In 1976, on this day the 41st Vice President of the United States Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (pictured) suffered a fatal heart attack in his 13 West 54th Street Manhattan townhouse.1
Ruthless DecisionsRockefeller health had entered a sharp decline since the Halloween massacre, a political coup de grace executed by his chief adversary, Donald Henry Rumsfeld. Described by no less a fiend than President Nixon as "a ruthless little bastard", "Rummy" and Rockefeller "simply loathed each other". Relations were not helped by Rockefeller's habit of poking his head around Rumsfeld's office door and saying "Don, you know you will never be president".
"Rummy" was of course executing dastardly self-promotional plans from inside the White House" to ensure he did enter the Oval Office - as the boss. Realising that he needed the Vice Presidency as a platform, "Rummy" had played a long-game since accepting a cabinet posting by Richard Nixon in 1970. And by 31st October 1975, these plans ripened when President Gerald Ford, renowned for unswerving loyalty, unexpectedly dropped Rockefeller from the 1976 Vice Presidential Ticket. George W. Bush, who - alongside Barry Goldwater - was seriously considered for VP by Ford when he assumed the Presidency in 1974, was dispatched to the political no-mans land of Langley to run the CIA. To put the seal on this political emasculation, Bush was required to pledge that he would not politicize the CIA by running for office in 1976.
Of course the 1976 campaign presented a number of challenges for "Rummy" that would require some deft footwork. Political observers have speculated that Rockefeller2 would have threatened to withdraw New York's 154 delegate bloc of votes had he been alive at the time of the Convention. Since he was not, the real threat was the former Governor of California Ronald Reagan who was emerging as a creditable alternative candidate from the right wing. Accordingly, "Rummy" insisted upon his appointment as Secretary of Defence, replacing James Schlesinger who was also fired in the "Halloween massacre".
Once in office, "Rummy" pursued the hawkish agenda that was being urged by Reagan's supporters, effectively to reverse detente by undermining the Salt II negotiations and also accelerating military spending3. As a precursor, "Rummy" had played a key supporter of the decision to dispatch US Marines to relieve the SS Mayaguez. The ship was seized by the Khymer Rouge just a month after the fall of Saigon and in order to restore American prestige, military intervention was advocated by then Chief of Staff Rumsfeld.
The majority of political observers believe that Ford's re-election in 1976 was mainly due to his ruthless decision to double cross Richard Nixon, by going back on his promise to pardon the disgraced President4. Fortunately, the new Ford-Rumsfeld administration (pictured here with incoming Chief of Staff Dick Cheney) would inherit a $123 billion defense budget and a re-invigorated military. Thanks to Rumsfeld, in 1979, America would be ready to confront the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan with full force.