We’ve already discussed Connally’s desertion of the Democratic Party. It was a history-changing event, turning Texas and much of the South into a Republican stronghold. When Connally left the Democrats a great deal of Texas oil money left with him. Why would the Hunts, the Murchison’s, leave a party they had controlled for so long and venture into Republican territory?
Historians point to an ideological shift; the liberalization of the Democrats under Johnson and Carter. However, the conclusion may be confusing cause and effect. It is possible that the departure of the Texas conservatives caused the Democrats to shift to the left ? They had to, after all, to attract a new breed of voters and supporters. So why would the Big Rich Texans depart? Perhaps because Connally forced them to. Perhaps because he had a weapon that could ensure their loyalty to him even in the extreme circumstance of party desertion.
The second strange event occurred with Gerald Ford. Ford was a member of the Warren Commission. He was known to have been unusually close to Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover and to have passed their influence on to the Commission. Some say he was in charge of that part of the investigation that involved the path of the bullet.
Ford’s career took off when he was selected to succeed the disgraced Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon’s Vice President. It was a position that Nixon had tried to confer on Connally, to give him a springboard for a Presidential run in 1976, but the Republican establishment overruled him.
Ford’s selection was an important event in his career. He had little money and little political power, although he was well thought of. Suddenly he was one step removed from the Presidency. Then, in a remarkable turn of events, Nixon resigned and Ford became President. In the midst of an ongoing investigation into the Watergate scandal, Ford pardoned his predecessor. The pardon was widely considered a death warrant for Ford’s hopes to be elected President. People found it incredible. An act of great nobility. A sacrifice to keep peace in the nation. And the predictions proved true. Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.
What would cause Ford to throw his career away? Was he really that noble? Could he really have believed that stopping the investigation would result in peace between the warring political parties? One possibility is far more practical – his fear that a continuation of the Watergate investigation would disclose evidence regarding the Kennedy assassination and cover up. What would the evidence be?
Prior to Watergate few people knew about the White House tape recording system. Not until Nixon’s aide, Alexander Butterfield, disclosed their existence to Senate Committee staffer Donald Sanders in July 1973 were they made public. The disclosure led to a subpoena and the rest is history.
Of course, Nixon knew about the White House taping system. And he had access to the tapes of his predecessor Lyndon Johnson. Nixon was also a crony of the Texas oil crowd. He even visited the infamous Del Charro hotel in Del Mar as Murchison’s guest. He may have known of the conspiracy but dismissed it as politics as usual. Until his own career was in jeopardy. Then he would have searched Johnson’s tape recordings for evidence he could use to buy off the Senate committee.
Having failed in that endeavor (or found it too dangerous to attempt) he might have approached Ford to make a deal: the tapes for a pardon.
There is another possibility that involves Connally, who was Nixon’s most trusted advisor even after he resigned as Secretary of the Treasury. The possibility that Connally learned of the tapes, got possession of them and bribed Ford to pardon Nixon. If Connally came into possession of such explosive evidence it would explain his hold on his Texas friends.