Nixon/zzzzzz 1968

In my earlier post about the possibility that John Thune might become Mitt Romney’s running-mate because he’s a virtual cipher, I should have mentioned how well that’s worked out for Republican presidential nominees of the recent past.

Some say George H.W. Bush chose Dan Quayle in 1988 for similarly negative reasons, though at the time the Bushies put the word out that they thought the Hoosier Scion would attract hordes of women via the whole sexy thang he had going. Quayle didn’t cause the ticket to self-destruct, but he didn’t exactly help, either. But the ultimate anodyne pick occurred in 1968, when Richard Nixon’s team wanted help among swing voters and Strom Thurmond was vetoing nearly every name that came up as too supportive of civil rights or too wobbly on Vietnam or insufficiently willing to give the southern textile industry whatever it demanded on trade and labor policy. The last two cookies on the plate were the “ideological eunuchs” (I believe that’s the term Teddy White used for them) Massachusetts Gov. John Volpe and a Maryland governor named Spiro T. Agnew.

Now perhaps modern vetting techniques would have revealed that Agnew was regularly receiving big sacks of cash from highway contractors right there in the governor’s office (as he would continue to receive in his office at the White House). But there wasn’t much about the guy to suggest that within a year or so of taking the Veep oath he’d become a snarling ideologue stalking the land full of lust for the blood of hippies and “elitists.”

Agnew was deployed in that role by his superiors, to be sure, and after Nixon’s re-election the Veep functioned for a while as what the Tricky One called his “insurance policy” against impeachment. But in the end he let his boss down and just became a nasty footnote in a shameful chapter of U.S. history. So you never quite know.

Too bad Mitt can’t just clone himself to serve as his own running-mate (he’s had enough personas and residences to provide a balanced ticket his own self). Then he could revive the old Nixon slogan and proudly say: “Mitt’s the One!”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.