JOHN B. CONNALLY
FIRST CITY NATIONAL BANK UNLIMITED
Houston, Texas 77008
June 3, 1979
We would be honored if you and could be our guests at the Picosa Ranch near San Antonio the evenings of June 22 and 23.
You are invited to bring along casual dress for your choice of swimming, tennis, skeet-shooting, or horseback riding. Or, just bring along a good book, if you prefer.
We suggest that you plan your travel schedule to arrive after 4:00 Friday afternoon, June 22, and departure at your pleasure sometime Sunday morning. Transportation will be provided to and from the San Antonio airport. Please keep us advised of your travel schedule so we can meet you on arrival and get you to your plane on departure.
We will be joined by three other couples of the national media which should make our time together stimulating as well as relaxing.
Please advise my secretary, Alice Schoenberg, at 713/651-2100 at your earliest convenience whether you will be able to join us. We look forward to being with you.
Best personal regards.
IT WAS NOT TO BE a working weekend. It was to be a weekend to get to know the candidate.
"Y'all just relax and have a good time. That's what you're here for," said the candidate.
John Connally was at it again.
But this time with a new style. John Connally the master politician, the ultimate wheeler dealer, the consummate power monger, the manipulator par excellence, has revised his act.
Departed is the unrelieved though talkin, tall walkin, gun totin Big John Connally, the Texas John Wayne, America's political rape fantasy.
Enter the political masseur. His cowboy hat off, his sleeves rolled up, he latters his great big hands with oil and prepares to give the media their first rubdown. Softly, gently, pummeling and kneading soothingly, only occasionally arousing and then very subtly.
John Connally understands. Times change. Styles change. So image, too. And methods.
He is preparing for the Congress and the Senate, then the delegates, then the whole country. They will all require the massage. Save the deep massage, the less sublte massage, for the unsophisticated, the conservatives, the businessmen where it still works.
"When John Connally came striding into the big meeting room, parading through the glare of TV lights and the roar of applause, Frances Gaylord let out a large yawn . . .
. . . Thirty minutes later, when Connally had finished his arm-waving, palm-slapping, stambang sermon on the need to "revive America's strength," Gaylord was wide awake and on her feet to add to the standing ovation for the silverhaired Texan.
"Why I never knew he was so - what's the word? - so dynamic, that's it." Gaylord said. "He's just more dynamic than the others."
- T.R. Reid, The Washington Post, March 11, 1979
"I like to make speeches," says John Connally. "But I don't much like speakin' to the sophisticated audiences. They're not as enthusiastic."
"While the leadership quality in Connally is there," says a Connally observer, cit may be that he personifies last year's leadership, the old fashioned LBJ, John Wayne approach. It may be too that he is trying to recreate his media personality, to achieve a rather low key personality like Howard Baker because he believes the bluster is passe, that the media are too sophisticatedto buy it."
For weeks before the "media couples weekend" at the Picosa Ranch, the letters had been arriving at the offices of media heavies all over Washington. Phones were buzzing. Should we or shouldn't we?What's Connally up to? What are the ethics of accepting a weekend of hospitality at a candidate's ranch? Of bringing one's wife? Of just relaxing and having a good time as house guests? The wording of the letter bothered people. It smacked of being bought. Editors were consulted. The general feeling among most was that it was not a good idea. The invitations were declined in droves. All but a few, that is.
The planes in San Antonio are met by Bill Gill, former ABC reporter, now Connally's media consultant. Hedrick and Ann Smith of The New York Times. Godfrey and Betty Sperling of the Christain Science Monitor and the Sperling Breakfast. Max and Debbie Apple of Rice University, and Life magazine. This reporter is invited at the last minute after requesting an interview. No letter.
In the car on the way to the ranch, Bill Gill is asked what the ground rules are. "No ground rules," he replies. "Everything is on the record."
The first surprise. Later it would become more understandable.
The Connallys are waiting to greet their guests outside the surprisingly modest stone ranch house in the middle of the rolling green fields near the highway. He in a casual Mexican shirt, she in a long gingham dress.
Very low key. No gladhandling, no booming, no showing off. Guests are taken to a small four-bedroom guest house behind the ranch house where everyone has a private room and bath.
A Mexican dinner is served after drinks in the large sitting room of the main house.
Food. So important to our psyches, our sense of well-being. So welcoming, so lulling. Reporters can't be lean and mean on a full stomach. The talk at dinner centers around the food.*tFriday nigh supper:
Fruit salas with whipped cream
Dinner is served by two black servants. Conversation is impersonal, quiet, slightly uncomfortable. Nellie Connally is gracious. Her husband is subduced, almost lethargic, somewhat distracted. If you close your eyes you might think you are at the table with George Bush.
It's not that he doesn't look like John Connally. He is a tall, imposing figure. He looks like every man would like to look at 62 Tanned, craggy, masses of silver white hair. Even indoors he squints, as though he has been looking into desert sand storms much of his life, or at least into the eyes of people he knows he shouldn't trust.
He holds himself alertly, his ears pricked fro any unusual sound, his eyes a steady gaze, his body leaning slightly forward as if ready for a quick attack.
"Let me ask y'all a question," he keeps saying, quizzing the reporters about themselves, their views, their experiences.
After dinner Connally takes his guests on a tour of the house, explaining with pride the marble floors, the wrought iron railings he had acquired at auction from the former Japanese Embassy at Grosvenor Square in London. The house, with its large two-story family room, formal living room, loft, study and dining room, is a mishmash of stuff of all different styles, acquired over years of living and traveling. Woods and leathers, hunting trophies, guns and saddles, mixed with silks, velvets and gilt and crystal chandeliers.
Only after dinner and the house tour is the subject of politics brought up for the first time. Connally is asked why he wants to be president. He talks about doing something for his country.His response is a bit more enthusiastic, less distracted than at dinner. Still, he is restrained. Later he says more.
Why, he is asked, why would any person in his right mind want to be president of the United States.
cStarting off with a self-serving statement," he replies solemnly, "which is true. . . .
"All of us owe something to the continuation of this system, this society of free people."
No, really. Why does he want to be president, he is asked again. With the pressure of the job and all that.
"Well, I don't want to be president in those terms," he says. "I know it's a sacrifice, there's pressure, it's a goldfish bowl, the glare of publicity. From that standpoint I don't want to be."
So why does he want to be president, he is asked. He looks pained. "I was able to talk myself into it," he says finally, "because the country is in trouble. Nellie and I talked about it. Of course it would mean giving up the most precious things in our lives, leisure time, giving up our family, our friends. . . .
"And knowing me," he adds with a touch of modesty, "I would devote my entire energies to the job. . . ."
Why?he is asked. What's in it for him? There must be something in it for him.
"Why? What's in it for me? Well, I certainly don't want the job for personal reasons. I guess it's the satisfaction of doing something."
He realizes this answer is not quite satisfactory.
"Now, 20 years ago," he adds, "I would have said I wanted it for the prestige, the grandeur, the intrigue, the glory. But those things are not there for me any more."
He seems more satisfied with that answer. He decides to conclude. "It was a tough choice," he says, shaking his head. "It sounds very self-serving but I think it was a truly unselfish decision."
"John Connally has wanted to be president since he was six years old," says someone hwo has known him for years. "He's thought of little else. But you'd have to tie him down and stuff him to get him to be vice-president. His thresh-old for boredom is as little as anyone I know. He would die as vice-president. He would wither, die, atrophy. You'd have to put him in the ground."
He speaks, too, after the Mexican dinner, of leadership in America, of how important it is. He seems uninspired, canned. Several people nod off. Everyone goes to bed.
Saturday morning breakfast:
Coffee and tea
At breakfast, Connally opens up a bit more than he did at dinner, talking this time about Washington, D.C., and power.
"Washington," he says knowingly over his grits and sausage, "is an unreal atmosphere."
"Washington," he says later, "is made of people with enormous egos, vanities, ambitions. Those with the greatest quest for power wind up in Washington. Washington is the seat of power and it breeds an atmosphere that reflects that obeisance to power. Except in limited circles, it tends to develop hypocrisy. People don't really speak their minds.
"It's a place where the top diplomats know how to say nothign in an infinite variety of ways, or something in an infinite variety of ambiguous ways."
But the most important thing about Washington, he feels, is this: "You have to learn to live and deal in the environment in which you find yourself. Once there, once in a position of power, you have to learn to deal with power in a place where power is all powerful. There are all different kinds of power. Jimmy Carter has failed to understand the accountrements of power."
For the only time all weekend, he sounds like the real John Connally. His voice takes on a conspiratorial tone. He talks as if he is giving a sermon, reciting his favorite psalm. He's hypontizing and so believable.
"I'm interested in power," he says. "I'm intrigued by it. I do understand power. I've seen it exercised. I'm not afraid of it. No, not at all.
"You have to be realistic about it," he said. "I don't think I'm a cynic." There is a hint of a grin. "But obviously I'm no Alice in Wonderland, either."
In Washington, he says, people want a leader. "Any time people who are motivated by power or seek power or need power, then they are impressed by a leader. The attributes that compel people to seek power are envy and jealousy. They are only part of the makeup. These people are not only possessed by greater drive and motivation but they also have a greater capacity for envy and jealousy. They get a peculiar satisfaction out of the downfall or wounding of one in power. Unfortunately, it's part of the human makeup. It's not going to change. So there's no point in getting cynical. You just never give anybody the chance to experience those human traits. You try to be as invulnerable as you can."
"Friendship . . . and fear," he says with a knowing look, "If you lose it you've lost one of your basic tools. . . . If they don't fear you. Johnson was the best at it. He knew'em. And they were afraid of him. He understood them. He knew how to deal with them."
The media massage is going well. It's time to turn the body over on the table and work on the other side.
Nellie Connally is a good ole girl. A good ole girl who really doesn't want to be first lady worth a damn. And she doesn't mind saying so. Oh, she's perfectly happy to have media couples flown down for the weekend. That's kind of fun. And besides she's a good hostess and she has a fabulous cook, Gertrude Davis, who formerly cooked for the Lyndon Johnsons, and enough servants to make it go smoothly.
But running a classy political massage parlor is a long way from being first lady.
"It's not what I would have chosen," she says. "My choice, of course, would have been to spend the next 10 years traveling, spending a lot of time with all those little grandbabies. Why would any woman at our stage in life (I could kill him for telling people I'm 60) want to hit that campaign trail?
"But he's going to do it anyway, sooo . . . we're going to work as hard as we can, run as hard as we can, and if we're nominated we'll work as hard as we can and if we win we'll work as hard to serve. But if he doesn't win, we're not going to expire and fall out. We will have made the effort. If they don't want him then we'll have the chance to do what we want."
She seems to be trying to be brave about it, but lines of worry cross her face.
She is an attractive woman, Idanell Connally, the former University of Texas sweetheart. She has a slim, well-kept figure, an open bright face, a warm smile. Her manner is straightforward, pleasant and disarming, guileless.
"I didn't want him to run. I watch these men. I see them age before their time. I don't want to see him do that. Our privacy will be even more limited, but," she perks up a bit, "once we made the decision, well. . . .
"Of course," she says, trying to convince herself, "I'm not running for president. I'm helping him run for president. It did come as a shock, though. I feel like I'm giving myself a life sentence at the same time."
She laughs. "You know Lady Bird told me, 'Nellie, you'll just love it.' Well, Lady Bird did just love it."
If she were first lady, says Nellie Connally, "I hope it would be fun. John is the honorable and I am the ornery. Where he enters a room, I sort of tumble in. Where he might shake hands, I hug 'em. . . I'm not somebody who'll be issuing words of wisdom. They will have elected him. I'll just be somebody who came along with the product. And having had a little taste of it, I know it will be a tough go. I know it's not a picinc."
One of the things that terrifies Nellie Connally the most is the fact that at age 60 she has never given a speech in her entire life. Ever.
She's afraid she may have to start. When Connally ran for governor, she says, she had to make a lot of personal appearances separate from him, but no speeches.
"Even that was really traumatic for me," she says. "It was hard for me to do that. It was hard for me to ask the first person to vote for John.
"I believe in what he's trying to do. So I guess it's okay for me to devote all the time and energy and mental stress. That's okay with me."
She pauses for a moment. Then sighs. Then smiles.
"And," she says with real enthusiasm for the first time, "I can always peel off."
After breakfast Saturday morning John Connally, in a monogrammed beige cowbody shirt, tan Levis, cowboy boots and straw cowboy hat, offers his guests a tour of the ranch. In his air-conditioned jeep.
The 7,500-acre ranch, he proudly explains, was built up from nothing. It was mostly arid desert when he and Nellie bought it over 20 years earlier. There is no doubt he genuinely knows and loves this land. This is not an act. And he recites almost a litany of the trials and tribulations, the disappointments and failures they had as they worked to create the fabulous spread he now is master of.
He drives his guests to the barns, to the tack room, the kennels, the cattle fields, showing off his Santa Gertrudis cattle which he is about to sell at auction next week.
Earlier Bill Gill has explained that Connally is selling off his cattle because he feels the market has gone as high as it can and the bottom may fall out of it at any minute.
Connally explains it differently. "I want to be able to devote myself entirely to the campaign."
All the while he talks quietly, with little vivacity or enthusiasm. He seems as if he is deliberately reining himself in.
He takes his guests to the stables where some of his horses are being exercised. They are harnessed to an electrically powered merry-go-round affair, four of them at a time. When the machine goes around the horses are forced to move too, thus providing them with exercise and saving manpower.
Over under a large live oak tree stands a single white horse, a beautiful animal tied to a branch. On his back is a lovely handcarved leather saddle. The horse is restless, frustrated, balking at the rope, desperately trying to throw off the saddle.
Connally stops and looks at the horse for a moment, then says quietly, with sympathy, "We're breakin' him in. Look at the ground underneath him. See how he's torn up the earth."
Is this the real John Connally?
Gone is the bluster, the razzmatazz, the thunderous "Big John" of the Nixon days.
Here is the statesman. Low-keyed. Understated. Mature. This is the future president. The man preoccupied with the major worries of the country, the world.
Yes. This is the real John Connally. The real John Connally, presidential candidate.
"He most likely had all his guard up over the weekend," says a longtime Connally observer. "He probably realized if he tried a cheap snow job or turned the charm on he would end up looking like a horse's ass. Better to be low key, better to come off neutral."
This person also feels that there is a consensus in the Connally camp that he came out running so intensely that he may peak too early. The Connally people also know that John Sears, a Reagan campaign adviser, has decided to keep Reagan pretty much under wraps until October.
Connally's low-key behavior over the media couples weekend, this person believes, is a "combination of his determination now to go into a quiet period for the summer and the fear that he may not come off too well if he went into the Connally number. He would come off better if he measured his words, kept under wraps, rather than be colorful, charismatic or even interesting."
He takes his guests down the road, to the family cemetery, down near Floresville where he grew up, down past the land his grandmother owned. He talks a lot about the simplicity of his background. He shows the outhouses, the tin roofs, and talks about how, when his family moved out to Floresville, they had no plumbling or electricity.
He gets part of his confidence, he says, from his father and mother.
"They were very poor," he says. "Un-educated in a formal sense. My father was a smart fellow, fierecly independent with tremendous pride. He was a hard-working man.
Connally grew up on this farm near Floresville. His parents were poor, his father drove a bus. It was only, he will tell you, through a "lifetime of achieving, a lifetime of thrift, and a lifetime of hard work" that he got here from there. In a frama group at the University of Texas he met Nellie, who has been by his side for 38 years. After law school he became Lyndon Johnson's secretary and protege, learning at the boots of the master.
In the classic overachieving, poor-boy manner, he began earning his fortune as the attorney and close friend of Fort Worth oil man Sid Richardson. He went on to become Secretary of the Navy under John F. Kennedy, then governor of Texas where he was catapulted to international fame in 1963 when he was wounded in the motorcrade in Dallas when Kennedy was killed. He went on to become Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury, then switched parties in hopes of becoming Nixon's vice presidential appointee when Agnew resigned.
Since then he has practiced law at his Houston firm, Vinson and Elkins.
His voice takes on a slightly defensive tone when he talks about his background and it soon becomes clear why, it's a real sore point. He brings it up.
"Many of my critics say that I have forgotten my humble beginnings. That I have become enchanted with the company of the rich. Well, they're wrong," he says adamantly. "On both counts.
"I haven't ever forgotten. I am constantly rejuvenated by coming down here. I am not enchanted by the company of the rich. But I have wanted to learn.
"You should learn from the best teachers. I try to associate myself with successful people. Not rich people. But many of them are rich. Many of these people are smarter than I am.You don't learn much from a tennis player you can beat 6-0."
Still, John Connally is hardly one to be cowed.
"I've seen captains of industry," he says expansively, "and I've seen leaders of countries. And I don't see any qualities that they possess that I don't."
As he passes a church and talks about his Methodist background he is asked half jokingly if he is born again, like Jimmy Carter. Everyone chuckles.
He doesn't answer right away. This is a tricky one. Finally he says carefully, "No, I wouldn't exactly say I was 'born again.' But I'm a Christian."
Saturday afternoon dinner:
Haddock with tartar sauce
Homemade peach preserves
At lunch the subject of oil comes up, the gas shortage, the gas lines in Houston. Texas is oil country and the oil people in Texas are John Connally's people. The subject of the energy crisis is a readymade subject for John Connally, one that he relishes.
If he were president of the United States right now he would: "go on national TV and point out to the people what the facts are, what the problem is. I would not try to put the blame on anyone. This country should long since have been involved in the production of synthetics on a massive scale," he says. "This nation is a hostage to OPEC until we develop alternatives. We can't abide that position of dependency. We can make gasoline out of coal, regardless of the cost. The cost is not the consideration now. Gas may go up to $1.50 a gallon. Nobody like it. But they know the necessity of doing it. We are suffering the consequences of inaction.
"We're not going to run out of oil," he says in a very reassuring why that makes him look like maybe he should be president. "But I would prepare to improve our relations with Mexico. We should help them drill more wells with additonal drilling rigs. In such a way we could increase their deliverability and agree to take all their excess oil."
Sounds pretty good. He goes on.
As far as Carter is concerned, he says, "you just don't let things like this happen. Part of the problems, plan for trouble, anticipate problems before they arrive. I saw this coming in 1971, '72. I told the president then (Nixon) we were in trouble. I told Kissinger. There was a question of availability of oil. I even proposed we create a United States oil company. Buy half the reserves of Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Then when they took over, Aramco could say, 'Don't talk to me, talk to Uncle Sam.' But it wasn't a crisis then.
"It doesn't take a genius to recognize vulnerability," he says finally. "You have to move to protect yourself."
In the large two-story family room of the ranch house a gaint portrait of John Connally imposes itself on the space from one end wall. It is a portrait of Connally as governor surrounded by smaller Connallys from different periods of his life. There are other portraits of him throughout the house. A large, dominating one peers down on guest from the dining room wall. John Connally's initials and signatures are on everything in the house, even on a mosaic patio table. The JN for John and Nellie is branded on everything available.
There is no doubt in everybody's mind that this is the house of John Connally. There is no escaping his image, his imprint. It pervades the atmosphere.
Now John Connally is sitting in a lawn chair under a gaint live oak tree in the back yard of his ranch house.He us dressed in tennis whites. It iw late afternoon. The sun is still hot but a cool breeze plays over the closely clipped Bermuda gress and rustles the trees just a bit. He squints in the shade, as though the better to see you with. Really see you. The deep suntan only emphasizes the squint lines around his eyes.
He seems slightly uneasy. Behind one can hear the nosies of the media couples frolicking in the pool or playing tennis, chatting with Nellis.
Would he say he was vain?
"Ohhhhhh, I guess so."
He doesn't like this question.
"I suppose anybody who has the degree of self-confidence I do, that you think you can lead the country . . . I suppose that's a sign of vanity. Of course some people are so vain they structure their lives to preen their vanity."
What about his masculinity?
"Sure I have it." Then he stresses, "I don't overplay it. I don't play on it. But Churchill was a great leader and he didn't reflect the kind of masculinity you're talking about. Napoleon was a great leader and he was short in stature. I mean, he was not a John Wayne in size and physique."
He reflects on this for a while.
"Maybe some of it has to do with masculinity, being a good leader. And motivation. And drive. Maybe leadership had to do with a desire to excel.
"Some of it," he says, "has to do with courage. The opposite of fear is courage. Fear is contagious. You have to have an inner sense of security and serenity that lets you accept whatever fate is beyond your power to influence. You have to be courageous enough to undertake to protect yourself against forces that are 'temptin to harm or destroy you . . ."
He is getting philosophical now, clearly thinking about his own experiences on a broader scale.
". . . Mental courage embodies the determination to think for yourself, to withstand the onslaught of politics, the slander, the abuse, the lies the occur in political instances and to try to survive . . ." He is getting so wound up one almost expected background music here " . . . the courage not to accept what is happening but to try to shape events, circumstances, forces, so that you might change the future . . ."
"Occasionally," says Nellie Connally, "I have a rebellious feeling or thought like what I might be doing today if I hadn't married John, if I had on to become a serious actress."
The decision to give up acting, she says came after they had both met at the University of Texas in a play. John asked Nellie what would happen if, after they were married, he invited someone from the office home for dinner. What would she do? And she told him she would have to go to the theater for rehearsal or performance. He allowed as how that wouldn't be acceptable if they were married. Nellie gave up the theater. "I got my marching orders," she laughs.
"I'm a Sunday artist, too," she says. "And I took dancing as a child. I might have gone on into that. But I suppose you could say," she says somewhat wistfully, "I always had a choice."
"At any time I could have stomped my foot and screamed and hollered. I certainly am not a silent note. I put in my two cents worth."
Connally, who has been playing tennis while she is giving an interview, yells over after a while and says, "What is she doing, writing a book on you?"
"That's right," she answers with glee. "She's decided to scrap the whole interview with you and just concentrate on me."
She turns back to the subject at hand.
"I guess I don't harbor any real resentments," she says. Even though I probably would have been the greatest actress. I can always say I could have gone on and been the greatest. Can't I?"
It seems lunch is barely over and it is time for dinner if anyone can still stagger to the table. Everyone washes up and changes. This time there are no drinks before dinner. Just a giant groaning feast which leaves the guest practically in a speechless stupor.
Again Connally interviews his guests at the table in a quiet, polite manner. There is almost no conversation about himself at all.
Saturday nigh supper:
Picosa ranch steak with secret sauce
Southern fried corn
Fresh green beans with pork strips
Homemade fresh rolls
Tomatoi and avocado salad
Throughout the meal he appears somehow distracted, as though he is being reined in or held back from saying or doing or acting the way he normally would.
He seems to be getting tired of his restraint, almost exhausted from keeping himself in. But his eye is ever on the presidency. And if he has to keep his mouth shut to get there, then keep his mouth shut he will, at least for the media couples weekend.
" . . . After a barbecue supper of beef tenderloin, blackeyed peas and corn on the cob, the President and Connally exchanged compliments and toasts. Mr. Nixon said his treasury secretary had demonstrated 'he can hold any job in the United States. I'm just glad he's not seeking the Democratic nomination' . . .
"'This is a big country,' Mr. Nixon told his host's friends, 'and it produces big men. I've gotten a better feel for Texas than ever before.' . . .
" . . . Inveitably, the visit fed rumors that Connally might be Mr. Nixon's vice presidential running mate this year . . . . "
Most presidents become absorbed by the idea they're omnipotent," says Connally. "They begin to believe that the people who criticize them are uninformed, ignorant and vicious. They let themselves get isolated. I think it happened to Nixon. It happened to all of 'em. It's happening right now."
But Nixon still fascinates him. Probably as much as John Connally fascinated Richard Nixon. Nixon had a crush on Connally. Connally exploited it, allowing Nixon to court him, to woo him, to be his confidante in exchange for what he believed would be the vice presidency after Agnew resigned.
"Nixon was a scholar in foreign affairs," says Connally carefully, slowly, "who fell victim to the office which he held, believing the powers of the presidency were so great he could cover up. For he simple crime it was at the time it would have amounted to nothing. But he attempted to cover it up. He was the victim of not having communication, of not listening outside the inner circle."
Connally thinks most people would say the problem with Nixon was a "basic character weakness," but he disagrees.
"Kennedy and Johnson both did things that could classified as basic character weaknesses. I suppose we all have character weaknesses. But the real mistake was that he failed to deal with the problem. The real problem with Nixon was lack of outside advice, the absence of different perspectives that would have made it clear what he had to do.
"When you get under stress," says Connally, "it's amazing how your vision gets narrow and tuneled. Every president face this. He must constantly have access to objective outside advice."
He is also convinced of one thing, having seen the presidency up close, having dealt so intimately with the people in power. "Very few people will level with the president of the United States. He must generated outside friends, very dear friends. Acquaintances will not level with the president."
Does John Connally have these kinds of friends?
Almost too quickly he answers, "I have a great many friends I wouldn't have in government."
As for how he handles stress, Connally just laughs and says simply, "I blow up. I sound off. Sure I have a temper. But," he adds as an afterthought, "it's not uncontrollable. I get mad at little things, ineffectiveness, mistmakes due to lack of attention to detail. I don't get as mad about mistakes in judgment.
"I explode, " he continues, furrowing that tanned brow, "I flare up . . . but I get over it. I don't brood. I don't let things eat on me.
The new John Connally is cool. That is until the milk fund trail is brought up. Until it it pointed out to him that some of his detractors accuse him of being a crook.
He flares. "That's very unfair," he says bitterly. "Vicious. Those people should be asked, 'Why? Why do you say it? What do you know?' The people who say it about me know I was unapproachable from that aspect. And they hate my guts for not being that way."
He picks up a twig from the grass and begins to bend it as he talks, squinting, angrily out across the fields.
"The thing that irritates me the most," he says, "is that of all people I think I am as honorable and honest as anybody who has ever served in public life."
He shakes his head and scowls, then says with a meaningful look, "Of all the things I know, the things I know about people in public life who are respected for thei integrity. . . ." He chortles with sarcasm, "Well, let's just say, it's incongruous, it's inconceivable to me that I. . . .His voice trails off.
"That," he says and the twig snaps loudly in the silence, "that has been the hardest to take."
John Connally is a man with many enemies. He is despised by liberals, especially Texas liberals who have dealt closely with him. They consider him "dangerous," "too clever by half," "power mad" and "pro big oil." "So slick he could make chicken salad out of chicken feathers, sell iceboxes to Eskimos."
Lyndon Johnson once said that you could tell a lot about a man by his enemies.
John Connally shrugs when he is reminded of that. "Oh yeah," he says. "Lyndon said it but he didn't do it. He courted his enemies. I don't court my enemies.
"Basically," he says, "I don't set out to please everyone 'cause if you do you don't please anyone. I try to make fast friends and I try to make strong enemies. . . ."
Revenge is not something that particularly interests John Connally, he insists. However, and here he grins with relish, lifts his hand up as if it were a gun and points in the distance, "If somebody came my sight I'd pull the trigger. . . ."*tDown comes the gun. A look of boredom crosses his tanned face. "But I wouldn't go huntin' for 'em."
Lyndon Johnson once referred to former Texas governor Allen Shivers (1949-1956) as "the toughest politician I've ever met."
Allen Shivers was called in to consult two weeks ago with John Connally about his campaign.
"He's very charming," says Shivers. "He has charisma. You know, despite what most people say, he and Johnson were entirely different. Connally is much smoother. He's not a real arm twister like Johnson. Well, let's say he twists arms in a different fashion."
"Connally," says a shrewd Washington political type, "miscalculated when he switched parties. He figured the shortest distance to the presidency was to get over to the Republican side where Nixon could make him vice president. He saw that as a quick entry to the presidency after Nixon was out. At that point he just didn't see any hope with the Democrats. And, chuckles this person, "he never dreamed his bosom buddy Bob Strauss would become Chairman of the Democratic National Committee."
Connally's big problem, as he sees it, is "getting nominated. It's a very practical problem in any party. People like to support the person they think they know."
They think they know. He emphasizes "think."
"My problem is against Governor Reagan. They feel like they know him. I don't know the Republican hierarchy as well as he does. In a general election it is not a problem. But in a convention it is. They talk about nuances. People, year in and year out, want to know the candidate and they want to feel like he knows them."
One thing he absolutely will not discuss under any circumstance, no matter how hard he is prodded, is whether he would rather run against Carter or Teddy Kennedy, were he the Republican nominee.
"I'm not gonna get into that," he says. "Either one can be tough. They both have their strengths. Carter is the incumbent, Kennedy is a powerful figure."
Connally scoffs at the idea that people see Howard Baker as a formidable foe.
"I would take that with a grain of salt," he drawls with a chuckle. "That would be like me sayin' if I was a Democrat, that I was afraid of Jerry Brown."
Sunday morning John Connally is sitting outside by the pool at 7 a.m. commiserating with Bill Gill, his adviser. His guests are about to depart as soon as they have had breakfast. Connally is dejected. He thinks he has done poorly over the media couples weekend.
"I don't think I did so good," he grumbles over his coffee.
He is clearly tired of not being able to be John Connally. And he is probably not so sure not being John Connally was such a red hot idea.
He is also depressed to learn that one reporter thought he sounded like a very lineral Democrat, almost a radical, another thought he sounded like Jerry Brown, evasive, and a third thought he sounded like Herbert Hoover, conservative. And they had gone and compared notes.
He gazes out into the distance, looking as if he is about to shake the saddle off his back and gallop into the fields.
Sunday morning breakfast. Fresh sliced peaches Pancakes with maple syrup or honey Eggs benedict Bacon and homemade ranch sausage Homemade bread Homemade preserves Coffee or tea At breakfast the subject of the media comes up. Connally has been restraining himself all weekend. Now he can't hold back.
"I'd just like to know one thing," he says, leaning forward with a ferocious look on his face. "Why doesn't the press write about the press? Just tell me that. They have as much power as politicians. Doesn't the American public have a right to know about them, about their personal lives?"
It is time to leave. John and Nellie Connally walk out to the guest house to help carry bags and suitcases and watch their guests waddle to the car.
They both seem relieved, though still amazingly jospitable and gracious considering the strain.
As the car pulls away from the view of the Connallys standing silhouetted against the rising sun coming up over the rolling fields beyond, the car radio begins to play, as if miraculously on cue, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
One week later John Connally is on the stump again.
". . . Connally's forceful campaign style dazzled what was otherwise often a lackluster GOP (Virginia) state convention.
"'He got a terrific reception, and his supreme confidence really almost astonished people,' said Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman of the former Texas governor's appearance at a reception Friday evening.
"Calling Connally 'a quick study,' Coleman, who thus far has no presidential preference, described Connally's impact on a crowd of more than 1,000 people as 'almost Rooseveltian . . . he had them in the palm of his hand.'"
The Washington Post
July 1, 1979
What would happen, he is asked, if he did become presient of the United States, if things really began to fall apart, if he actually became the target of criticism and bitterness, if he lost the respect of the country the way Jimmy Carter has. Would John Connally be able to handle it?
The real John Connally stands up. He flashes a "Big John" Connally grin.
"That," he says with total assurance, "just ain't gonna happen to me." CAPTION: Picture 1, John connally with some of his horses at the Picosa Ranch. Photo by Shelly Katz, Copyright (c) 1979, Black Star.; Picture 2, Nellie and John Connally on the campaign circuit; phot by Shelly Katz, Copyright (c) 1979, Black Star.; Picture 3, Nellie Connally, by UPI