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The following disconnected excerpts from Dr. Thompson's political book 'Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail' were selected more or less at. So this is more a jangled campaign diary than a record or reasoned analysis of the '72 presidential campaign. Whatever I wrote in the midnight hours on rented. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right Longarm on the Overland Trail.
This position of portraying the campaigns as much as a media compilation of the stories they wished to cover instead of the presenting all the stories that occurred was widely recognized as depicting a previously unspoken truth. What Nixon did was pick up a tremendous amount of mainly young, not necessarily liberal Democrats — but young, sort of educated, relatively sophisticated voters who would have stayed with McGovern, according to the polls… according to the answers they gave the poll-takers, if it had not been for the Eagleton disaster. Dewey Decimal. Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate — to make sense of the partisan bullshit that even your friends will lay on you — without crippling your access to the kind of information that allows you to keep functioning. He was one of the speechwriters… a first-class speechwriter, one of the two or three who were with McGovern all the way through from Miami on, and … It was rush hour in Washington and we had to go down one side of a freeway.
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No notes for slide. Book Details Author: Hunter S. Thompson Pages: There was something… total… something very undermining about the McGovern defeat… a shock. There was a very unexplained kind of… ominous quality to it… So when we got to Washington… the national staff people were there and the wives of the people who had been on the plane… and it was a scene of just complete… weeping chaos. Mass disintegration. I was looking for a cab to get across the main terminal … it was about a mile away… and Sandy Berger… appeared in his car … he was one of the people who had broken down earlier.
He was one of the speechwriters… a first-class speechwriter, one of the two or three who were with McGovern all the way through from Miami on, and … It was rush hour in Washington and we had to go down one side of a freeway. There was a big grass island about 18 inches high and 12 feet wide separating the two… freeways. It scared the hell out of me … But we made it to the terminal and I bought a ticket for Denver, and… just got the hell out of Washington.
I firmly believed throughout that the major hurdle to winning the presidency was winning the Democratic nomination. I believed that any reasonable Democrat would defeat President Nixon. I now think that no one could have defeated him in George McGovern, speaking at Oxford University two months after the election. After months of quasi-public brooding on the Whys and Wherefores of the disastrous beating he absorbed last November, McGovern seems finally to have bought the Conventional Wisdom — that his campaign was doomed from the start: To wit:.
After a decade of left-bent chaos, the Silent Majority was so deep in a behavorial sink that their only feeling for politics was a powerful sense of revulsion. All they wanted in the White House was a man who would leave them alone and do anything necessary to bring calmness back into their lives — even if it meant turning the whole state of Nevada into a concentration camp for hippies, niggers, dope fiends, do-gooders, and anyone else who might threaten the status quo.
The Pendulum Theory is very voguish these days, especially among Washington columnists and in the more prestigious academic circles, where the conversion-rate has been running at almost epidemic proportions since the night of November 7th. This is the nut of the Pendulum Theory. He was gracious, as always, despite the fact that I was an hour late.
A girl had been arrested in my suite at the Washington Hilton. He nodded sympathetically, without smiling, and said that yes, John Holum had already told him about it.
I shook my head sadly. He walked around the desk and sat down in his chair, propping his feet up on the middle drawer. I half-expected him to ask me why a girl had been arrested in my hotel room, but it was clear from the look on his face that his mind had already moved on to whatever might come next.
Besides I had my professional reputation to uphold. No, I was not suggesting a major break-up of the Democratic party. Well, I was really talking about this organized group rather than the defection of large numbers of blue-collar workers, which I regard as a serious problem. What I regard as a much more serious defection is the massive movement of people to Wallace that we saw taking place in the primaries. I suspect that race was a lot more of a factor than we were aware of during the campaign.
There were all kinds of ways that — of tapping that prejudice. The bussing issue was the most pronounced one, but also the attacking on the welfare program and the way the President handled that issue.
I think he was orchestrating a lot of things that were designed to tap the Wallace voters, and he got most of them. I suspect that there should have been more discussion in the campaign of the everyday frustrations and problems of working people, conditions under which they work, maybe more of an effort made to identify with them….
You need a bottle opener? Yeah, but I only have one beer. Would you like some? Do you have a glass? I had a disturbing sort of day. Yeah, I was, too. Now I think the first thing they saw was the Eagleton thing, which turned a lot of people off. And so that was an unfortunate thing. And then there were some staff squabbles that the press spotlighted, which gave the impression of confusion and disarray and lack of direction, and I think that hurt.
So those two factors were related and the Eagleton thing upset the morale of the staff and people were blaming each other, and there was no chance to recover from the fatigue of the campaign for the nomination — we had to go right into that Eagleton battle, and so I think that — if there was a chance, at that point, to win the election — we probably lost it right there.
And then the accommodation of — at least the beginning of the accommodation of Peking and Moscow seemed to disarm a lot of moderates and liberals who might otherwise have been looking in another direction. Yeah, it was, but it happened far enough ahead so that the impact of it began to sink in then.
I think that from then on in the breaks were with the President.
I mean — and he orchestrated his campaign very cleverly. He stayed out of the public eye, and he had all the money he needed to hire people to work on direct mail and everybody got a letter tailored to their own interests and their own groove, and I think their negative TV spots were effective in painting a distorted picture of me.
Yeah, the spinning head commercial, knocking over the soldiers. The welfare thing. They concentrated on those themes. I suppose maybe I should have gone on television earlier with thoughtful question and answer sessions, the kind of speeches I was doing there the last few weeks. I think maybe that might have helped to offset some of the negatives we got on the Eagleton thing… Another problem: That could have been handled more smoothly than it was.
When you add all of those things up, none of them, in my opinion, comes anywhere near as serious as the fact that the Republicans were caught in the middle of the night burglarizing our headquarters. They were killing people in Vietnam with bombing raids that were pointless from any military point of view.
They were making secret deals to sell out the public interest for campaign contributions, you know, and routing money through Mexican banks and all kinds of things that just seemed to me to be scandalous.
Do you think it would be possible to, say, discount … if you could just wipe out the whole Eagleton thing, and assume that, say, Mondale or Nelson had taken it and there had been no real controversy, and try to remove the vice presidential thing as a factor. What do you think…. I think it would have been very close. I really do. See, once we got into the Eagleton thing, they seemed to feel almost a constraint to report that everything was unfortunate about the campaign.
The fund-raising was a miracle the way that was run. The crowds were large and well advanced, and the schedules went off reasonably well day after day. We got off — we broke stride on that thing right after the convention, and from then on in, I think millions of people just kind of turned us off. They were skeptical and I think the mood of the country was much more conservative than we had been led to believe in the primaries. We were winning those primaries on a reform program and rather blunt outspoken statements of what we were going to do.
That was the next question I was going to ask. Well, I think we did keep it up. I never did buy the line that we really changed our positions very much from the primary to the general. I think it was a perceived shift. There was a definite sense that you had changed your act. I think we were pretty much hitting the same issues.
What did you perceive as the difference? Maybe I can answer your question better if I …. And without questioning the wisdom of it I ….
Eagleton struck me as being a cheap hack and … he still does, you know, he strikes me as being a useless little bastard… When I went up to St. I think the FBI has them. But I was told by Ramsey Clark that the FBI had a very complete medical file on Eagleton, and that he [Clark] knew it at the time he was attorney general. Yeah, but I never saw the records.
I was never able to get access to them. Did you ever find out what those little blue pills were that he was eating? I think I did. It was Stelazine, not Thorazine like I heard originally. I did everything I could to get hold of the actual records, but nobody would even talk to me.
I finally just got into a rage and just drove on to Colorado and said the hell with it. It seemed to me that the truth could have had a hell of an effect on the election. It struck me as being kind of tragic that he would be perceived as the good guy…. I know, it was really unfair. What he should have done, he should have taken the responsibility for stepping down rather than putting the responsibility on me.
We were running a campaign that might have won in Might have won. Might have… You know, all of this is speculating, Hunter. What the hell happened and where do we go from here and. I really believe that.
Well, he cut us up in California to the point where we probably never fully recovered from that, either. What in the hell possessed you to offer the vice presidency to Humphrey in public? Did you think he would take it or if he did take it it would really help? I thought it was an effort to maybe bring some of his people back on board who otherwise would go for Nixon or sit out the election. I might have voted for Dr.
Spock, if it had come to that. Well, it seemed to be something that had to be done to get a majority coalition, but maybe not. Where do we go from here?
Is this the death knell of what we dimly or vaguely perceive as the new politics? I think it was the first serious shot at it and that And even without him we did almost as well as Humphrey did in terms of total percentage that we got.
But several weeks later, in his suite at the Seal Rock Inn, we were able to record the following conversation: I spent about two weeks in Washington talking to 15 or 20 of the key people in the campaign, and I was surprised at the lack of any kind of consensus — no hard figures or any kind of real analysis — except the kind of things that McGovern said in his interviews which were mainly speculation.
Why did he think McGovern lost? There is a definite split in the McGovern camp over the explanation for the loss. It has to do with two words: Eagleton and competence.
He was perceived, then, as a dingbat — not as a flaming radical — a lot of people seem to think that was one of the images that hurt him. They agreed that the Eagleton Affair was almost immeasurably damaging. Gary understood this as early as mid-September; so did Frank — they all knew it. Both Gary and Pat were convinced that McGovern could have won. That was the question I asked almost every one of. Primarily the provable damage that the Eagleton Affair did to the actual numbers of the McGovern constituency — the potential constituency.
In July, for instance, nationally, the polls…. What Nixon did was pick up a tremendous amount of mainly young, not necessarily liberal Democrats — but young, sort of educated, relatively sophisticated voters who would have stayed with McGovern, according to the polls… according to the answers they gave the poll-takers, if it had not been for the Eagleton disaster. I just wanted to clarify this.
Now the question is: And I think it hurt him with the Wallace-type Democrats that I talked to up in Serb Hall in Milwaukee that day; who disagreed with him, but perceived him — that word again — as a straight, honest, different type of politician, a person who would actually do what he said, make some real changes. Do you think Eagleton was the chief reason for them changing their minds? Those Wallace people? No — not the Wallace people.
But there was a whole series of things that hurt him all across the board: No, I think she lost. It was essentially an anti-Nixon vote. What was once the natural kind of constituency for that kind of person — the Stevenson constituency, the traditional liberal — has lost faith, I think, in everything that Liberalism was supposed to stand for.
Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it. And the fact is people like Nixon — candidates like Nixon — have a running start which gives them a tremendous advantage. And meant what he said. Wallace did so much better in the primaries than even he expected, but by the time he realized what was happening, it was too late for him to file delegate slates in the states where he was running….
Not necessarily. You have said already that you doubt McGovern could have won. McGovern could have won — but it was unlikely, given the nature of his organization. For one thing, it was technically oriented… or at least the best part of it was technically oriented.
The best people in the campaign were technicians: The campaign plane would fly into a state and the staffers would have conflicting things set up for him to do. The people on the plane — Mankiewicz, Dutton, Dick Dougherty, the press secretary — were running a different campaign than the one on the charts in the Washington headquarters, or in most of the state offices….
You think he failed to provide his staff with the necessary direction or leadership? Yeah, I think you either have to have a very strong decisive person at the top or else a really brilliant staff command. But he did have the troops in the field….
Yeah, definitely, but I doubt if a candidate like McGovern can marshal them again. Yeah — the US Senate from Colorado. But I might end up running against Gary Hart in the primary. That would be interesting … I might not run as a Democrat, or I might not run at all. If you were to run for senate in Colorado what kind of a campaign would you conduct?
Would you run as a Democrat? Only if it proved to be absolutely impossible to win as a third party candidate. That was the prevailing theory among the Democrats all along in the primaries, which is why there were so many people getting into it early… Nixon was so vulnerable, he was such a wretched President, that almost any Democrat could beat him.
If you were to run for senate in Colorado and win, would you then consider running for the presidency itself? The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. You almost have to be a rock star to generate the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics. That depends on what kind of campaign it is.
Any kind of political campaign that taps the kind of energy that nothing else can reach… There are a lot of people just walking around bored stupid. And would ultimately for you be another paramount experience — out there on the Edge?