Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in '72

Page 6 of 6

HST: On paper it indicates no change, but what it doesn't show is ... Nixon lost 9% of, his vote in that period of time ... 9 out of the original 52. He gained 15% from elsewhere but he lost 9% of his first group. Meanwhile McGovern lost 13 points of his vote, his original 37%... But the McGovern loss was apparently, according to the figures, almost entirely due to the Eagleton Affair, whereas the Nixon loss would have happened anyway, because they were mainly people who in July had said that they were Democrats – Humphrey Democrats – who refused to vote for McGovern, but as the election drew closer they began to filter back. So Nixon's 9% loss was inevitable, more or less. 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. That's when his image as a different kind of politician, an anti-politician, just cracked and shattered and there was no way to put it back together. According to the Hart/Caddell theory, if that hadn't happened, the race would have been at least very close....

Ed: In other words, were it not for the Eagleton Affair, Nixon was actually steadily losing, and McGovern was slowly but surely picking up the Humphrey voters ... so the deciding factor, according to Caddell's statistics, was the massive defection from McGovern to Nixon resulting from the Eagleton Affair. I just wanted to clarify this.

HST: Yes, that's it.

Ed: Now the question is: Now that we've established these two schools of thought, to which do you subscribe or do you have your own theory?

HST: Well ... I'm not sure, but I doubt that McGovern himself could have won with any kind of campaign, even without the Eagleton incident.

Ed: Why?

HST: Well, that doesn't mean another candidate with the same views as McGovern might not have been able to win ... or even a candidate with views more radical than McGovern's. I think that element of indecisiveness, and the willingness – as he said in his interview – to do anything possible to forge a "winning coalition" didn't do him any good at all. ... I think it hurt him. It hurt him drastically with the so-called "youth vote," for instance. 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.

Ed: Do you think Eagleton was the chief reason for them changing their minds? Those Wallace people?

HST: No – not the Wallace people. But there was a whole series of things that hurt him all across the board: that trip to the LBJ Ranch, the sucking up to Mayor Daley, the endorsement of Ed Hanrahan, state's attorney in Chicago – who was indicted for the murder of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader...

Ed: McGovern endorsed Hanrahan?

HST: Yeah. He also endorsed Louise Day Hicks in Boston.

Ed: Oh, no!

HST: The racist woman, who was running for Congress...

Ed: Did she win?

HST: No, I think she lost. And Hanrahan lost, despite the McGovern endorsement... all that hurt McGovern and also having his own so-called campaign director, Larry O'Brien, denounce him just before Labor Day. O'Brien denounced the whole McGovern campaign as a can of worms, a rolling ball of madness... incompetence, a bunch of ego freaks running around in circles with nobody in charge. That kind of thing couldn't possibly have helped.

Ed: O'Brien said all that?

HST: Yeah. He went totally around the bend.

Ed: Did you vote for McGovern?

HST: Yeah, I did.

Ed: Why?

HST: It was essentially an anti-Nixon vote. I don't think McGovern would have been a bad President. He's a better senator. But I don't think that the kind of standard-brand Democrat that he came to be – or that he actually was all along, and finally came out and admitted he was toward the end, more by his actions than by what he said – I'm not sure that kind of person is ever going to win a presidential campaign again. 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.

My own theory, which sounds like madness, is that McGovern would have been better off running against Nixon with the same kind of neo-"radical" campaign he ran in the primaries. Not radical in the left/right sense, but radical in a sense that he was coming on with ... a new ... a different type of politician ... a person who actually would grab the system by the ears and shake it. And meant what he said. Hell, he certainly couldn't have done any worse. It's almost impossible to lose by more than 23% ... And I think that conceivably this country is ready for a kind of presidential candidate who is genuinely radical, someone who might call for the confiscation of all inherited wealth, for instance, or a 100% excess-profits tax... For example, Wallace, if he'd understood how much potential strength he had, and if he hadn't been shot, could have gone to the Democratic Convention with a nasty bloc of votes – enough to probably dominate the convention, not to win the nomination, but enough to give him veto power on the candidate. 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...

Ed: And you think that this is the kind of energy which will bring forward a new candidate in '76 who could win?

HST: Not necessarily. There's all kinds of weird energy out there. The Youth Vote, for instance – the first-time voters, the people between 18 and 24 – could have altered the outcome drastically in states like California, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Missouri... McGovern could have won those states with a big turnout among first-time voters – not to mention the huge dropout vote, the people between 25 and 40 who didn't vote at all.

Ed: Caddell's figures showed this?

HST: Right. There were states... where he compared Humphrey's margin or his loss – whatever the figures were in '68 – to the number of new voters coming into the electorate this time around... and there were an incredible number of states where Pat's figures showed that even if McGovern could get at least half of them, he'd carry something like 12 states with this Youth Vote.

Ed: You have said already that you doubt McGovern could have won. What do you think is going to happen in '76?

HST: 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: At the staff command level there was almost constant confusion, and McGovern's indecisiveness compounded that confusion and left the technicians often wandering around in circles wondering what the hell to do ... He had people who could do the work and could turn the vote out, but they weren't always sure what he was doing. 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...

Ed: You think he failed to provide his staff with the necessary direction or leadership?

HST: Yeah, I think you either have to have a very strong decisive person at the top or else a really brilliant staff command. And he didn't have either one, actually. But he did have the troops in the field...

Ed: Is there a possibility for marshaling those troops again in '76?

HST: Yeah, definitely, but I doubt if a candidate like McGovern can marshal them again. The McGovern/McCarthy type candidacies have disappointed too many people, because of a disillusionment with the candidates themselves.

Ed: Are you considering running for office yourself?

HST: Yeah, I was thinking of running for the senate in Colorado.

Ed: The senate in Colorado?

HST: 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. It's a grueling, rotten ordeal to go through.

Ed: If you were to run for senate in Colorado what kind of a campaign would you conduct? Would you run as a Democrat?

HST: Only if it proved to be absolutely impossible to win as a third party candidate. I'd have to check and see. I don't see any point in running for anything any more unless I was serious about winning.

Ed: And what would your platform be?

HST: I haven't thought about it. But it would naturally have to involve a drastic change of some kind... Maybe just an atavistic endeavor, but there's no point in getting into politics at all unless you plan to lash things around.

Ed: Lash things around?

HST: That's one of the secrets. The other ... well, it depends on who you're running against. But because of the Eagleton thing, Nixon didn't really have to run at all. Any candidate who'd offered a real possibility of an alternative to Nixon – someone with a different concept of the presidency – could have challenged him and come very close to beating him. 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.

Ed: If you were to run for senate in Colorado and win, would you then consider running for the presidency itself?

HST: Yeah, I'd do almost anything after that, even run for President – although I wouldn't really want to be President. As a matter of fact, early on in the '72 campaign, I remember telling John Lindsay that the time had come to abolish the whole concept of the presidency as it exists now, and get a sort of city manager-type President.... We've come to the point where every four years this national fever rises up – this hunger for the Saviour, the White Knight, the Man on Horseback – and whoever wins becomes so immensely powerful, like Nixon is now, that when you vote for President today you're talking about giving a man dictatorial power for four years. I think it might be better to have the President sort of like the King of England – or the Queen – and have the real business of the presidency conducted by ... a city manager-type, a Prime Minister, somebody who's directly answerable to Congress, rather than a person who moves all his friends into the White House and does whatever he wants for four years. The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It's come to the point where you almost can't run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to generate the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.

Ed: The other day I reread the end of Hell's Angels, one of my favorite books... and you talked about The Edge... you know... that moment that I've experienced ... I was a ... minor league bike-rider in my youth... that moment of being on the edge... and you talk about that a lot throughout your coverage this past year. You said the candidates... the staff, and the press... were all on The Edge ... is politics the greatest Edge you've discovered? Is that the sharpest Edge that you've personally experienced and would like to continue to experience? Politics?

HST: That depends on what kind of campaign it is. I couldn't think of anything... it'd be hard to imagine anything stranger or weirder or higher or closer to that Edge you're talking about than a flat-out Freak Power campaign for President of the United States. The energy you could put behind that... the frenzy you'd stir up would probably get you killed, but Jesus Christ, it would be something that nobody'd ever forget.

Ed: So the Edge we're talking about would be really the greatest if one were the candidate himself?

HST: Yeah, but then the punishment would be the greatest too... it's much more fun to run a political campaign than it is to be the candidate.

Ed: How about writing about it?

HST: That actually isn't much fun, writing about it ... the High is in the participation, and particularly if you identify with one candidate ... I don't think that I could do it if I didn't care who won. It's the difference between watching a football game between two teams you don't care about, and watching a game where you have some kind of personal identity with one of the teams, if only a huge bet. You'd be surprised how fast the adrenaline comes up, when you stand to lose $1000 every time the ball goes up in the air. That's why the Aspen Freak Power campaign developed all that fantastic voltage. 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. . . .

Ed: Any kind of campaign that taps that energy would . . .

HST: Would generate a tremendous high for ... everybody involved in it.

Ed: And would ultimately for you be another paramount experience – out there on the Edge?

HST: Oh, absolutely. But you know you'd be killed, of course, and that would add to it considerably – never knowing when the bullet was coming.

This story is from the July 5th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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