Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon & Spiro Agnew - Jules Witcover

Date Published: May 27, 2008

Format: Paperback

Source: Own copy

Date Read: May 31, 2019 - June 5, 2019

Read for BL-opoly 2019, Nixon Reading List, and COYER Summer 2019



Nixon and Agnew were an odd couple whose political love affair disintegrated over five years into a calamitous denouement. Agnew's divisive rhetoric skyrocketed his popularity, but he grew weary of exclusion from the Nixon inner circle. Nixon, concluding that Agnew was not the man to succeed him, conspired to dump him in 1972 and later to remove him from the line of presidential succession. But before Nixon's presidency collapsed in Watergate, a tawdry scandal of payoffs to Agnew in the White House accomplished the job. Jules Witcover, a leading political reporter of that period, wrote political biographies of both men and coauthored the acclaimed account of the Agnew resignation, A Heartbeat Away. Now, with three decades of perspective, a trove of new material including Nixon's White House tapes and interviews with close Nixon-Agnew associates, Witcover has written a captivating narrative that reveals how the foibles, pettiness and weaknesses of each man destroyed that marriage, and ultimately their careers. Very Strange Bedfellows' revealing look into the flawed and fascinating Nixon presidency will be catnip to anyone interested in American politics and American history.




I wanted to read this book the minute I found it in my search to build the Nixon Reading List. Luckily, I found a used copy at Half Price and had it in my possession in less than a week after ordering. I have been interested in the Spiro Agnew dimension of the Nixon presidency since I listened to Rachel Maddow's eight episode podcast "Bagman." Highly recommend to listen to it, as it goes in depth both personality wise and actions that led to Agnew's resignation during the Watergate scandal (but not a part of the Watergate scandal). This book also goes into detail about what Agnew did to earn a resignation from the second highest position in the country.


Spiro Agnew was not a Nixon guy at first - he was for Rockfeller up until the Republican Convention in 1968, when unexpectedly announced that he would be Nixon's running mate. Agnew hadn't been governor for a year before this announcement came out of the blue. Since the announcement was unexpected, Agnew wasn't too worried about how he was left out of planning and strategy meetings that Nixon's inner circle held often. Once the Nixon-Agnew won in the fall of 1968, Agnew was hoping to enter this inner circle. He didn't realize at the time how paranoid and insecure Nixon was and how Nixon's inner circle handled him. 


Agnew became a lightning rod, becoming Nixon's Nixon - he acted like how Nixon acted during the Eisenhower years, stirring up controversary and going after the media. This delighted Nixon, who could then play the statesman while Agnew was the hatchet man. This uneasy partnership worked until the 1970 mid-term elections, when the Republicans lost the House. Nixon and his team then tried to put a muzzle on Agnew, but the cat was already out of the bag and walking the streets. Agnew was also left out of any leadership positions within the White House and his cabinet dwindled down to three or four people, with HR Haldman and John Ehrilchman blocking every one of his attempts to directly deal with Nixon. Agnew was staunchly anti-Communist and against the China détente, so it was a surprise to Agnew when he read about Nixon's trip to China in the paper. There were other, smaller snubs and misdirections given to Agnew by the Nixon team, including the creepy bromance between John Connolly (governor of Texas) and Nixon. I wanted to vomit reading about these two.


By the time Alexander Butterfield admitted to Congress that there were White House tapes, Agnew was under FBI investigation for extortion, dating back to the time he was Baltimore city councilman and through his time as Maryland governor and VP. He had hoped that Nixon could pull strings and get the investigation squashed, but Nixon was already over his head with Watergate and Agnew was once again on his own. The book follows the two men through their respective resignations and post political life. A fascinating look at how thoroughly Agnew through away his political convictions and personal morality to play second fiddle to the paranoid and insecure Nixon.