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Nixon Considered Democratic Senator Stennis for VP in '73, Buchanan Reveals

Nixon Considered Democratic Senator Stennis for VP in '73, Buchanan Reveals

Senator John Stennis, D-Miss, Chairman of the Armed Services Commitee, is seen in his Washington office on May 9, 1975. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)

By    |   Saturday, 20 May 2017 06:22 PM

After more than four decades, one of the best kept secrets of the Nixon Administration has been revealed, how in October of 1973, Richard Nixon, faced with having to appoint a new vice president as the Watergate scandal was metastasizing, planned an address to the nation naming Democratic Sen. John Stennis of Mississippi to the second-highest office in the nation.

In his just-published memoir “Nixon’s White House Wars,” onetime Nixon White House speechwriter and longtime commentator-author Pat Buchanan finally ended the speculation over his boss’s “mystery choice” for vice president.  

The “Stennis-for-Veep” ploy surfaced as incumbent Spiro Agnew was slowly engulfed in a “kickback” scandal dating to his days as Baltimore (MD) county executive that would be his downfall.

“[T]hat first weekend in October, [White House Chief of Staff] Al [Haig] had me write a speech for Nixon, and to include, at the close, the name of the individual whom the President intended to nominate to succeed Agnew,” wrote Buchanan, “It was Sen. John Stennis of Mississippi.  I found this hard to believe and asked Al if the Old Man was serious.”

(Unmentioned by Buchanan was another problem a Stennis nomination would almost surely have engendered: as respected and liked as the Mississippian was among his colleagues, his confirmation hearings almost surely would have focused on his quarter-century of strong opposition to any and all civil rights legislation for black Americans). 

Buchanan had good reasons to be flabbergasted.  As he put it, “[t]hough widely respected, Stennis was 72 years old, a Democrat who had a hearing problem, and during a recent mugging in northwest D.C., been shot twice and only recently returned to the Senate.  I expressed astonishment.”   

Haig ordered him to write.  He emphasized to Buchanan that the President “wants you to put Stennis’ name in as the new Vice President at the end of the speech.” 

Buchanan did just that.  The speech, however, was never delivered.  Nixon and any of his former staff  never mentioned that he considered Democrat Stennis as vice president.  Neither Stennis, who retired in 1988 after 41 years in the Senate, nor anyone who knew him ever publicly discussed the possible appointment and the senator himself may not have known Nixon was considering him.

Buchanan subsequently wrote a memo to Nixon recommending he name the man who eventually became vice president, Michigan Congressman and House Republican Leader Gerald Ford. 

Nixon later wrote in his memoirs that “[Democrat and former Texas Gov.] John Connally had been my first choice” but he concluded that “Connally simply could not make it [through Senate confirmation]. Looking at the other choices, I concluded that nominating either [New York Gov. Nelson] Rockefeller or [California Gov. Ronald] Reagan would split the Republican Party down the middle....This left Jerry Ford.”

Journalists who knew Buchanan were tantalized by Nixon’s choice of a “mystery vice president” that the former White House aide always said he was not at liberty to reveal.  In his 2007 book on Nixon and Agnew, veteran political reporter Jules Witcover said Buchanan told him “he was not at liberty to say who, except that it would have been a surprise.”

This reporter repeatedly berated Buchanan about that “surprise” and always received the same reply: “You’ll have to wait for my memoirs.”

Now we know. 

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After more than four decades, one of the best kept secrets of the Nixon Administration has been revealed.
nixon, buchanan. democrat, senator, stennis, vice president
Saturday, 20 May 2017 06:22 PM
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