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Nation: Quit and Run

3 minute read

Haig and Brown and 1980

More than a year before the first primaries, many a presidential straw is in the wind. Two current examples: > “I can say categorically that I have no political plans at the moment, but of course in the future I never exclude anything.”

So said General Alexander M. Haig, 54, in announcing last week that he will resign in June as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and retire from the U.S. Army. His sudden announcement to quit was something of a surprise to President Carter, who last fall had asked Haig to stay for another year in the NATO post he has held since 1974. It stirred speculation that he is getting ready to run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Haig was one of the fastest rising officers in the Army during the Nixon Administration, going from lieutenant colonel to four-star general in a little over five years, largely because of his performance as top aide to Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council. Then, in the spring of 1973, Haig succeeded H.R. Haldeman as White House Chief of Staff. When Nixon became increasingly preoccupied with Watergate, Haig served at times as a sort of surrogate President and was one of the few high-level Nixon aides to survive the crisis without damaging his career.

As NATO commander, Haig has won high praise from European leaders and the Carter Administration for his efforts to strengthen the alliance’s defenses. But he disagreed with Carter’s decision to delay development of the neutron bomb, and has expressed serious misgivings about the SALT II treaty. His tough anti-Soviet stance makes him attractive to some Republicans. But party pros say Haig’s closeness to Nixon and the Watergate crisis will hurt his presidential chances, though they think he might make a strong candidate for the U.S. Senate, depending on where he settles when he returns to the U.S.

> California Governor Jerry Brown is determined not to make the same mistake he did in 1976, when he waited too long to enter the race and never was able to catch up with Carter. This time, Brown told Democratic Party insiders, he has decided to run, “I’m going to go,” he said. “I’ll start early, March or April. I’m not going to sit back and wait.”

His plan is to enter selected Democratic primaries, including some early contests in the East, to test Carter’s vulnerability. But Brown’s main concern is Ted Kennedy, who he fears could reap the benefit of Brown’s own early challenge to Carter. The worry is well founded. The latest Mervin Field poll shows that among California Democrats, 44% favor Kennedy as their party’s nominee. Carter trails badly with 22%; Brown comes in last with 21%.

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