<b>Two of the president's men</b>Serious though his subject is, Jules Witcover's account in <b>Very Strange Bedfellows</b> of Nixon's relationship with Spiro Agnew, his first vice president, is riotously funny and revealing. As governor of Maryland, Agnew initially supported Rockefeller to be the Republican standard bearer in the 1968 election. When Rockefeller demurred, Agnew switched his enthusiasm to Nixon, who then, as a last resort, tapped Agnew for vice president. Since Nixon had felt neglected as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, he was determined to assign Agnew serious political responsibilities and treat him with respect. However, since he had no affection for the man, he went out of his way to avoid personal contact with him, even after Agnew became a conservative star via his colorful denunciations of the media (always a Nixon whipping boy) and war protesters. To complicate matters, Nixon developed something like an adolescent crush on former Texas governor John Connally and decided he would make a better vice president if somehow Agnew could be shunted aside.
One ploy Nixon considered as a way of dislodging Agnew from office was to appoint him to the Supreme Court. This notion arose after the Senate had rejected two of the president's nominees. Whether Nixon ever broached the subject directly with Agnew is unclear, but he did discuss it at length with his closest advisors before finally moving on to other schemes. It is obvious from the transcripts Witcover cites of those discussions that Nixon cared little about Agnew's legal qualifications which were minimal or about his political philosophy and the impact it could have on the court. He just wanted him out. Thus, much of the talk centered on how the Senate and the press might react. Not well, they soon decided.
The conversations Nixon had with his chief of staff, H.R. (Bob) Haldeman, about what to do with Agnew are more comic to read than a script for Saturday Night Live. Discussing an international junket on which Agnew mostly played golf an activity that left little for his press entourage to report on Haldeman said to Nixon, Hell, on the way to the golf course, he could stop at an orphanage and pat a couple of kids on the head and the press gets a picture and a little quote about how he says it's too bad these kids are orphans, and he could go on and play golf . . . [I]t's so easy. Circumstances eventually solved Nixon's vice presidential problem. After being charged with taking kickbacks, Agnew reluctantly resigned. Ten months later, Nixon was out, too.