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Context of 'November 4, 1975 and After: ’Halloween Massacre’ Places Rumsfeld, Cheney in Power'

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Nelson Rockefeller.Nelson Rockefeller. [Source: National Archives]The choice of a vice president for Gerald Ford quickly narrows to two: former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush. Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird believes Rockefeller is the only Republican who can deliver enough political punch to help Ford win the 1976 presidential election. Others tried to tout outgoing California governor Ronald Reagan as a viable vice presidential choice, but few of Ford’s staff and advisers believe that Reagan is a good choice for the slot. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) refuses consideration, saying that he is too old, but when asked who he would recommend, names Bush. Bush and his supporters mount a strong internal campaign for the job. One such supporter, Nebraska Republican operative Richard Herman, says that Bush’s best qualification is that he is “the only one with no opposition. He may not be the first choice in all cases, but he’s no lower than second with anyone.” Rockefeller is much more ambivalent about his possible selection; he has presidential ambitions of his own, but at age 66 knows that if he ever intends to run for the White House, his time is at hand. Spending four years as Ford’s vice president does not appeal to Rockefeller. And GOP conservatives, spearheaded by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) loathe and vilify Rockefeller at every opportunity. [Werth, 2006, pp. 61-63] However, Ford’s chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, is working behind the scenes to promote Rockefeller’s nomination over Bush’s with the RNC. Rumsfeld has no more use for Rockefeller than do the Helms supporters, but he feels he will have a better shot at the 1980 presidential nomination with Rockefeller as vice president than he will with Bush. [Unger, 2007, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: Richard Herman, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, Jesse Helms, George Herbert Walker Bush, Barry Goldwater, Melvin Laird, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Ford fires a number of Nixon holdovers and replaces them with “my guys… my own team,” both to show his independence and to prepare for a bruising 1976 primary battle with Ronald Reagan. The wholesale firings and reshufflings are dubbed the “Halloween Massacre.” Donald Rumsfeld becomes secretary of defense, replacing James Schlesinger (see November 4, 1975). George H. W. Bush replaces William Colby as director of the CIA. Henry Kissinger remains secretary of state, but his position as national security adviser is given to Brent Scowcroft. Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld’s deputy chief of staff, moves up to become the youngest chief of staff in White House history. Perhaps the most controversial decision is to replace Nelson Rockefeller as Ford’s vice-presidential candidate for the 1976 elections. Ford’s shake-up is widely viewed as his cave-in to Republican Party hardliners. He flounders in his defense of his new staffers: for example, when Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) asks him why he thinks Rumsfeld is qualified to run the Pentagon, Ford replies, “He was a pilot in the Korean War.” The ultimate winner in the shake-up is Rumsfeld, who instigated the moves from behind the scenes and gains the most from them. Rumsfeld quickly wins a reputation in Washington as a political opportunist, gunning for the vice presidency in 1976 and willing to do whatever is necessary to get it. Rockefeller tells Ford: “Rumsfeld wants to be president of the United States. He has given George Bush the deep six by putting him in the CIA, he has gotten me out.… He was third on your [vice-presidential] list (see August 16-17, 1974) and now he has gotten rid of two of us.… You are not going to be able to put him on the [ticket] because he is defense secretary, but he is not going to want anybody who can possibly be elected with you on that ticket.… I have to say I have a serious question about his loyalty to you.” Later, Ford will write of his sharp regret in pushing Rockefeller off the ticket: “I was angry at myself for showing cowardice in not saying to the ultraconservatives: It’s going to be Ford and Rockefeller, whatever the consequences.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 340-341] “It was the biggest political mistake of my life,” Ford later says. “And it was one of the few cowardly things I did in my life.” [US Senate, 7/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, William Colby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James R. Schlesinger, Barry Goldwater, Donald Rumsfeld, Brent Scowcroft, George Herbert Walker Bush, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry A. Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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