In 1968, Republican politician Charles Halleck of Indiana, who had battled New Deal liberalism since taking office in 1935 and had led the House GOP from 1959 to 1965, chose to retire. In his place, Earl Landgrebe (1916-1986), a state legislator and the head of Landgrebe Motor Transport, was elected to Congress. While Halleck was willing to compromise for Republican presidents and on foreign aid, Landgrebe was ultra-conservative and seldom budged for Nixon when he wanted to go left, including on the Family Assistance Plan, which would have provided guaranteed minimum income for working families. His MC-Index lifetime score stands at a whopping 99% and his DW-Nominate score stands as 0.793, only being outdone in his conservatism by that scale during his time in Congress by H.R. Gross of Iowa, John G. Schmitz of California, and Durward G. Hall of Missouri. Americans for Constitutional Action also found Landgrebe quite conservative, with him having a lifetime score of 95%. His record on civil rights was negative, with the only proposal he ever backed being the Nixon Administration’s Philadelphia Plan in 1969. The Equal Rights Amendment, strengthening the Civil Rights Act of 1964, funding the Civil Rights Commission, and strengthening the Jury Selection Act of 1968 all met with his disapproval. Landgrebe was also the only member of Congress to oppose a cancer research appropriations bill, citing cost as well as stating that curing cancer would only alter “which way you’re going to go” (Pearson). He also was, strangely enough, arrested in Moscow in 1972 during an official visit to the USSR for distributing Bibles. That year, he was one of only seven representatives to vote against the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty and this was consistent with his staunchly hawkish record on the Vietnam War, seeking an end with total victory for the United States. Landgrebe faced criticism for insufficiently supporting President Nixon and him being the only Indiana Republican representative to fail to join the Indiana Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Landgrebe had greater difficulty winning reelection than his predecessor given his unique brand of ultra-conservatism and in 1972 Indiana House Majority Leader Richard Boehning challenged him, albeit unsuccessfully, in the Republican primary. Landgrebe, however, was quick to embrace certain Nixon initiatives, including détente and his visit to China. Despite criticisms from other Republicans that he was insufficiently loyal to Nixon, Landgrebe would after Nixon’s reelection prove himself to be loyal like none other in the Republican Party.
On February 6th, 1974, he was one of only four Republican representatives to vote against an impeachment inquiry into President Nixon. This vote was not at the time a litmus test on whether impeachment was supported or opposed, but he refused to even consider moving forward. After the release of the Watergate tapes, Landgrebe refused to listen to them or read the transcripts and stated “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot” (Pearson). It turned out this was unnecessary given Nixon’s resignation, but such a refusal gained him his 15 minutes of fame in American political history.
On August 20th, Landgrebe was one of only three representatives to vote against approving the report recommending that Congress impeach President Nixon, the other two strangely enough were Democrats: Otto Passman of Louisiana and Sonny Montgomery of Mississippi. Both were staunch supporters of Nixon, with the former going as far as to state, “I contend that Richard M. Nixon is the greatest President this country ever had. Rather than take any chance of doing anything offensive to this great man, I decided to vote ‘no’”, while Landgrebe himself obstinately refused to agree with the report or to praise the Judiciary Committee for their work (Rosenbaum). It is hard to imagine in this day and age, or indeed any day and age, a politician from the opposing party of a president forced into resignation praising said president as the greatest.
In 1974, rather than being taken out and shot, he lost reelection along with four other Indiana Republicans, only receiving 39% of the vote against Purdue University history professor Floyd Fithian. By contrast, in 1972 Landgrebe had defeated him by over nine points. The last time a Democrat had won the district was in 1932. In one of his last votes, he voted against the confirmation of Nelson Rockefeller, a bête noire for conservative activists, as Gerald Ford’s vice president, citing his “extreme liberalism” (Journal and Courier).
In a 1979 interview, Landgrebe justified his position on Nixon, stating “he had not committed a treasonable offense” and stuck to this position for the remainder of his life (The Star Press). On February 13, 1980, he confronted strikers from the Machinists Union while making deliveries to the Union Rolls Corporation. While he succeeded in making deliveries twice, the third time his truck was surrounded, with strikers shouting obscenities and taunts, battering his truck, and breaking the side window, showering Landgrebe with broken glass. The incident was broken up a local sheriff. He died of a heart attack on July 1, 1986, aged 70. Former President Nixon, having appreciated his last-stand support, publicly praised him and sent a representative to his funeral. Landgrebe stands as one of the stranger figures in American political history, a man who succeeded a political leader to office and was not afraid to take lonely stances, only to lose the district for the GOP in six years based at least partly on his outspoken refusal to face facts.
Ex-Hoosier Congressman Dies. (1986, July 1). The Star Press.
Knebl, C. (1986, July 2). Nixon praises Landgrebe for ‘support and counsel’. Vidette-Messenger of Porter County.
Landgrebe Motor Transport, Inc., and Earl F. Landgrebe, plaintiffs-appellants, v. District 72, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, and Local 1227, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, defendants-appellees, 763 F. 2d 241 (7th Cir. 1985).
Landgrebe votes ‘no’ for Rocky. (1974, December 21). Journal and Courier.
Pearson, R. (1986, July 1). Obituaries. The Washington Post.
Rosenbaum, D.E. (1974, August 21). House Formally Concludes Inquiry Into Impeachment. The New York Times.
Schumpert, L. (1972, April 1). Why Won’t He Speak for Nixon? Journal and Courier, Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana.
To Agree to H. Res. 1333, Authorizing the Printing of the Report Recommending That The House Exercise Its Constitutional Power to Impeach Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States. Govtrack.
2 thoughts on “Earl Landgrebe: Nixon’s Last Republican Defender”
He was also one of only two members of Congress to support John Ashbrook for president. The other being John Schmitz.
Interesting detail, this makes Landgrebe’s stance on impeachment even more ironic than I thought.