Those who betray their benefactors are seldom highly regarded. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, traitors to benefactors and to the established authorities are consigned to the ninth circle of the Inferno, where their souls are suspended, like insects in amber, in the frozen River Cocytus. This is the Giudecca, where the three arch-traitors Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius are chewed for all eternity in the three mouths of Lucifer. The crimes of Nixon were monstrous, especially in Vietnam and in the India-Pakistan war, but in these Bush had been an enthusiastic participant. Now Bush’s dagger, among others, had now found its target; Nixon was gone. In the depths of his Inferno, Dante relates the story of Frate Alberigo to illustrate the belief that in cases of the most heinous treachery, the soul of the offender plunges at once into hell, leaving the body to live out its physical existence under the control of a demon. Perhaps the story of old Frate Alberigo will illuminate us as we follow the further career of George Bush.
As Nixon left the White House for his home in San Clemente, California, in the early afternoon of August 9, 1974, Chairman George was already plotting how to scale still further up the dizzy heights of state. Ford was now president, and the vice-presidency was vacant. According to the XXV Amendment, it was now up to Ford to designate a vice president who would then require a majority vote of both houses of Congress to be confirmed. Seeing a golden opportunity to seize an office that he had long regarded as the final stepping stone to his ultimate goal of the White House, Bush immediately mobilized his extensive Brown Brothers, Harriman/Skull and Bones network, including as many Zionist lobby auxiliaries as he could muster. George had learned in 1968 that an organized effort commensurate with his own boundless lust for power would be required to succeed. One of the first steps was to set up a boiler shop operation in a suite of rooms at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Washington. Here Richard L. Herman, the Nebraska GOP national committeeman and two assistants began churning out a cascade of calls to Republicans and others around the country, urging, threatening, cajoling, calling in chits, promising future favors if Chairman George were to become Vice President George. [fn 1] Since Bush controlled the RNC apparatus, this large machinery could also be thrown into the fray.
There were other, formidable candidates, but none was so aggressive as Chairman George. Nelson Rockefeller, who had resigned as Governor of New York some months before to devote more time to his own consuming ambition and to his Commission on Critical Choices, was in many ways the front runner. Nelson’s vast notoriety, his imposing cursus honorum, his own powerful Wall Street network, his financial and banking faction– all of these would count heavily in his favor. But Nelson, having been the incarnation of the Eastern Liberal Establishment internationalists against whom Goldwater had campaigned so hard in 1964, also had a very high negative. People hated Nelson. His support was considerable, but he had more active opposition than any other candidate. This meant that Ford had to hesitate in choosing Nelson because of what the blowback might mean for a probable Ford candidacy in 1976.
The conservative Republicans all regarded Goldwater as their sentimental favorite, but they also knew that Ford would be reluctant to select him because of a different set of implications for 1976. Beyond Rockefeller and Goldwater, each a leader of a wing of the party, the names multiplied: Senator Howard Baker, Elliot Richardson, Governor William Scranton, Melvin Laird, Senator Bill Brock, Governor Dan Evans, Donald Rumsfeld, and many others. Bush knew that if he could get Goldwater to show him some support, the Goldwater conservatives could be motivated to make their influence felt for Bush, and this might conceivably put him over the top, despite Rockefeller’s strength in the financial and intelligence communities. Part of the battle would be to convince Ford that Bush would be a bigger asset for 1976.
First Chairman George had to put on the mask of conciliation and moderation. As Nixon was preparing his departure speech, Bush lost no time in meeting with Ford, now less than 24 hours away from being sworn in as president. Bush told the press that Ford had “said he’d be pleased if I stayed on” at the RNC, but had to concede that Ford had given no indication as to his choice for the vice president. Bush’s network in the House of Representatives, maintained since his Rubbers days, was now fully mobilized, with “a showing of significant support in the House and among GOP officials” for Bush on the day before Nixon left town. Bush also put out a statement from the RNC saying, “The battle is over. Now is the time for kindess…Let us all try now to restore to our society a climate of civility.” But despite the hypocritical kinder and gentler rhetoric, Chairman George’s struggle for power was just beginning. [fn 2]
Melvin Laird soon came out for Rockefeller, and there were sentimental displays for Goldwater in many quarters. With Bush’s network in full career, he was beginning to attract favorable mention from the columnists. Evans and Novak on August 11 claimed that “as the new President was sworn in, Rockefeller had become a considerably less likely prospect than either Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee or George Bush, the gregarious patrician and transplanted Texan who heads the Republican National Committee.” Columns like this one went on at length about the many disadvantages of choosing Rockefeller, not the least of which was that he would eclipse Ford.
On August 10, Ford announced that he would poll Republicans at all levels across the country. Some expressed their preferences directly to the White House, but the Republican National Committee members had to report their choices through Chairman George. Many of them, fearing the price they might have to pay for lese majeste, indicated Bush as their first choice. This matter was the subject of a complaint by Tom Evans of the RNC, who talked to the press and also wrote letters to the Ford White House, as we will see.
By August 14, the Washington Post was reporting a “full scale campaign” on behalf of Bush, with an “impressive array of support” against Rockefeller. Bush’s campaign manager and chief boiler room operator Richard L. Herman of Nebraska summed up his talking points: Bush, said Herman, “is the only one in the race with no opposition. He may not be the first choice in all cases, but he’s not lower than second with anyone.” Herman said he was “assisting” a broader organization on the Hill and of course at the RNC itself that was mobilized for Bush. Bush “can do more to help the Republican Party than anyone else and is totally acceptable throughout the country,” blathered Herman. Bush was “obviously aware of what we’re doing,” said Herman. The old Prescott Bush networks were still a big plus, he stressed. A group of House conservatives came out for Goldwater, with Bush in second place.
Support for Goldwater was apt to turn into support for Bush at any time, so Bush was gaining mightily, running second to Rocky alone. Taking note of the situation, even Bush’s old allies at the Washington Post had to register some qualms. In an editorial published on August 15, 1974 on the subject of “The Vice Presidency,” Post commentators quoted the ubiquitous Richard Herman on Bush’s qualifications. The Post found that Bush’s “background and abilities would appear to qualify him for the vice presidency in just about all respects, except for the one that seems to us to really matter: What is conspicuously lacking is any compelling or demonstrable evidence that he is qualified to be President.” Nelson might be better, suggested the Post. In any case, “we have the recent example of Mr. Agnew to remind us of the pitfalls in the choice of Vice Presidents by the application of irrelevant criteria.”
But despite these darts, Chairman George continued to surge ahead. The big break came when Barry Goldwater, speaking in Columbia, South Carolina, told a Republican fund-raiser that he had a “gut feeling” that Ford was going to select Bush for the vice presidency. Barry, we recall, had been very cozy with father Prescott in the old days. Goldwater portrayed Bush and Rockefeller as the two competing front-runners. This was precisely where Bush wanted to position himself so that he could benefit from the widespread and vocal opposition to Rockefeller. On August 15, a source close to Ford told David Broder and Lou Cannon that Bush now had the “inside track” for the vice presidency. Rockefeller’s spokesman Hugh Morrow retorted that “we’re not running a boiler shop or calling anyone or doing anything,” unlike the strong-arm Bush team. [fn 3]
Inside the Ford White House, responses to Ford’s sollicitaton were coming in. Among the top White House councillors, Bush got the support of Kenneth Rush, who had almost become Nixon’s Secretary of State and who asserted that Bush “would have a broader appeal to all segments of the political spectrum than any other qualified choice. His relative youth, Texas residence with a New England background, wide popularity in business and political circles, and unqualified integrity and ability, combined with his personal qualities of charm and tact, would make him a natural for the new Presidential/Vice Presidential team.” This encomium is quoted at length because it seems to be a form letter or printout that was distributed by the Bush operation as talking points for Bush supporters. [fn 4] Dean Burch wrote a memo to Ford pointing out that among the prominent candidates, “only a few have a post-1980 political future.” “My own choice,” Burch told Ford, “would be a Vice President with a long term political future.–a potential candidate, at least, for the Presidency in his own right.” In Burch’s conclusion, “Still operating on this assumption, my personal choice is George Bush.” [fn 4] .
The cabinet showed more sentiment for Rockefeller. Rogers Morton of the Interior, Weinberger of HEW, James Lynn of HUD, Frederick Dent of Commerce, and Attorney General Saxbe were all for Rocky. Earl Butz of Agriculture was for Goldwater, and James R. Schlesinger of Defense was for Eliott Richardson. No written opinion by Henry Kissinger appears extant at the Ford Library. Among the cabinet and the senior White House counselors, therefore, Rocky had bested Bush 7 to 3, with Burch and Rush providing Chairman George’s most convinced support.
Then the White House staff was polled. Pat Buchanan advised Ford to avoid all the younger men, including Bush, and told the president that Rockefeller would “regrettably” have to be his choice. John McLaughlin also told Ford to go for Rocky, although he mentioned that Bush “would also be a fine vice president.” [fn 5] Richard A. Moore was for Bush based on his economic credentials, asserting that Bush’s “father and gradfather were both highly respected investment bankers in New York.” In the White House staff, Bush won out over Rockefeller and Scranton. Among personal friends of Ford, Bush won out over Rocky by a 4 to 3 margin.
Among Republican governors, there was significant resistance to Bush. Former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, who had been considered of presidential caliber, wrote to Ford aide Phillip Buchen of Bush: “Quite frankly, in my experience with him his one drawback is a limitation of his administrative ability.” [fn 6] Among serving governors, only Thomas J. Meskill of Connecticut, and Otis R. Bowen of Indiana put Bush in first place. When all the governors’ preferences were tabulated, Bush came in third, trailing Rockefeller and Governor Daniel J. Evans of Washington.
Among the Republican Senators, Bush had intense competition, but the Prescott Bush network proved it could hold its own. Howard Baker put Bush second, while Henry Bellmon and Dewey Bartlett sent in a joint letter in support of Bush. Bob Dole but Chairman George last among his list of preferences, commenting that the choice of Bush would be widely regarded as “totally partisan.” Pete Dominici put Bush as his first choice, but also conceded that he would be seen as a partisan pick. Roth of Delaware had Bush in third place after John J. Williams and Rocky. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania wanted Rocky or Goldwater, but put Bush in third place. James Pearson of Kansas had Bush as first choice. Jesse Helms mentioned Bush, but in fifth place after Goldwater, Harry Byrd, Reagan, and James Buckley. [fn 7] In the final tally of Senate picks, Rocky edged out Bush with 14 choices to Bush’s 12, followed by Goldwater with 11.
Bush was stronger in the House, where many members had served side by side with their old friend Rubbers. Bush was the first choice of Bill Archer of Texas (who had inherited Bush’s old district, and who praised Bush for having “led the fight in Congress for disclosure and reform”), Skip Bafalis of Florida, William G. Bray of Indiana, Dan Brotzman of Colorado, Joe Broyhill of Virginia, John Buchana of Alabama, Charles Chamberlain of Michigan, Donald Clancy of Ohio, Del Dawson of California, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. William Armstrong of Colorado struck a discordant note by urging Ford to pick “a person who has extensive experience in ELECTED public office.” William S. Cohen of Maine found that Bush did “not have quite the range of experience of Richardson or Rockefeller. James Collins favored Bush “as a Texan.” Glenn Davis of Wisconsin, Derwinksi of Illinois (a long-term ally who eventually rose to the Bush cabinet after having served with Bush at the UN mission in New York), Sam Devine of Ohio, and Pierre S. Du Pont IV of Delaware -all for Bush. William Dickinson of Alabama found Bush “physically attractive” with “no political scars I am aware of” and “personally very popular.” But then came John J. Duncan of Tennessee, who told Ford that he could not “support any of the fifteen or so mentioned in the news media.”
Marvin Esch of Michigan was for Bush, as was Peter Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Edwin D. Eshelman told Ford to go for Bush “if you want a moderate.” The Bush brigade went on with Charles Gubser of California, and Hammerschmidt of Arkansas, still very close to Bush today. John Heinz of Pennsylvania was having none of Bush, but urged Ford to take Rockefeller, Scranton, or Richardson, in that order. John Erlenborn of Illinois was more than captivated by Bush, writing Ford that Bush “is attractive personally–people tend to like him on sight.” Why, “he has almost no political enemies” that Erlenborn knew of. Bud Hillis of Indiana, Andrew Hinshar of California, Marjorie Holt- for Bush. Lawrence Hogan of Maryland was so “disturbed” about the prospect of Rockefeller that he was for Bush too. Hudnut of Indiana put Bush as his second choice after favorite son Gov. Otis Bowen because Bush was “fine, clean.”
Jack Kemp of New York, now in the Bush cabinet, was for Bush way back then, interestingly enough. Lagomarsino of California put Bush third, Latta of Ohio put him second only to Rocky. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who has since moved up to the Senate, told Ford that he needed somebody “young and clean” and that “perhaps George Bush fits that position.” Manuel Lujan of New Mexico, who also made the Bush cabinet, was a solid Bush rooter, as was Wiley Mayne of Iowa. Pete McCloskey put Bush second to Richardson, but ahead of Rocky. John McCollister of Nebraska deluded himself that Bush could be confirmed without too much trouble: McCollister was for Bush because “I believe he could pass the Judiciary Committee’s stern test” because “he had no policy making role in the sad days now ended,” but perhaps Ford knew better on that one.
Clarence Miller of Ohio was for Bush. Congressman Bob Michel, ever climbing in the House GOP hierarchy, had long-winded arguments for Bush. Rocky, he thought, could “help most” over the remainder of Ford’s term, but Bush would be a trump card for 1976. “George Bush would not command all the immediate adulation simply because he hasn’t had as long a proven track record in the business and industrial community, but his credentials are good,” wrote Michel. “He is young and he would work day and night and he would never attempt to ‘upstage the boss.’ Aside from projecting a ‘straight arrow image,’ he would be acceptable to the more conservative element in the party that would be offended by the appointment of Rockefeller.” In addition, assured Michel, Bush enjoyed support among Democrats “from quarters I would not have believed possible,” “and they are indeed influential Democrats.” “Over and above this, we may be giving one of our own a good opportunity to follow on after a six-year Ford administration,” Michel concluded.
Donal Mitchell of New York was for Bush because of his “rich background,” which presumably meant money. Ancher Nelson thought Bush had “charisma,” and he was for him. But George O’Brien of Illinois was also there with that bothersome request for “someone who was elected and was serving in a federal position.” Stan Parris of Alexandria, Virginia, a faithful yes-man for Bush until his defeat in 1990, was for Bush- of course. Jerry Pettis of California for Bush. Bob Price of Texas urged Ford to tap Bush, in part because of his “excellent” ties to the Senate, which were “due to his own efforts and the friendships of his father.” Albert Quie of Minnesota had some support of his own for the nod, but he talked favorably about Bush, whom he also found “handsome.” “He has only one handicap,” thought Quie, “and that is, he lost an election for the Senate.” Make that two handicaps. Score J. Kenneth Robinson of Virginia for Bush, along with Philip Ruppe of Michigan, who lauded Bush’s “human warmth.” Earl Ruth of northern California and William Steigler of Wisconsin for Bush. Steve Symms of Idaho, later a senator, wanted “a Goldwater man” like Reagan, or Williams of Delaware. But, Symms added, “I would accept our National Chairman Bush.” Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan confided to his former colleague Ford that “my personal recommendation is George Bush.” John H. Ware broke a lance for Chairman George, and then came the endorsement of G. William Whitehurst of Virginia, an endorsement that stood out for its freemasonic overtones in a field where freemasonic modulations were rife. According to Whitehurst, who has a parkway with his name on it in the capital, Bush demonstrates “those special characteristics that qualify a man for the highest office if fate so designates.” This is one Ford would have had no trouble understanding. Bob Wilson of California was for Bush, also considering the long term perspectives; he liked Bush’s youthful enthusiasm and saw him as “a real leader for moderation” Larr Winnof Kansas, Wendell Wyatt of Oregon, Bill Young of Florida, Don Young of Alaska, Roger Zion of Indiana– all listed Bush as their prime choice. The Republican House Steering Committee went for Bush because of his “general acceptance.” [fn 8]
When Ford’s staff tabulated the House results, Bush’s combined total of 101 first, second and third choice mentions put him in the lead, over Rocky at 68 and Reagan at 23. Among all the Republican elected and appointed offocials who had expressed an opinion, Bush took first place with 255 points, with Rockefeller second with 181, Goldwater third wiith 83, Reagan with 52, followed by Richardson, Melvin Laird, and the rest. It was a surprise to no one that Bush was the clear winner among the Republican National Committee respondents, which he had personally solicited and screened, and even Ford’s people do not seem to have been overly impressed by this part of the result. But all in all it was truly a monument to the Bush network, achieved for a candidate with no qualifications who had very much participated in the sleaze of the Nixon era.
The vox populi saw things slightly differently. In the number of telegrams received by the White House, Goldwater was way ahead with 2280 in his favor, and only 102 against. Bush had 887 for him and 92 against. Rocky had 544 in favor, and a whopping 3202 against. [fn 9]
But even here, the Bush network had been totally mobilized, with a very large effort in the Dallas business community, among black Republicans, and by law firms with links to the Zionist lobby. Ward Lay of Frito-Lay joined with Herman W. Lay to support Bush. The law firm of McKenzie and Baer of Dallas assured Ford that Bush was “Mr. Clean.” There was a telegram from Charles Pistor of the Republic National Bank of Dallas, and many others.
The all court press applied by the Bush machine also generated bad blood. Rockefeller supporter Tom Evans, a former RNC co-chair, wrote to Ford with the observation that “no one should campaign for the position and I offer these thoughts only because of an active campaign that is being conducted on George Bush’s behalf which I do not believe properly reflects Republican opinion.” Evans was more substantive than most recommendations: “Certainly one of the major issues confronting our country at this time is the economy and the related problems of inflation, unemployment, and high interest rates. I respectfully suggest that you need someonme who can help substantively in these areas. George is great at PR but he is not as good in substantive matters. This opinion can be confirmed by individuals who held key positions at the National Committee.” Evans also argued that Bush should have put greater distance between the GOP and Nixon sooner than he did. [fn 10]
So Nelson’s networks were not going to take the Bush strong-arm approach lying down. Bush’s most obvious vulnerability was his close relationship to Nixon, plus the fact that he had been up to his neck in Watergate. It was lawful that Bush’s ties to one of Nixon’s slush funds came back to haunt him. This was the “Townhouse” fund again, the one managed by Jack A. Gleason and California attorney Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon’s personal lawyer, who had gained quite some personal notoriety during the Watergate years. These two had both pleaded guilty earlier in 1974 to running an illegal campaign fun-raising operation, with none of the required reports ever filed.
By August 19, the even of Ford’s expected announcement, the Washington Post reported that unnamed White House sources were telling Newsweek magazine that Bush’s vice presidential bid “had slipped badly because of alleged irregularities in the financing of his 1970 Senate race in Texas.” Newsweek quoted White House sources that “there was potential embarrassment in reports that the Nixon White House had funneled about $100,000 from a secret fund called the ‘Townhouse Operation’ into Bush’s losing Senate campaign against Democrat Lloyd Bentsen four years ago.” Newsweek also added that $40,000 of this money may not have been properly reported under the election laws. Bush was unavailable for comment that day, and retainers James Bayless and C. Fred Chambers scrambled to deliver plausible denials, but the issue would not go away.
Bush’s special treatment during the 1970 campaign was a subject of acute resentment, especially among senate Republicans Ford needed to keep on board. Back in 1970, Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon had demanded to know why John Tower had given Bush nearly twice as much money as any other Senate Republican. Senator Tower had tried to deny favoritism, but Hatfield and Edward Brooke of Massachusetts had not been placated. Now there was the threat that if Bush had to go through lengthy confirmation hearings in the Congress, the entire Townhouse affair might be dredged up once again. According to some accounts, there were as many as 18 Republican senators who had gotten money from Townhouse, but whose names had not been divulged. [fn 11] Any attempt to force Bush through as vice president might lead to the fingering of these senators, and perhaps others, mightily antagonizing those who had figured they were getting off with a whole coat. Ripping off the scabs of Watergate wounds in this way conflicted withe Ford’s “healing time” strategy, which was designed to put an hermetic lid on the festering mass of Watergate. Bush was too dangerous to Ford. Bush could not be chosen. .
Because he was so redolent of Nixonian sleaze, Bush’s maximum exertions for the vice presidency were a failure. Ford announced his choice of Nelson Rockefeller on August 20, 1974. It was nevertheless astounding that Bush had come so close. He was defeated for the moment, but he had established a claim on the office of the vice presidency that he would not relinquish. Despite his hollow, arrogant ambition and total incompetence for the office, he would automnatically be considered for the vice presidency in 1976 and then again in 1980. For George Bush was an aristocrat of senatorial rank, although denied the senate, and his conduct betrayed the conviction that he was owed not just a place at the public trough, but the accolade of national political office.
Return to the Table of Contents
1. Washington Post, August 16, 1974.
2. Washington Post, August 9, 1974.
3. Washington Post, August 16, 1974.
4. Gerald R. Ford Library, Robert T. Hartman Files, Box 21.
5. Gerald R. Ford Library, Robert T. Hartmann Files, Box 19.
6. Philip Buchen Files, Box 63.
7. Robert T. Hartman Files, Box 21.
8. Robert T. Hartmann Files, Boxes 19 and 20.
9. Robert T. Hartmann Files, Box 21.
10. Robert T. Hartmann Files, Box 20.
11. Walter Pincus and Bob Woodward, “Presidential Posts and Dashed Hopes,” Washington Post, August 9, 1988.