Politically, 1974 is shaping up as a momentous year: the President is in hot water, what James Madison called “the decisive engine of impeachment” is being cranked up for the first time in a century, and this fall’s elections promise the greatest congressional shake-up in a generation.
All of which helps account for the cataclysmic rhetoric and hyperbolic journalism currently emanating from Washington. In the midst of all that, though, as ever, arms are being twisted and egos crushed in the backrooms of government, quietly and without fanfare, politics as usual. Chief among the twisters and crushers, as befits the state which produced them, are two Texans. They have been jockeying for position for over a year now; prior to that, they each spent their lives trying to get where they are; in the course of those lives, they have crossed paths often; this year, they lock horns.
In less than a week’s time during December 1972, two Texans were named National Chairmen of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Robert Strauss, the Democrat, was a lifelong friend of John Connally—law school classmate, hunting sidekick, co-tenant of a lakeside cottage—yet lost the former governor to the GOP soon after taking office. Republican George Bush—who generously traded to the Democrats one of his own schoolmates, fraternity brother (Skull & Bones) and New York Mayor John Lindsay—graciously welcomed Connally, who had been largely responsible (in Bush’s estimation) for Bush’s defeat in the 1970 Senate election. The winner of that race, Connally protege Lloyd Bentsen, had been Bush’s occasional tennis foe and confederate in the same country club, as well as the first U.S. Senator to call for the election of Bob Strauss …
This all sounds rather incestuous, doesn’t it?
Politics, as we all know, is a game played by the powerful on a field of irony. And irony, just like politics, makes for curious bedmates… .
The Democrats had lately seen their standard-bearer, one George McGovem, suffer the most lopsided presidential defeat since James Madison ran unopposed. Despite their continued control of Congress and three-fifths of the nation’s statehouses, the party was fractured like anviled glass, filled with confusion and fraternal bitterness.
The GOP, on the other hand, suffered a more original but no less debilitating setback. A Republican president, to be sure, had rolled up the greatest landslide in history, but the party itself emerged with fewer major offices than it started out with. The Committee to Re-elect the President did an admirable job of accomplishing its purpose (perhaps less than admirable in its manner of doing so) but largely at the expense of the Republican National Committee. Kansas Senator Robert Dole, the outgoing chairman, complained that money, energy and manpower had all been siphoned off by CREEP while other GOP candidates