In 1961, John Tower became the first Republican senator elected in the former Confederacy and the first from a Confederate state in 48 years. He served until 1985. In 1989, President Bush nominated Tower to become Defense Secretary. A very bitter Democratic Party decided to oppose the nomination. They remained angry over the 1988 election and wanted to bloody Bush politically. As a result, they savaged Tower’s candidacy and his character. It was the second major assault on a Republican nominee in two years and demonstrated the transition to gutter politics.
In 1988, the Bush campaign thrashed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. They accused him of being a weak-kneed liberal. He appeared in many negative ads. Often, Dukakis provided the material himself, but the Democrats remained angry over the treatment their nominee received. They wanted revenge and returned to some old tactics.
In 1987, Ted Kennedy led Democratic efforts to kill the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Although qualified, the Democrats decided to oppose anyone President Reagan nominated. They impugned Bork’s character and accused him of everything from misogyny to racism. The Republicans failed to respond to the charges. As a result, the Democrats carried the argument and Reagan withdrew the nomination.
Following the Bork nomination and the 1988 presidential election, the Democrats decided to ramp up the rhetoric. They targeted the Tower nomination. Like Bork, they threw everything at the man. The Democrats attacked the former senator for his ties to defense contractors. Additionally, they hit Tower for alleged extramarital affairs. Interestingly, they would vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Either way, the Bush Administration struggled with the nomination.
The Democrats received some help in attacking Tower. The neo-right decided to go after Tower for his pro-choice views. It was payback for supporting abortion rights while in the senate. They also objected to the alleged extramarital affairs.
In the end, the Senate rejected the Tower nomination 53-47 on a party line vote. Afterward, the body confirmed Dick Cheney to serve in the position. Cheney proved an able Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War. In 1991, John Tower, his daughter, and twenty-one others died in a plane crash. Had his nomination not been defeated, Tower would not have been on that plane and Dick Cheney may not have become vice president.
The Tower nomination controversy was the third major mudslinging match between the two parties since 1987. The Democrats sunk the Bork and Tower nominations while the Republicans turned Michael Dukakis into a late night punch line. Following Tower, the two sides stepped up their attacks. Although Tower was qualified for Defense Secretary, the Democrats chose to try and damage President Bush and gain a measure of revenge for the 1988 election.
For the 1988 Election: www.dampfang.com/examiner/x-24794-American-History-Examiner~y2010m7d19-The-Dirtiest-Election-of-the-20th-Century
For the Bork Nomination: www.dampfang.com/examiner/x-24794-American-History-Examiner~y2010m6d30-Robert-Bork-When-the-Left-and-Right-Went-to-War