A closer look at Representative Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey’s decision to challenge Richard Nixon for the 1972 Republican presidential nomination due to Nixon’s failure to bring the Vietnam conflict to a conclusion reveals some intriguing aspects of the relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy during the U.S. experience in Vietnam. In breaking the GOP’s “Eleventh Commandment”—the exhortation to not speak ill of fellow Republicans—McCloskey acted on the courage of his convictions in opposing the war and his party’s sitting president. For McCloskey, Vietnam transcended politics; it was a moral issue on which he was willing to sacrifice his political career—unlike most other members of Congress and politicians in successive administrations during the Vietnam era. Moreover, McCloskey’s failure to gain traction with voters in the GOP primaries with his antiwar stance presaged George McGovern’s struggles against Nixon in the fall campaign in 1972.

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