Wild About Harry

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Even made with a smile, a physical threat by a future President of the United States against a past President just doesn’t happen every day. But I know it did once.

Richard Nixon was scheduled by the American Legion to speak at its Denver convention in early 1962. The Republican party of Colorado, of which I was then state chairman, had also asked him to speak at a GOP fundraiser. Eager to earn party credits, he readily agreed.

He did nicely at our lunch for about 50 Republican fat cats: He softened up a number of Goldwater conservatives and raised several thousand dollars for our party coffers. That evening his address to the Legionnaires met with enthusiasm even though he was no longer Vice President but just a New York lawyer torn by a pending decision: whether or not to run for governor of California against the popular incumbent, Edmund (“Pat”) Brown.

Nixon had invited me and two other Colorado Republicans to join him for coffee the next morning at Denver’s venerable Brown Palace Hotel. Then we would take him to the airport, giving us a half-hour to help him weigh his political future. His mood was intense; when I asked him, “How are Pat and the girls?” he brusquely said, “Fine,” then returned to the question at hand: “Shall I run or not?”

Perhaps 10 minutes after we had arrived at his modest suite we heard sirens from the street below. Although no window would open, we all could see enough to realize that former President Harry Truman’s motorcade was arriving. He was, as we knew, to address the Legion convention that afternoon.

“It is Truman,” Nixon said as he looked down again. Then, with a wide grin, he added, “If I could get this damn window open, I’d drop this flowerpot on his head!”