How a Great Political Prankster Messed With Richard Nixon

Bettmann/CORBIS / Bettmann/CORBIS

by David Borgenicht and Turk Regan

Democratic prankster Dick Tuck began tormenting Richard Nixon in California in 1950, after he became a mole in Nixon’s successful Senate campaign. When Nixon unsuccessfully sought the presidency 10 years later, his opponent, John F. Kennedy, hired Tuck to play practical jokes on Nixon.

The day after the first candidates’ debate (a contest many felt Nixon had won), Tuck spun the results by hiring an elderly woman wearing a Nixon button to hug Nixon in front of reporters and console him for losing the debate.

Two years later, when Nixon ran for governor of California, Tuck had children in Los Angeles’ Chinatown greet him with a sign reading “Welcome Nixon” in English and beneath the greeting, “What about the Hughes loan?” in Chinese—a reference to a controversial loan Nixon’s brother had received. Nixon, who didn’t understand Chinese, posed smiling next to the sign, then tore it up in front of reporters when Tuck told him the translation.

According to legend, during a whistle-stop train tour on the same campaign, Tuck disguised himself as a conductor and ordered Nixon’s train to pull away from the station just as Nixon had begun a speech to the crowd.

When Nixon ran for President in 1968, Tuck hired pregnant women to show up at his rallies wearing T-shirts that read “Nixon’s the One.”

Nixon, who’d mastered the art of dirty tricks early in his career, came to both despise and begrudgingly admire Tuck. During his 1972 presidential re-election campaign, Nixon ordered aides to develop a “Dick Tuck capability.” Nixon’s staffers and operatives initiated a series of covert dirty tricks, culminating in the break-in of Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building. The subsequent Watergate scandal forced the disgraced Nixon to resign from office two years later.