Skip to main content
Tags: pete mccloskey | contrarian | vietnam | environment | richard nixon | shirley temple balck

Remembering Pete McCloskey: Liberal Republican, Contrarian, Marine

John Gizzi By Thursday, 09 May 2024 09:58 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

"Controversial" was an adjective inevitably applied to former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., before, during, and after he served in Congress from 1967-82.

Indeed, going back to the 1967 special election in which McCloskey defeated one-time child star Shirley Temple Black in a nationally watched race, to his challenge to President Richard Nixon in the 1972 primaries, to his more recent bids for office, and public disputes over issues from Iraq to Israel, McCloskey seemed to be disputatious and unyielding in the public arena until his death Wednesday at age 96.

Indeed, McCloskey could easily have been dubbed a RINO (Republican In Name Only) had the term, used by many on the right now refer to Republicans whom they feel aren't conservative enough, had it existed in his heyday.

He was the first Republican House member to call for withdrawal of the U.S. from Vietnam, the first to endorse Earth Day and fully embrace the environmental movement of the 1970s, was pro-choice from the day the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion came down, and was a fierce opponent of the U.S.-led strike at Iraq in 2003.

He defended all his opinions with the fierceness he had shown in the Marine Corps.

Being a Marine was a major part of McCloskey's persona, and even his most virulent opponents conceded the Northern Californian was a true-blue war hero. After enlisting in the U.S. Navy out of high school and serving from 1945-47, McCloskey signed up as a Marine in 1950 and saw combat in the Korean War.

Serving in a platoon in which 58 of his 61 fellow Marines were killed or wounded, McCloskey was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. For heroism in the last-ever bayonet charge by Marines, he was awarded the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism."

McCloskey, who remained in the Marine Corps reserve until retiring as a colonel, would later tell friends he had nightmares about killing North Korean soldiers.

McCloskey, a graduate of Stanford University and its law school, served as an assistant district attorney in Alameda County and later became a partner in a Palo Alto law firm. A leader in Young Lawyers for Nixon-Lodge in 1960, McCloskey refused to support GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater four years later because of the Arizona senator's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. McCloskey also set his sites on the seat of Republican Rep. J. Arthur Younger.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former Younger staffer, recalled to Newsmax: "Mr. Younger was a conservative and very much disliked McCloskey. He would have preferred a dozen other Republicans as a successor and would never have supported McCloskey."

Younger's sudden death in 1967 denied him the opportunity to choose a favored successor. Initially, Shirley Temple Black was seen as the front-runner in the special election. She drew huge drew huge crowds (where local bands played her former theme song "On The Good Ship Lollypop"), had neighbors Bing and Kathryn Crosby raising funds for her, and campaigned as a strong supporter of a U.S. victory in Vietnam.

McCloskey campaigned as one of the first Republicans anywhere to support a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, immediate negotiations with Communist North Vietnam, and reunification of North and South Vietnam under the 1954 Geneva accords. With two other conservatives drawing votes from Black, McCloskey defeated her by about 35% to 22%.

McCloskey's rugged good looks and baritone voice made him immediately noticed among House Republicans. So did his opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1972, McCloskey ran as an anti-war candidate in the Republican primaries against Nixon. McCloskey's insurgent candidacy faded after drawing only 19% in the New Hampshire primary.

McCloskey would eventually end up with one national convention delegate from New Mexico, which, when announced at the Miami convention, drew lusty boos.

"Pete McCloskey is having fund-raising difficulties and has had to auction off his favorite painting — 'Benedict Arnold Crossing the Delaware!'" joked Vice President Spiro Agnew during the primary campaigns. A year later, when Agnew was facing indictment for taking kick-backs while governor of Maryland years before, McCloskey strongly sided with his old antagonist and said he agreed with him that a vice president had to be impeached before he was indicted.

Nixon supporters and conservatives thought McCloskey was doomed in 1974 when he faced a one-on-one primary challenge from conservative businessman Gordon Knapp. The late Norm Turnette, longtime Western States field man for the Republican National Committee, once recalled to Newsmax how Rep. John Rousselot, McCloskey's fellow California Republican and a top official of the John Birch Society, nonetheless came to campaign for onetime high school classmate McCloskey.

"Pete and Johnny disagreed on just about everything, but they were true friends since high school," said Turnette. "So we had an event billed as 'The fastest gun on the right and the fastest gun on the left.' Johnny made a strong speech about the Republicans needing people they didn't always agree with to win the House."

After conceding defeat to Knapp twice, McCloskey, as it turned out, won by 867 votes.

In the late 1970s, McCloskey made headlines by opposing a $2.2 billion aid package to Israel for its annexation of the Golan Heights, saying, "We have to respect the views of our Jewish citizens but not be controlled by them." When leaders of the American Jewish community denounced McCloskey for his references to the "Jewish lobby," he responded by saying, "There is a strong Jewish lobby. ... I do not understand why the Jewish community should resent it being referred to as such."

In 1982, conservatives feared that the liberal McCloskey might just top a field of 12 in the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. But moderate San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson managed to eke out a win and went on to the Senate.

McCloskey's twilight years were spent practicing law, backpacking, and fly-fishing in northern California. He spoke out against the Iraqi War and endorsed Democrat John Kerry for President in 2004. In 2002, McCloskey he challenged Republican Rep. Richard Pombo (to whom he had once contributed $100) and drew 32% of the vote. McCloskey thereupon supported Democrat Jerry McNerney, who unseated Pombo in the fall.

McCloskey became a Democrat in 2007 and, in his 80s, supported assisted suicide laws.

Pete McCloskey was inarguably a controversial and contrarian figure. But even those who opposed him agreed he was a patriot who served his country honorably in war and did what he felt was right, as much as it irked even those who admired him, in peace.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

"Controversial" was an adjective inevitably applied to former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., before, during, and after he served in Congress from 1967-82.
pete mccloskey, contrarian, vietnam, environment, richard nixon, shirley temple balck
Thursday, 09 May 2024 09:58 AM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Sign up for Newsmax’s Daily Newsletter

Receive breaking news and original analysis - sent right to your inbox.

(Optional for Local News)
Privacy: We never share your email address.
Join the Newsmax Community
Read and Post Comments
Please review Community Guidelines before posting a comment.

Interest-Based Advertising | Do not sell or share my personal information

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Download the NewsmaxTV App
Get the NewsmaxTV App for iOS Get the NewsmaxTV App for Android Scan QR code to get the NewsmaxTV App
America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved