As the 1972 primary season heats up, California Governor Ronald Reagan has his sights set on the White House, but he has to slay numerous dragons before he gets there: Richard Nixon, George Wallace and the sitting President of the United States, George Romney, not to mention the Democratic heir-apparent, Robert Kennedy. Will Nixon run? How will Wallace, running an insurgent racist campaign from the sidelines, affect the race? Who is bugging who, and why? Will the explosive matter of busing in Boston be the decisive issue? A long chain of political intrigues and scandals leads up to a fateful White House meeting that may decide the election–and America’s future.
As we are nearing the end of Season 2, this episode begins setting up the climax for the season: the Presidential election of 1972. In our alternate timeline, a number of threads we’ve been following throughout the story start to converge here: Romney’s pursuit of an end to the Cold War, Ronald Reagan’s political ambitions, the split in the Republican Party between moderates and conservatives, and the nationwide backlash to progress on civil rights and racial equality.
In real life, Reagan had Presidential ambitions as early as 1964 but realized it would be a long haul to get to the finish line. He was, as in our story, perfectly willing to challenge a sitting President of his own party for the Republican nomination: he attempted it in 1976, running against Gerald Ford, an unelected President who succeeded to the big chair after Nixon’s 1974 resignation. Reagan’s campaign people were also quite conniving and crafty; I used that real-life fact to some advantage here in this story, as they attempt to negotiate their path to Reagan’s nomination.
George Wallace appears again in the story. Wallace did run for President again in 1972, as a Democrat. His campaign was effectively ended by an assassination attempt in May of that year, a shooting that left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In Age of Confusion I have tried to avoid skewing the fictional timeline with “black swan” events like assassinations, so this was off the table as a plot development here. Had Wallace not suffered his terrible injury, he might not have softened–to some extent–his hard racist rhetoric later in his career. In real life, had he continued on in the 1972 Presidential race he couldn’t have altered the outcome, which was Nixon’s landslide reelection victory, but in a closer race he might have made a difference.
The busing riots of Boston did happen, though later in the 1970s than they do here. Busing students to enforce racial integration orders by courts was an explosive and tragic issue in many cities, but Boston particularly. I think violence would have broken out over this issue pretty much inevitably at some point.
Also inevitable was some sort of scandal involving Richard Nixon’s political and personal paranoia. The “Friends of Nixon” wiretap scandal in this episode resembles some elements of the real-life Watergate affair; of course it wouldn’t have been nearly as big a deal if Nixon was Governor of California rather than President of the United States. Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, mentioned in the teaser of this episode, was a real person, and was actually the best friend of Nixon.
Next Episode: December 5, 2021