Did Democrats Hire This Comedian to Prank Richard Nixon?

The career of Democratic Party operator Richard Gregory “Dick” Tuck (1924-2018) was defined by political pranks with a focus on tormenting Richard Nixon.

The two first crossed paths in 1950, when Tuck was a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in political science. Helen Gahagan Douglas was a Democrat challenging Nixon for the California senate seat, and Tuck was working part-time for her. Nixon, no stranger to dirty tricks (see Tricky Dick), intended to cast Douglas as a communist sympathizer.

His university unknowingly requested Tuck, the university’s worst possible choice, to arrange a campaigning visit for Nixon. Tuck set up a speech for the unsuspecting candidate in one of the biggest auditoriums. After a lengthy introduction, Tuck said Nixon would be talking about the International Monetary Fund and called the bewildered Nixon to the microphone in a nearly empty auditorium.

In another incident, Tuck had trash trucks that said “Dump Nixon” drive past the 1956 Republican convention, when Nixon was to be selected as Vice President Eisenhower’s nominee.

At Nixon’s public engagements, he would sometimes act as a fire marshal and provide reporters with inaccurate audience size estimates. Tuck never formally denied rumors that he had stepped into a conductor’s outfit, and, with Nixon still speaking from the rear of the train, he directed the train to pull away from his San Luis Obispo crowd.

Prominent politicians testified to his quick wit and talents as an innovator of election tricks. William F. Buckley, a conservative commentator, characterized Tuck’s antics as “glorious improvisations.”

Tuck was born in the Arizona mining town of Hayden in 1924. Ernest Hemingway and P.J. O’Rourke were among his acquaintances. Hunter S. Thompson was present at his wedding, and Robert F. Kennedy was a confidante.

Toward the end of his own life, Tuck appears to have been preoccupied with the hopeful possibilities of Robert Kennedy’s campaign and the pain of his death.