Walt Might Have Been

July 25th, 2009at 02:28pm Posted by Eli

Apparently, there may exist some alternate universe in which Walter Cronkite became Vice President of the United States…

It’s not even a long story. In 1972 I was political director for the presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern. That July, just as a rather chaotic Democratic National Convention in Miami agreed to make McGovern the party’s nominee, I convened a group of top campaign officials to come up with some options for the candidate to consider as his running mate. Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president.

My idea met with instant, and unanimous, disapproval. He’d never accept, and we’d look bad, colleagues said. Our candidate would seem to be grasping at straws, I was told. McGovern was still very much in the race: Polls showed us five to seven points behind President Nixon. The consensus was that we needed a mainstream political figure, acceptable to most of the Democratic constituencies. We came up with a few names, led by Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. Eagleton had a lot going for him: He was antiwar, Roman Catholic, supported by labor, had a good record in three or four statewide elections. He was also free of scandal.


I had no allies among the top McGovern operatives. We settled on Eagleton, an ideal nominee by all the normal standards. The senator, alas, had neglected to tell us he had been hospitalized three times for what he termed “melancholy,” a condition for which he had received electric shock treatment. He had to leave the ticket, and the resulting crisis over a replacement cost McGovern heavily; indeed, pollsters said it doomed his campaign.

Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. “On the contrary, George,” the senator told me Cronkite replied, “I’d have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war.” At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.

My suspicion is that if the ticket had been

McGovern-Cronkite instead of McGovern-

Eagleton, McGovern might well have won that 1972 election, or at least have made it close. Had the latter happened, after the forced resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, McGovern probably would have been triumphantly renominated — and elected — president in 1976, with the most trusted man in America at his side.

Sigh.  If only.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Democrats,Media,Politics,Weirdness

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