The Eighteen-Day Running Mate


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McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis

Joshua M. Glasser

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The riveting story of a doomed presidential ticket and the truth behind this singular election-year drama

No skeletons were rattling in his closet, Thomas Eagleton assured George McGovern’s political director. But only eighteen days later—after a series of damaging public revelations and feverish behind-the-scenes maneuverings—McGovern rescinded his endorsement of his Democratic vice-presidential running mate, and Eagleton withdrew from the ticket. This fascinating book is the first to uncover the full story behind Eagleton's rise and precipitous fall as a national candidate.

Within days of Eagleton's nomination, a pair of anonymous phone calls brought to light his history of hospitalizations for “nervous exhaustion and depression” and past treatment with electroshock therapy. The revelation rattled the campaign and placed McGovern's organization under intense public and media scrutiny. Joshua M. Glasser investigates a campaign in disarray and explores the perspectives of the campaign’s key players, how decisions were made and who made them, how cultural attitudes toward mental illness informed the crisis, and how Eagleton's and McGovern's personal ambitions shaped the course of events.

Drawing on personal interviews with McGovern, campaign manager Gary Hart, political director Frank Mankiewicz, and dozens of other participants inside and outside the McGovern and Eagleton camps—as well as extensive unpublished campaign records—Glasser captures the political and human drama of Eagleton's brief candidacy. Glasser also offers sharp insights into the America of 1972—mired in war and anxious about the economy, a time with striking similarities to our own.

Joshua M. Glasser is a researcher for Bloomberg Television in New York. He graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, Eagleton's alma mater. He lives in the Bronx, NY.

“Compelling…[Glasser] has written a rigorously reported, unbiased and readable narrative, with incisive lessons for current and future would-be presidents."—Fred Barnes, The Wall Street Journal

"Timely and impeccably researched . . . Glasser brings out the full human drama and political intrigue of this historic episode, which forever changed the way presidential candidates pick their running mates."—Adam Kirsch, Christian Science Monitor

“A gripping account of the political earthquake that ensued when Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, the hastily picked and poorly vetted vice-presidential candidate, was forced to disclose a history of hospitalizations for depression and treatments that included electroshock therapy.”—Publishers Weekly

“An engaging new book.”—Jon Meacham, Time Magazine and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“Crisply written, meticulously researched, and insightful, this fascinating book underscores the similarities of our country as it was 40 summers ago and as it is today.  Both then and now, we are involved in an unpopular war, we are anxious about the economy and many are distrustful of our government and ambivalent about civil rights. This is political reporting at its very best.  Glasser makes this event in history not just interesting but relevant.”—Larry Cox, Kings Features Syndicate

"Engrossing account of the doomed McGovern-Eagleton partnership... [Glasser] imparts lessons for both then and now.... Glasser's tick-tock chronicle of July 13, the day McGovern settled on Eagleton, is both a fasinating piece of political history and a devastating portrayal of executive irresolution." —John J. Miller, National Review

“A gripping examination of how McGovern chose Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate without knowing the senator had undergone electroshock therapy.”—David Shribman, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Josh Glasser has recovered the McGovern-Eagleton crisis in all its messy grandeur. More impressively, he uses the episode as a lightening flash that illuminates the way we were in the summer of 1972: trapped in an unpopular and unnecessary war; on the cusp of a new presidential primary system that transferred control from the back room politicians to the media; slouching towards Watergate; losing our way.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Founding Brothers: the Revolutionary Generation

"There are no heroes in this exhaustively reported, beautifully written tale of one of the great political disasters of modern times. But there are plenty of lessons, not just about the undoing of the 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee and the hopes he carried, but of what can happen when hapless naivete smacks into unbridled ambition. As a bystander to these events, I thought I knew everything worth knowing about the pairing of decent George McGovern and tortured Tom Eagleton. Then I read this book. Boy, was I wrong."
—Robert Sam Anson, author of McGovern: A Biography

“The Eighteen-Day Running Mate is a riveting page-turner of a book about a forgotten episode in American political history. The moral? Politics is personal, for better and worse. And politicians—struggling to balance an appetite for public life with a penchant for family privacy—are simply humans like the rest of us, trying to find the best path forward.”—Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

“A good read.”—Ken Rudin, NPR.ORG's Political Junkie Blog

“A gripping examination of how McGovern chose Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate without knowing the senator had undergone electroshock therapy.”—David Shribman, The Salem News

     “Glasser has written an engaging account of this high-octane political disaster, one of the great such diasters fo the 20th century. Additionally, he brings into focus the missing man in this saga, Tom Eagleton, for the first time.”


       “Glasser’s account of his McGovern tried to cope with the unfolding disaster after the Democratic Convention in Miami is thoroughly absorbing, making the event into an absorbing page turner.”


     “If there is a way to ‘write’ politics, then Glasser’s handling of this episode is an excellent example with all its many superbly illuminating details.”


—John Pindar, Liberator, Issue 356, Nov 2012.

“A sprightly and well-researched book. . . . Glasser provides perspective in telling this story well.”—James N. Giglio, Missouri Historical Review
ISBN: 9780300176292
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
392 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
15 b/w illus.