Vic Gold, a high-powered and sometimes high-strung Republican political strategist who served as the press secretary for Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and who wrote books with a president and the wife of a vice president, died June 5 at a hospital in Alexandria, Va. He was 88.
The cause was complications from an infection, said a daughter, Paige Gold.
Mr. Gold, who began his career as a lawyer, began advising Democratic candidates in Alabama before moving to Washington and undergoing a political conversion that led him to the Republican Party in the early 1960s. Short, intense and often irritable, he was once dubbed “the Mount Vesuvius of press secretaries” for his outbursts, but he had a redeeming sense of humor and an appreciation of the theatricality of politics.
During the 1964 presidential campaign, as the indefatigable deputy press secretary for Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), Mr. Gold had the unenviable task of presenting the candidate’s then-novel conservative agenda to a skeptical press corps.
In “The Making of the President 1964,” journalist Theodore H. White said Mr. Gold was practically a valet to traveling reporters. He “carried their bags, got them to the trains on time, outshouted policemen on their behalf, bedded them down and woke them up, and before they knew it, the correspondents, about 95 percent anti-Goldwater by conviction, had been won to a friendship with the diminutive intellectual which spilled over onto his hero.”
From 1970 to 1973, as the administration of President Richard M. Nixon was becoming mired in the Watergate political scandal, Mr. Gold was press secretary to Nixon’s vice president, Agnew.
“Every reporter who traveled with Agnew had at least a dozen Vic Gold stories,” Timothy Crouse wrote in “The Boys on the Bus,” a classic account of coverage of the 1972 election. “Vic screaming horrible threats at cars in the path of the press bus. Vic terrorizing press-bus drivers who fell behind the motorcade. Vic becoming so deranged he distractedly pounded the assistant press secretary over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.”
After the campaign, the reporters presented Mr. Gold with a straitjacket as an ironic gift.
Mr. Gold considered Agnew an unappreciated intellectual, but he felt betrayed when the vice president resigned in disgrace in 1973 and pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion stemming from his earlier years as Maryland governor.
During the 1970s, Mr. Gold embarked on a second career as a writer and commentator, which included a 25-year association with Washingtonian magazine.
He returned to the political battlefield in 1979 as a speechwriter for the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush and continued as an occasional adviser after Bush became vice president under President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Gold helped Bush write a 1987 autobiography, “Looking Forward,” which appeared one year before Bush won the presidency.
In 1988, Mr. Gold collaborated on a book with another GOP luminary, Lynne Cheney, with whom he once shared an office at Washingtonian. Their book, “The Body Politic,” was a political thriller in which a Republican vice president dies of a heart attack while, as Mr. Gold put it, “in the carnal embrace of a curvaceous television news reporter.”
The book was reprinted in 2000, the year Cheney’s husband, Richard, was elected vice president as George W. Bush’s running mate. Richard B. Cheney had suffered several heart attacks by then, but Mr. Gold gallantly leapt into the breach and said Lynne Cheney was not responsible for dreaming up the untimely demise of the fictional veep.
“That stuff about the vice president?” he said. “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Victor Gold was born Sept. 25, 1928, in East St. Louis, Ill. During the Depression, his family moved to New Orleans, where his father worked as a longshoreman and factory worker, among other jobs.
Mr. Gold attended Tulane University in New Orleans before entering law school at the University of Alabama, from which he graduated in 1951. Throughout his college years, he wrote for campus newspapers, humor magazines and theatrical productions.
He served in the Army during the Korean War, then opened a law practice in Birmingham, Ala. He became an adviser to several Democratic political campaigns before moving to Washington in 1958.
He said he became disillusioned with the Democratic Party largely over foreign policy interventions and was an early supporter of the 1964 candidacy of Goldwater, who lost badly to President Lyndon B. Johnson but whose conservative ideas later became the part of the GOP mainstream.
From 1964 to 1970, Mr. Gold headed a Washington consulting firm and worked on many congressional campaigns before being tapped as Agnew’s press secretary.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, the former Dale Solomon of Alexandria; three children, Paige Gold and Jamie Gold, both of Alexandria, and Stephen Gold of McLean, Va.; two grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Mr. Gold wrote two books in the 1970s about the humor and hypocrisy of the Washington public relations world. He recalled a self-dealing Louisiana governor who once said, “When I took the oath of office, I didn’t take any vows of poverty.”
On another occasion, he noted, a senator read a news release about a speech in the mistaken belief that it was the speech itself.
“For immediate release,” he began. “Senator Joseph Montoya, Democrat of New Mexico, last night told the National Legislative Conference . . .”
In later years, however, Mr. Gold grew dismayed by his fellow Republicans and in 2007 published “Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP.”
“I really came to the conclusion that there was a threat to our system, to our way of life, and it was coming from those I thought were my people,” Mr. Gold wrote.
He alienated old friends, including President George W. Bush, whom he called “the weakest, most out of touch president in modern times. Think Dan Quayle in cowboy boots.”
Mr. Gold said his principles hadn’t changed over the years — it was the party that shifted around him.
“You remember the old play ‘Waiting for Lefty’?” he said in a 2007 television interview on “Bill Moyers Journal.” “Well, I’m waiting for righty. And for a rebirth of Goldwater. I don’t see him around.”