that Clements himself couldn’t be bothered to attend. “Every day that Don’s at least one ocean away is a good day in my book,” was a quote relayed on in James Baker’s account of the Clements White House, and it seemed to genuinely reflect the Texas mafia’s stance towards their own Vice President. As such, in the hunt for a successor for 1996, Clements’ Texan provincialism and allegiance with old Bush men led him to groom the young Senator as a potential replacement. Of course, Rumsfeld knew this, and his own men - especially his Chief of Staff Dick Cheney - were the ones who leaked W’s past cocaine use and DUIs to the press that October in the first place. Reasonably sure of his ability to claim Clements’ popularity with Republicans despite his personal quarrels with the man, Rumsfeld began preparing a bid for the White House. When wind of all of this leaked out from Rumsfeld’s office to Clements, the president blew a gasket. After the White House staff had swept the broken glass off of the floor of the residence, Clements immediately focused his efforts on destroying his Vice President’s campaign.

In the last days of the Clements administration, apart from fighting his own vice president, shockingly little happened. The scandals had burned much of his political capital, and a Democratic Congress was not interested in pushing for further deregulation. Instead, it was consumed by oversight of foreign policy. Hearings by Senate Intelligence quickly found that CIA operations had taken off significantly under Clements as soon as he replaced Ted Sorensen with a Texan admiral, Bobby Ray Inman. Chairman Donald Fraser’s hearing room gained more cameras as it ultimately began to resemble something entirely new for the secret state. Following the reforms that had placed the CIA under more presidential authority, Ted Sorensen had broadly dialed down the type of operations that had defined the organization in the 50s and 60s. Upon taking control, Inman had cleaned house, replacing many competent time-servers with his “Navy mafia” of loyal officers. At which point, the Inman CIA had found itself inextricably linked with the War on Drugs. While conclusive evidence was hard to come by in an organization famed for its paper shredders under an experienced hand in military intelligence, signs pointed to mass campaigns to build justifications out of tenuous links. There was little evidence Federico Vaughan had colluded with much of the Sandinista government, yet his coerced testimony was taken as a sign of a total narco-state. Meanwhile, the Contras’ alleged involvement in the cocaine trade as a source of funding was quickly suppressed, with signs pointing to disposed of evidence and American aid supplanting drug money. Covert operations throughout the Americas to prop up allies seemed like whack-a-mole to the committee, with everything from electioneering in Chile’s anti-Pinochet referendum to attempts to strongarm Mexican politicians into supporting an emergency extension of Manuel Camacho Solis’ presidency, as likely successors would not support continuing operations. Even so, it seemed that Democrats overestimated the impact of the revelations. While quite a number cared that the Clements Doctrine’s initial justification was a lie, plenty of Americans seemed to think of such operations as justifiable in the face of communist subversion and drug trafficking.

Despite scandal, partisanship, infighting, and age, Bill Clements never lost his fire in office. He gave a blistering condemnation of the Fraser-Moffett Bill on intelligence reform while offering his veto, launching into a tirade about tying America’s hands behind its back. Even as his foreign policy faced far more scrutiny on its human rights record, Clements focused on using the limited time he had left in office to wage the new iterations of the Cold War. He offered an unusually profound warning that the Soviet Union had already chosen Africa as the next battlefield, and that America must match them lest the Soviets gain an insurmountable position as the global patron of the developing world. Though the collapse of the Mobutu regime and the Soviet-backed rebels under Laurent-Desire Kabila would be a problem for successive administrations, it was Clements who first ramped up aid to anti-communist forces. Though his last addresses on the topic are broadly seen as prophetic, like any good prophecy the interpretation is in the reader.

It is often questioned why America did not lurch to the right in the 1980s and 90s. The western world was in the full throes of the neoliberal “Blue Tide”, and yet the American equivalent did not have the archconservative ideology of Jack Horner, the overpowering presence of Michel Poniatowski, or even the sheer force of will of Airey Neave. While Bill Clements is by no means insignificant - being consistently ranked as one of the more popular presidents, certainly a favorite of conservatives - he was a businessman with a businessman’s mindset first and foremost. He had convictions, and even deeply held values, but he never truly craved to change the conversation itself compared to negotiating the best deal possible. Even when he sought to alter the balance of the government, appointing true believers who would wage the culture wars in his absence that he sought to avoid, he did so in the mindset of a chessmaster moving pieces around the board. As stated in Bill Clements’ characteristically self-aggrandizing words just before his death in 2011, “my legacy is the safe, free America we all love today.”
Last edited:
The so-called “death penalty” was decried by Clements - after all, the “First Mustangs Fan” was known to show up to at least one SMU game a year while serving - and life went on. That is, until further investigation found that Clements’ repeated donations to SMU had been deposited into the slush fund almost directly.
Hey I’ve seen this one before. :p
42. John Van de Kamp, D-CA (1997-2002)


John Van de Kamp, D-CA
January 20, 1997 - April 22, 2002


“I debated whether or not I should tell this story now given the circumstances, but I know John Van de Kamp, and I know he would have wanted me to. It starts back in Atlanta in 1996 at the Democratic National Convention. John called me up to his suite after the rules fight and after he’d won the ballot, and he had me come up to tell me face-to-face that he wasn’t going to name me as his running mate. That was the kind of man John was. He wanted to say things face to face. He wanted you to know the courage of his convictions. So, he called me up to his suite, and we sat down, he offered me a drink, I think, and he said, ‘Look, Jimmy, I appreciate the campaign you ran, and I want this party to come together, but I’ve gone a different way, and you’re not going to be the running mate.’

“Now, I admit I have a bit of a temper about me – growing up they used to call me Hot for a reason – and so I was just sitting across from him stewing, and I said, ‘Look, John, that’s perfectly fine. You should feel free to pick whoever you want as a running mate, but just remember, on January 20th, when you take the Oath of Office, it should be me up there.’” The Cathedral roared with laughter.

“I know, I know.” The eulogist himself laughed. “I don’t know what on Earth I was thinking. I mean that was just a horrible, selfish thing to say, I admit, but that’s what I said. And John just smiled. That was who he was. He just smiled, and he put his hand out on my knee, and he said, ‘Jimmy, you’re an important Senator, and you’ve done great things for this country, and this doesn’t mean you’re going to stop. You know that, and I want you on my team, so why don’t you say we go out, and we shake hands, and we raise arms, and we show this party what we’re all about?’ And of course, I did, and that started a really terrific friendship that I was lucky enough to share with John Van de Kamp.

“Well, anyway, a little more than a week ago, after everything happened and before he passed, John Van de Kamp called me. And, of course, I took the call. I had heard he’d been shot, and I leaped for the phone just as soon as my secretary informed me who was on the other end. ‘Mr. President,’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry to hear what happened. How are you feeling?’

“And John Van de Kamp’s voice came back at me clear as day, he said, ‘Jimmy, I gotta tell you the truth, I think it was supposed to have been you out there today…’”

Jimmy Carter wiped away a few tears after he got done telling the joke and continued on in his eulogy of the nation’s 42nd President. In the second row on the right, sitting directly on the aisle, another man – Donald Rumsfeld – just pursed his lips and thought: No, Jimmy, it should’ve been me.

In a sense, both men were right. Jimmy Carter entered the 1996 Democratic primaries as the clear front runner. He had been the runner up to Bob Kerrey in 1988, and history had proven him vindicated after the ghosts of Thanh Phong emerged. He’d passed on a 1992 campaign, but he had been just as present in the national conversation as ever. Carter was a leading voice against the ramped-up War on Drugs. He memorably blasted Clements’ efforts as “Nixon’s plan on steroids.” He had been a leader in the Senate, exposing the corruption of the CIA and becoming a darling of the Democrats’ left-wing base in the process. However, the drug issue proved Carter’s Achilles heel.

On the stump, he called for a dramatic reduction of the Clements Crime Bill and pushed for the outright legalization of marijuana, believing it was the “surest way” to end the War on Drugs once and for all, and though he called for an end to the sentencing discrepancies for crack vs. powder cocaine, he found himself losing support with Black voters, who were anxious about the idea of legal drugs in their communities. Carter had overplayed his hand, and though his fight for the nomination would come down to the wire – all the way to the Convention in his hometown of Atlanta – it was not to be. A younger, fresher face squeaked by to claim the nomination.

The man was John Van de Kamp, the second term Governor of California who rose to national stardom as problems along the Mexican border captured national headlines. Van de Kamp, who had a quirky way about him, had served admirably as Attorney General of California before winning the 1990 gubernatorial election. By the time the problems with Mexico emerged in 1993, he was in a prime position to bask in the national spotlight. And that’s exactly what he did.

While some in his state chose to blast Clements on every issue, Van de Kamp was a keen observer of statewide and national politics. He welcomed the President to his state, toured the border with him, and offered California’s help in providing for and eventually relocating Mexican refugees. He battled with California Senator Bob Dornan, a radical Republican who opposed much of Clements’ immigration bill, such as refugee resettlement, and was not afraid to say as much, and with California Congressman Ron Dellums, who argued that Clements’ immigration policies were too restrictive and ‘inhumane.’ The effect was a net positive for both the Governor and the President, who held hands in the middle, appearing reasonable as the ideological extremes sniped at them from every which way.

Van de Kamp was reelected in 1994 by a crushing margin, helped by a late campaign visit from the President himself. A few days earlier, Van de Kamp was debating his Republican opponent, Pete Wilson, who claimed that he had ‘dropped the ball’ on the immigration issue and allowed California to become ‘overrun with criminals.’ When the President came to town, ostensibly to campaign for Wilson, he also did another tour of a refugee site with Van de Kamp. Clements put his arm around the governor and told the press: “This guy is doing a heckuvah job, I’ve got to say. He has handled this matter with the kind of leadership you hope for from the governor of your largest state.” It sounded like a bipartisan endorsement, and though Clements was a villain among the left at this point (the height of his administration’s scandals), he remained revered by Republicans and enough swing voters were impressed by the crossover support that they returned Van de Kamp to office comfortably. They also followed his lead in beating back a ballot proposition that would have made English the official language of California.

It did not take long for cautious Democrats to begin approaching Van de Kamp and urging him to run for president. They were worried about Carter, and Van de Kamp seemed the perfect antidote. He was well-known nationally thanks to his involvement in the Mexican situation, and he was seen as a national leader on the environment, negating one of Carter’s key advantages among the primary electorate. They also rightly predicted that Carter would overplay his hand.

A late break for Van de Kamp came when he secured the endorsement of Harvey Milk, an influential California Congressman who was a possible PUSH nominee in 1996. After Jackson’s middling performance in 1996, the Party started to splinter. White liberals began rallying behind Milk as a standard bearer, but the idea of an openly gay nominee did not sit well with many of the Black Christians in the South who made up a core aspect of the Party’s original base. Milk’s decision to back Van de Kamp because of his advocacy and work on the AIDS issue helped deflate PUSH’s chances that year. After Van de Kamp won the nomination, Jackson, too, endorsed him, and his Party’s voters largely followed him. The PUSH nominee won 2.8% in 1996, and after that the Party failed to qualify for the matching funds necessary to sustain its existence.

The fight for the nomination was anything but easy, but it was won, and Van de Kamp found himself in need of a running mate. For weeks, his advisors had been vetting a host of candidates. Many wanted him to choose Marcy Kaptur, the first woman to be elected as both a Governor and a Senator. They thought it would unify the Party, hark back to the days of Grasso, and send the Democratic ticket on its way to success. Van de Kamp wasn’t sold. He knew Kaptur well from their overlap as governors, and he worried that she was too eager to march to the beat of her own drum. He wanted a friend and confidant as his running mate, and so he turned to someone he’d known well for more than a decade.

Thomas Capano was a young hot shot lawyer in Wilmington, DE, bouncing in and out of state government for years until being elected Attorney General of Delaware. That’s when he met John Van de Kamp – at a national conference for Attorneys General – and they became fast friends. Van de Kamp became Governor in 1990; Capano won in 1992. The vetting process had yielded a slew of adultery allegations, but Van de Kamp wasn’t concerned. Those kinds of issues weren’t relevant to whether or not Tom could do the job as Vice President. Van de Kamp picked Capano, and together they were set to face off against Donald Rumsfeld in the general election.

Rumsfeld was the nominee despite Bill Clements’ best efforts. He badly hoped that George Walker Bush would be his successor, but when Rumsfeld played a hand in preventing that outcome, Clements decided it would be a different friend, a different Texan who would be the Republican nominee for President. And so, with President Clements whispering in his ear and Karl Rove helping behind the scenes at the RNC, T. Boone Pickens, the Texas Governor, announced his campaign for President of the United States.

Pickens was a corporate raider and friend of Clements who spent a year-and-a-half as Secretary of Commerce before Bill sent him home to run for Governor. He’d done all he could to make Texas the business capital of the country (often finding himself at odds with Capano, defending Delaware’s supremacy on the issue), and then he took the message on the road. Clements told everyone who would listen that he was excited about Pickens, and that Pickens was his choice to succeed him, not Rumsfeld. The problem for Bill was that Pickens was anything but a natural campaigner. He wasn’t one for sleeping in Holiday Inns, often returning to Texas via private jet after a day on the campaign trail, which meant he was done campaigning by sun down. Rumsfeld, however, was crazed with the desire to win, shaking every hand, lining up every precinct captain, and waking up early to greet factory workers heading in for their shift. Pickens figured what he lacked in effort he could make up for with money. It wasn’t enough. Pickens finished third in Iowa after Senator Dornan came from nowhere to win the caucuses. Rumsfeld beat him back in New Hampshire, where Pickens again finished third. When Dornan won South Carolina, PIckens figured he had to do the right thing. He got out of the race and endorsed Rumsfeld, throwing a few million into an independent expenditure to sink Dornan on Super Tuesday.

Most would assume that was enough for Clements, that the president would roll over and let his vice president succeed him after he won the nomination fair and square, but that wasn’t how Bill Clements saw it. There was a perfectly reasonable friend from the other Party running as well. Clements refused to acknowledge Rumsfeld throughout the general election. He told delegates at the Republican National Convention to “follow their heart” when they went to the polls in November (though not everyone saw this as a swipe at Rumsfeld), and he refused to campaign for Rumsfeld in any key state. By contrast, he made two trips to the border, inviting the sitting governors of all the border states (but not the Vice President) to join him. Van de Kamp happily accepted the invitations.

And so, with more than a few votes to spare, John Van de Kamp became the nation’s 42nd President.


One of the first issues that faced John Van de Kamp was how to handle the ongoing War on Drugs and the American military-backed operations in Mexico. Many in Van de Kamp’s own Party, led by the Human Rights Caucus, wanted him to cease operations. Van de Kamp knew that part of his appeal in the last election had been to voters nervous about the deluge of drugs coming across the border. He decided to have it both ways, announcing in his first address to Congress that he would be calling for wholesale immigration reform, and only once that had been passed would he consider scaling back America’s military involvement in Mexico.

This kept the Human Rights Caucus at bay. He would use the opportunity to tweak Clements’ immigration reforms to be more favorable to the HRC’s ideas on the issue but because the military operations were ongoing, most moderate Republicans were content to see if a deal could be reached. The majority of the Republican Party was hoping to get a balanced budget and while they understood the War on Drugs’ appeal to the conservative wing of their party, they feared that they would never meaningfully trim the deficit until American troops started coming home and the Pentagon’s bloated wartime budget came down to its typical bloated peacetime numbers.

The problem was coming up with a compromise on immigration. The Weicker wing of the Party now had two lead voices, the young and energetic Massachusetts Senator Bill Weld who was seen as a rising star within the Party and Arizona Senator John McCain. Together with the new Senator from New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and Weld’s Massachusetts colleague, Ted Kennedy, they formed a Gang of Four to draft comprehensive legislation. The White House was involved behind the scenes, approving and disapproving of several provisions and nudging the group towards a guest worker program.

In place of Clements’ punitive measures against those found in the United States without documentation, the bipartisan group agreed with a massive appropriation to build-up the fence along the U.S./Mexico border. They also increased the cap on the number of Mexican refugees and developed Van de Kamp’s proposed guest worker program. Perhaps most importantly, they approved additional funding to process the immigration papers, cutting down on the wait times for approval and, in the long-term, reducing illegal border crossings. The package was expensive and deficit hawks and members less hospitable to immigration reform were angry, especially Texas Congressman Ron Paul who spoke at a large gathering on the Texas/Mexico Border called the “Stay Home Rally” in which conservatives opposed to the Gang of Four bill spoke about the harmful impacts of the proposed legislation.

The House debate was rancorous, but a bipartisan coalition eventually sent it through to the Senate, where passage looked iffy. There were loud voices against it, led by Van de Kamp’s own Senators, Barry Goldwater, Jr. and Bob Dornan. Though Goldwater was supportive of most of the bill’s provisions, he was inflamed by the idea that those in the country illegally who had been here for more than three years would have a path to citizenship without first returning to Mexico. He was also enraged that the Gang of Four had not included him. A band of Republicans flooded the bill with amendments, and Van de Kamp was forced to send Vice President Capano to preside over the Senate, striking each one down by ruling it not germane. The process took hours, but they fended off every attempt to tank the bill. (Former President Byrd, now returned to the Senate as its Deputy President pro Tempore,helped devise the strategy.) After a 14-hour filibuster by Goldwater, they were ready to vote, and the bill passed without a vote to spare. When the Gang of Four agreed to reduce the pathway to those who had been here for two years instead of three and expand the number of agricultural worker visas, Goldwater dropped his opposition and helped find the votes to get it through.

Van de Kamp signed the bill near the border, flanked by the Gang of Five (expanded to include convert Barry Goldwater), and promised a “new day,” arguing that within a decade the issue would be solved because the Congress had “gone deep” and removed the motivations for illegal immigration in the first place. “Right now, there are those offended by illegal immigration who do not see that we have done them an enormous favor, but I believe, with time, they will come to see that this bill that I sign today will usher in a new era for U.S. and Mexico relations,” Van de Kamp said.

For the most part, the Human Rights Caucus was on board with the legislation and opposition was fomented on the far right. Subscriptions to conservative magazines increased exponentially and right-leaning leaders like Dornan began a dramatic nationwide campaign to repeal the bill, known as the ACA (American Customs Act). Dornan announced the formulation of a new Political Action Committee, Repeal ACA Now, purchased the direct mailing lists of long standing conservative organizations, and began raising hundreds of thousands – and then millions – to defeat Republicans who supported the ACA in primaries.

Byrd’s involvement in stopping conservative efforts against the bill also attracted ire. Senator Helen Chenoweth moved to remove Byrd from the Intelligence Committee, citing the ChemGate scandal. Byrd feared renewed attention on the scandal would drag Democrats down in 1998, and so he agreed to step down from the Committee voluntarily, giving conservatives the feeling that they had won big. Besides, Byrd was far more interested in his work on the HELP Committee.

After the immigration reform battle was done, Van de Kamp went to Mexico, where he negotiated a gradual draw-down of American support for the operations. A leftist revolution in Mexico toppled the existing regime before the draw-down was complete, and America ended up pulling its resources and troops early.

The Human Rights Caucus, now led in Congress by Connecticut Senator Ralph Nader and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also pressured Van de Kamp to scale back CECA, Clements’ crime bill, but Van de Kamp did the math and knew he didn’t have the votes; instead he promised a slate of judicial and U.S. Attorneys nominations who would be more pro-defendant than the current crop of Clements appointees (and frankly some holdovers from the Grasso days).

His first marquee appointment came when Byron White announced his retirement from the Court in June 1997. The President first offered the job to Vice President Capano, but he declined, citing a desire to stay in elected office, and so he moved on to a longtime compatriot from back home in California, Dianne Feinstein, the former San Francisco-area Congresswoman whom he’d defeated in the 1990 gubernatorial primary. They long had a friendly rivalry, and she fit a key criteria for Van de Kamp: Breaking the mold of elevating a traditional judge. Feinstein had spent 10 years on the House Judiciary Committee, and she gladly accepted the nomination.

Republicans, led by Feinstein’s own Senator Dornan, objected to the nomination, citing Feinstein’s long-standing support for gun control and support for lax immigration laws. The Human Rights Caucus rallied behind her, though, and enough moderate Senators were unwilling to bring the culture war debates into a debate over the Supreme Court. Weld in particular rounded up Republican votes for her passage, saying that while he may have had some concerns about her qualifications, he did not believe the Senate caucus could afford to be tied to the more xenophobic and far-right arguments against Feinstein’s appointment. Feinstein was confirmed 63-37, but the nomination also added fodder to the conservative outrage that Van de Kamp was going “soft on crime.” She became the first justice since James Byrnes to win confirmation without a law degree, aided no doubt by her Congressional connections.

Van de Kamp wasn’t done yet. Typically, presidents turned to foreign policy in their second terms when Congressional politics got more complicated, but the 42nd president chose not to wait. He developed an easy friendship with Paul Martin, Canada’s new Prime Minister, and together they tackled two urgent issues: the resettlement of refugees coming from Mexico and the environment.

On refugee resettlement, Martin agreed to take an influx into Canada so long as the United States helped fund for their care. Republicans concerned about the deficit weren’t thrilled, but they supported the agreement because it meant they could throw a bone to the growing anti-immigration wing of their Party. For most of the Senators, it didn’t work and those who backed the ACA still went down in defeat during the 1998 Midterm elections.

Secondly, Van de Kamp and Martin tackled the environment, coming together for an important agreement to stop acid rain and also leading the global community in calling for an international convention on global warming. Together they announced a summit in Niagara Falls in 1999, symbolizing the joint cooperation of the North American partners.

The 1998 Midterms were not hospitable for Van de Kamp’s party. Far-right candidates toppled ACA-supporting incumbents in Republican primaries, and many of them went on to victory in general elections. Conservative Democrats in the South lost their seats, even some who voted against the ACA. Many of the candidates had been funded by Dornan’s new PAC and the front page of the Washington Post carried a photo of the grinning Dornan under the headline: HIS TURN. Van de Kamp believed that he would find himself facing Dornan for reelection, and his campaign apparatus adjusted accordingly.

Many on the right had expected that Van de Kamp’s 1998 Supreme Court nomination would provide another cultural touchstone for them, but it was not the case. When Harry Blackmun retired, Van de Kamp decided to go with a more conventional replacement and named Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Vince Foster, who was confirmed 88-11. Still, opposition to Feinstein’s nomination was enough to keep the conservative base energized about the courts.

For most of 1999, Van de Kamp found himself at odds with the new Republican majorities. House Majority Leader Dan Lungren (also a Californian) led an 18-day government shutdown to try and force the repeal of the ACA. It was unsuccessful and embarrassed the Republican Caucus; moderate Republicans in the Senate looked on with unease. The Speaker seemed to be Speaker in name only. Lungren and his band of conservatives were running the show.

The Niagara Falls Protocol of 1999 provided a major issue for the 2000 election. It was a sweeping international agreement that set out a number of provisions to address the planet’s changing climate. Special Envoy Al Gore was a key representative on behalf of the United States and spent tireless days creating the Protocol with other industrialized nations signing on. Van de Kamp called for its swift ratification.

Opposition in the Senate was intense and the right began spinning the proposal as anti-business. Moderate Republicans were divided. Bill Weld supported the agreement but John McCain did not. As it stood, Van de Kamp did not have the 2/3rds needed to ratify and formally enter the Protocol, but he did announce that he would direct the executive branch to follow its provisions through executive orders, and he promised to win the votes in the 2000 elections to get the United States signed on.

As Van de Kamp’s team predicted, Bob Dornan was the Republican nominee in 2000, beating a host of more moderate candidates in the primaries, including Rhode Island Senator Buddy Cianci and Arizona Governor Sandra Day O’Connor, and “Clements-style conservatives” like Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander and Ohio Senator John Kasich.

Dornan did try to moderate his pitch to voters by naming Michigan Governor Mitt Romney as his running mate, but the Democrats pounced on Romney’s business history, painting him as out of touch with workers, and continued hitting Dornan on the government shutdown and his “irresponsible approach” to governing.

Van de Kamp was never in serious danger of losing, at least not to Dornan, but the first launch of astronauts to the U.S. Lunar Base at NASA’s Clements Space Center certainly helped on the margins (and provided the 41st President to drape his arm around the 42nd). Clements and Van de Kamp’s relationship had strained a bit as the new president pushed for a more liberal immigration bill, but Clements was mostly pleased that his crime bill (which he considered his main legacy) and his space efforts went on without interruption. Van de Kamp also commuted the sentences for a few Clements staffers who were caught up in the various scandals that consumed the president’s final years in office.


Van de Kamp’s brief second term is remembered for two main things: His administration’s humanitarian efforts and the scandal that consumed his vice president.

In 2001, Van de Kamp named the inaugural Director for the New Millennium Corporation, a public-private partnership that was aimed at supporting U.S. aid efforts around the world. It was separate and apart from the State Department and USAID, and its mission was larger in scope. NMC was meant to bring industry and government together to sponsor efforts around the developing world, especially in Africa, where the Soviet Union was becoming a welcomed presence. Conservatives embraced the idea because it was seen as an aggressive step against the USSR’s global influence and it brought in private partnerships, and the Human Rights Caucus was happy to see a serious investment in foreign aid win Republican votes in Congress. The inaugural director was Anita Hill, who had served for two years as the Deputy Secretary of Health & Human Services.

Hill enlisted the help of former President George H.W. Bush’s Bush Center and secured billions of dollars for relief in Africa, including fighting the AIDS epidemic there, eradicating the guinea worm, and also improving schooling with an eye towards ending gender violence on the continent. The New Millennium Corporation is also credited with helping to end the Cold War. The Soviet Union attempted to match America’s investments but found itself unable to do so, eventually straining the economy and the nation’s finances. Within a decade of the NMC’s launch, the USSR began to buckle under the pressure of its own over-spending and political reforms. In 2006, on the five-year anniversary of the NMC, Hill received the Nobel Peace Prize.

The NMC also provided the Van de Kamp administration with a serious challenge on the international front. As it expanded its footprint in Africa, it looked to dramatically invest in Ethiopia, but some in the Human Rights Caucus were more than a little concerned about Meles Zenawi’s approach to an ongoing war with Eritrea and his policies towards suppressing dissident in his own nation.

Van de Kamp was worried that cutting Ethiopia off would only further allow it to fall under Soviet and Chinese influence, but he also believed that the NMC could be a greater force for good if it insisted on higher human rights standards. He trusted the decision with Anita Hill, who announced a series of human rights commitments that were necessary to receive NMC support and cooperation. Ethiopia fell short of the standards and was cut off from the funding. The dispute was largely followed by political insiders more than the general public, but Van de Kamp’s actions did endear him further to the Human Rights Caucus as the Party continued to move in that direction. Like Clements, Van de Kamp was increasingly seen as a sort of stop-gap or in-between phase for the traditional New Deal Coalition and the more ideological movement on its edge. The Democrats were just a few years behind the Republicans on that front.

At home, liberals celebrated when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to permit civil unions in states and ruled that they entitled partners to the same federal benefits as married couples. It was one in a series of more liberal rulings, including overturning the Court’s previous ruling on sodomy, that came as Van de Kamp’s judges had time to get comfortable on the bench.

Van de Kamp’s good work soon became consumed in a distasteful Washington drama. It started with the disappearance of a young Senate staffer who failed to show up to work for several days. Friends and family hadn’t heard from her, and the MPD began an investigation. When detectives scoured her apartment, they found a number of items that raised suspicions. The staffer had a notepad with the Seal of the Vice President of the United States on it (even though she was a Senate staffer) and a few pens from the Vice President’s office, too. Detectives interviewed the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, but he said he’d never heard of the young woman before. Apparently, she’d met with a legislative staffer in the VP’s office, and detectives continued to find no leads.

Then, in December 2001, the staffer’s sister discovered two items in a box of belongings and turned them over to detectives: A handkerchief with the initials TJC (perhaps, Thomas James Capano?) and a note scribbled on the back of a business card that said, “I love you.” The signature was unmistakable.

Detectives arrived quietly at the Naval Observatory for a two-hour interview with the Vice President of the United States who now appeared connected to the young woman’s disappearance. At least, he knew the victim. Capano admitted to an affair with the young woman but said he knew nothing about her disappearance. He said he wasn’t even aware that she was missing because they’d broken things off more than two months before she disappeared.

Police were suspicious but had little go on until a purse belonging to the victim was found in Virginia, making the matter a federal crime and involving the FBI. Shortly after the FBI’s involvement, word of Capano’s connection broke and a media firestorm ensued. Two other women came forward to say they had recently carried out affairs with Capano and that he had sometimes been violent in nature. The criminal case seemed circumstantial at best, but politically, Capano was in trouble. Republicans began calling for his resignation, though few were convinced they would have the legal grounds to impeach him. After all, he wasn’t even charged with a crime, and he’d come forward and admitted to the infidelity.

Van de Kamp was uneasy with the entire situation and immediately directed the White House to cooperate as necessary, including providing Capano’s travel logs and phone records with the FBI investigation into the disappearance. Van de Kamp met with Capano for lunch at the White House in mid-January and asked him to resign. Capano insisted on his innocence and refused to cooperate. After that, he did not step foot in the White House again. Van de Kamp completely iced him out and the White House Counsel privately worked with Congressional leadership staff to try and draw up a way to remove him from office.

Everything changed the last week of February/first week of March. A Secret Service agent who had been on Capano’s detail died in a car accident off duty, and the widow came forward to the FBI to say that he had told her Capano murdered the woman during a late night rendezvous. The now-deceased agent and another had disposed of the body for the Vice President. The FBI moved quickly on the other Secret Service agent, who confessed and brought them to her body. They quickly arrested the Vice President of the United States for first-degree murder. Capano tried to hang on, but the House moved quickly to impeach. On March 18th, Capano resigned from the Vice Presidency before the House vote, though he insisted on his innocence.

The scandal rocked Washington and seriously embarrassed Van de Kamp who tried to quickly put it all behind him. Unfortunately, however, he ran out of time.

On April 22, 2002, Van de Kamp was in Florida for a major announcement at the Kennedy Space Center, where he revealed that NASA was moving forward with Phase II of the Permanent Lunar Base Program. He was set to appear in Miami for a Democratic Party fundraiser and then appear at a campaign rally for Florida Governor Janet Reno, who was seeking reelection. After the tour of Kennedy Space Center, Van de Kamp worked the rope line, and a crazed gunman shot the president twice in the chest. Van de Kamp fell to the ground and was rushed to the hospital. At first he was in stable condition, and he made a few phone calls to family members and friends, but internal bleeding developed and his condition rapidly deteriorated. He died that evening.

The gunman explained his motive: He feared that Van de Kamp was conspiring with extraterrestrial powers to allow them to take over the United States. While it was on its face absurd, fringe opposition to America’s space program had been slowly building over time. Now, it was a problem for the next president.

Van de Kamp, like Clements before him, has been judged a fine president by historians – as someone who resisted taking the nation in a strong ideological development. Liberals lament that he never had more left-leaning Democrats in Congress to advance social reforms beyond the ACA. Conservatives continue to detest him for the immigration reform he did pass. In recent years, some have taken issue with him for his choice of Capano as a running mate. Van de Kamp supporters argue there was simply no way for him to have known what Capano would turn into. Capano was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death – a rare invocation of the federal death penalty. He died of a heart attack on March 18, 2010, the eighth anniversary of his resignation from office, while still on death row.

Van de Kamp’s body was returned for burial in California and was later moved to the John Van de Kamp Presidential Library & Museum in Pasadena. At his funeral in Washington, the nation’s leaders and the president’s friends recalled his wit (or, as some would say, dad humor) and his charm and leadership, but many more sat in the pews with a bit of unease wondering what all was next for the nation. The back-to-back resignation of Capano and assassination of Van de Kamp had left the nation with a comparatively unknown individual as its 43rd president.
Grasso! Byrd! Clements! Van De Kamp!

So many great candidates who show up in lists sometimes but nevertheless never seem to get the attention they deserve. Really love, too, how the salience of different policy options is different - there was plenty of legislation on immigration in the OTL equivalent of the Clements-Van De Kamp era, of course, but it wasn't as central to Bush 41 or Clinton the way it is here.

A lot to talk about here, but going to confine myself to a few things:
  • Going to be interesting how Clements' combination of operational personalism and ideological vagueness ends up shaping the Republican Party for which he's the only non-embarrassing President since Eisenhower.
  • Hopefully Foster's fate is a happier one ITTL; meanwhile, Feinstein is going to be a headache for someone down the line.
  • I wonder how the Vice President getting caught committing literal fucking murder affects Americans' views of politics. And, separately, their view of conspiracies.
  • Pickens as Governor of Texas is a very fun idea, considering how big of an OSU booster he was.
Well, we officially have a TL where Aaron Burr, Henry Wallace and Spiro Agnew are no longer under consideration for worst Vice President in the history of the United States.