Did Dick Tuck Cause Watergate? (1970s)
by Ron Kurtus (revised 27 September 2002)
When Richard M. Nixon was running for a second term as President of the United States in 1972, he was plagued by a Democrat trickster by the name of Dick Tuck. The pranks that Tuck played on Nixon during the campaign may have resulted in mindset leading up to the infamous Watergate break-in.
Questions you may have about this are:
- What did Dick Tuck do?
- How did the tricks relate to Watergate?
- What lessons can we learn from this?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Tuck tormented Nixon
Although Tuck had irritated Nixon during his previous campaigns, he worked especially hard to torment the President in his final run for re-election. His stunts were amusing, especially when pulled on the serious Nixon. They caught the imagination of the public, such that verbal descriptions of some stunts were later embellished upon.
No one showed up
One stunt Tuck pulled was when he arranged for Nixon to make a campaign speech at a large auditorium for Republican supporters. Of course Nixon was expecting a good turnout, but when he arrived, there were only a handful of people there to hear him speak! Tuck had made sure that nobody in the city knew Nixon was to be there. You can imagine the shock to Nixon that only a few people had bothered to come to hear him speak.
Train pulled away
Another stunt Tuck orchestrated was when Nixon was campaigning via train, making "whistle stop" speeches in various communities. Tuck had dressed as a rail employee and when Nixon was in the middle of his speech, Tuck signaled the engineer to start the train. It pulled away, while Nixon was still talking to the audience.
Funny tricks caused dirty tricks
Such stunts were certainly humorousespecially to the Democrats, who probably financed them. On the other hand, Nixon and his people felt that if the Democrats can play dirty tricks, the Republicans could also do the same.
Speculation is that this mindset of playing tricks on the opponent sparked the scheme to break into the Democratic headquarters to steal information about their strategies. Nixon's aids were said to rationalize that if the Democrats can do such tricks, so can we.
When Nixon said, "We ought to do something about it," some of his staff took this seriously. Others knew that he often would think out loud, but also often didn't mean what he said.
Of course, there is a big difference between irritatingbut funnypranks and breaking into an office to steal documents.
It is interesting that although the political tricks of Dick Tuck were well publicized in the press, they were never taken seriously or are even considered part of the political history of that era. It is my contention that Dick Tuck's tricks helped to bring on Watergate and the demise of Richard Nixon.
What can we learn from this amusing bit of history?
- Don't take yourself too seriously
- Politics is a nasty game
- There is a difference between a trick and a crime
Your character is important is how people see you
Resources and references
Time Magazine article on "Democrat Trickster" June 1972
Playboy Magazine interview with Dick Tuck, August 1972
Washington Post article on Watergate, 17 June 1997
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Did Dick Tuck Cause Watergate?