The New York Times has published a set of remembrances from the likes of Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson on Democratic National Conventions past, and while I normally find this type of thing self-indulgent, George McGovern’s rumination on his ill-fated VP search process is full of fascinating tidbits. The basic story is that he’s turned down by everyone from Edmund Muskie to Hubert Humphrey to Ted Kennedy to Abraham Ribicoff to Gaylord Nelson, and the last three all suggest Tom Eagleton, who McGovern was skeptical about because he didn’t know the man. It’d be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Anyway, the most interesting part is this graf:
Frank Mankiewicz, my political director, said with a wry smile: “Walter Cronkite was just named the most admired man in America. How about him?” We let this intriguing possibility pass as too unrealistic. I later learned from Walter that he would have accepted. I wish we had chosen him.
Now, I suspect Cronkite told McGovern that to stroke his ego, but assuming he actually would have accepted, could McGovern-Cronkite have beaten Nixon-Agnew? I’m still not sure. Granted, the addition of Cronkite couldn’t have hurt, but McGovern was still an easily caricatured candidate running a hapless campaign against the most ruthless and amoral political force in modern American history. I can only imagine the things John Mitchell and the plumbers would have done to sabotage that ticket. What’s more, the loss wouldn’t just ruin McGovern, it’d wreck any hope Cronkite had of resurrecting his news career. After all, how could CBS trust him to be objective in covering Nixon after he ran against him? Sure, a loss would have made him the frontrunner for 1976, especially after Watergate broke, but I don’t know that Cronkite had the political instincts to see through a campaign of his own.
In any case, thanks to McGovern for bringing up one of the more interesting hypothetical tickets of years past. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the 1980 plan for a Ronald Reagan/Gerald Ford co-presidency, with Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, Alan Greenspan as Secretary of the Treasury, and a complex system of mutual veto power, but that one’s pretty hard to top.