Kavanaugh Redux; Hot Tip Ignored; In the Line of Fire

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Good morning, it’s Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. Since our country’s founding, four American presidents have been assassinated. A fifth casualty, Robert F. Kennedy, was campaigning for president when he was killed. The death toll could have been much higher.

In 1835, Andrew Jackson was accosted outside the Capitol by a man with two pistols, both of which misfired. In 1909, a Texas Ranger disarmed an assailant hiding a few feet from William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Díaz. Argentine anarchists were thwarted in their attempt to blow up a train carrying President-elect Herbert Hoover in 1928 and Puerto Rican nationalists shot up Blair House in 1950 hoping to kill Harry Truman.

Various other plots were prevented against Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Even when the would-be killers were stopped, it doesn’t mean they did no damage. A policeman at Blair House gave his life protecting Truman. A deranged gunman who set out to assassinate Nixon ended up shooting, and grievously wounding, George Wallace. Ronald Reagan was seriously injured and his press secretary maimed for life in a 1981 pistol attack. In 1933, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was killed by a gunman aiming for President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.

FDR’s cousin Theodore, who had become president upon the assassination of William McKinley, was himself shot in the chest while attempting a comeback in 1912. He was saved because TR had his lengthy speech folded in his breast pocket. The old Rough Rider gave his speech anyway.

Forty-four years ago today, Gerald R. Ford survived an assassination attempt in Sacramento. Ford, too, then calmly went about his business, as we’ll see in a moment. But first, I’d direct you to  RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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On Sept. 5, 1975, President Ford’s official duties included giving a speech to the California Legislature. Fittingly, the subject Ford was to discuss with those lawmakers was how government could best combat violent crime. Jerry Brown, then serving his first eight-year stint as governor, had joined Ford at a Sacramento Chamber of Commerce breakfast that morning before heading to the state capitol.

As Ford walked across the capitol grounds, a diminutive woman in the crowd raised a .45-caliber pistol and aimed it at the 38th president of the United States. It was a quiet morning and some people in the crowd heart the click of the hammer dropping. So did the agents in Ford’s Secret Service detail, who pounced, wrestling the woman to the ground.

As officers pried the weapon from her hands, she shouted, “Don’t get excited! It didn’t go off!”

The would-be assassin turned out to be a follower of notorious mass murderer Charles Manson. Her name was Lynette Fromme, and the reason her gun didn’t discharge was that although she had four rounds in the pistol’s magazine, the chamber was empty.

“Squeaky” Fromme, as she was known, was imprisoned for 34 years and paroled in 2009, three years after Ford died at age 93. After the assassination attempt, the president held a brief session with the traveling members of the press, mainly for the purpose of thanking the Secret Service.

“Let me add, with great emphasis,” Ford said, doing his best Teddy Roosevelt imitation, “this incident under no circumstances will prevent me or preclude me from contacting the American people as I travel from one state to another and from one community to another.”

That resolve would be tested only 17 days later, when another woman with a gun stalked the president in San Francisco, this time getting a shot off before being subdued. Upon returning to the White House, Ford met with the media again, and uttered a rare sentiment for a president -- relief at the very sight of the press corps. The exchange began this way:

REPORTER: “Mr. Ford, could you speak to us for just a moment, please, and tell us how you feel?”

THE PRESIDENT: “Can I have just a minute to look at all of you?” 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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