John Tower was a young man of 35 when Texas first elected him to the Senate in a tumultuous race for Lyndon Johnson’s seat in 1961, a race in which division among state Democrats cost them the contest. This month, at 59, John Tower becomes a happy, prosperous private citizen, proud to be among Texas’ most prominent Republicans and riding high on President Reagan’s reelection. In all their attempts, the Democrats have never succeeded in turning him out of office. But now, he’s retiring from the Senate, to be replaced by Phil Gramm.
As the telephones in Tower’s offices were being unplugged, and as 23 years’ worth of paper work was being boxed, Tower was feeling pretty good about his retirement. “You won’t find any sadness in me,” he said, reflecting upon his final days as a legislator. During the last two weeks of the session, 34 senators entered their own Tower epitaphs into the Congressional Record.
Rumors abound in Washington as to what might be Tower’s next move; everybody knows that the SMU teaching position he says he’s looking forward to certainly won’t be enough for him. Tower was the second most senior Republican in the Senate, chairman of the mighty Senate Armed Services Committee, director of the Republican Policy Committee and Congress’ only enlisted Navy reservist. Although Tower hadn’t announced any corporate contract signings at this writing, it’s rumored that he refused Textron Inc.’s offer to run its Washington office.
Tower’s most likely re-emergence, many observers believe, may be as a Reagan Cabinet candidate, if and when a vacancy appears. Tower co-chaired the Reagan campaign in Texas, and the president was the first to know, outside Tower’s immediate family, that Tower wasn’t running for re-election.
Campaigning never came naturally to Tower. Despite his cadre of supporters within the Texas defense contract business, he was never as wildly popular with his constituents as, say, a Gary Hart or a Ted Kennedy. Tower’s detached, arrogant and fastidious manner offended some people. He’s no glad-hander, and his elegant little cigarette cases and shirts with detachable collars made him seem inaccessible to some. One former Tower staffer insists that he’s a shy man, more diffident than difficult. Struggling against the odds to win by a slim margin, as he did against Democrat Robert Krue-ger in 1978, rankled Tower. For that reason, and because he thinks that greater opportunities lie before him, Tower’s decision to leave the Senate-a place he was enjoying less and less-was considered by many to be brilliant, and perfect for him. “The Senate is more personality-oriented now, and John Tower’s a big believer in tradition and protocol,” says one staffer. “When he came, the Senate was like the House of Lords. Today’s Senate is too media-oriented for him.”
“Just say I’m embarking upon a second threshold,” says Tower.
But he also departs as a man still searching for the bigger picture. He once told a reporter that he felt like a “sacrificial goat for the Republican party” when he first arrived in Washington. He’s leaving the Senate now on his own strength, a “flamingo in the barnyard of the Senate,” as columnist George Will, a friend and former staffer, put it.