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Context of 'December 19, 1974 and After: Rockefeller Sworn in as Vice President; Influence Blocked by Rumsfeld, Right-Wingers'

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President Ford announces the selection of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, a moderately liberal Republican, as his vice president. Ford gives Richard Nixon a courtesy call to inform him of the selection before making the public announcement. Nixon seems “very pleased,” Ford will later write. “He said Nelson’s name and experience in foreign policy would help me internationally, and that he was fully qualified to be president should something happen to me. The extreme right wing, he continued, would be very upset, but I shouldn’t worry because I couldn’t please them anyway.” Ford then telephones George H.W. Bush, who is bitterly disappointed at being passed over. To make the public announcement, Ford enters the Oval Office with Rockefeller at his side. Ford characterizes the decision to select Rockefeller as “a tough call for a tough job.” Rockefeller must be confirmed by the Senate, but no one expects any difficulties on that score. Rockefeller does cause a stir by confirming that Ford has “every intention” of running for president in 1976, though Rockefeller will not confirm that he will also be on the ticket. Most Republicans outside of the hard-core right applaud Rockefeller’s selection. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ), a longtime Ford ally, chides the extremists: “I can’t believe conservative Republicans feel broadening the base of the party is a bad thing—unless they want to keep on losing and keep being a minority—and I just can’t subscribe to that way of thinking.” The mainstream media approves of Rockefeller as well, with CBS’s Eric Sevareid calling the new Ford-Rockefeller administration a triumph of “common sense.” He goes on to say the two are so popular that Democrats, “more deeply divided than the Republicans,” may find themselves in for a “long stretch in the political wilderness.… They thought they could run against Nixon for the next twenty [years]. But as things stand now they can’t run against Nixon even this year.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 138-143]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Eric Sevareid, George Herbert Walker Bush, John Rhodes, Nelson Rockefeller

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at a Los Angeles hotel, October 1974.Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at a Los Angeles hotel, October 1974. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Vanity Fair]The Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan, has until now been undecided whether to run for president in 1976 against Ford. But Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination as vice president (see August 20, 1974) galvanizes Reagan and his team. Conservative Republicans begin gathering under Reagan’s banner to oppose what they see as an unacceptably left-leaning 1976 ticket of Ford and Rockefeller. Reagan is not universally popular in the GOP: Richard Nixon thought him “strange” and not “pleasant to be around.” For his part, Reagan has until now staunchly supported Nixon throughout the Watergate debacle, but has begun exhorting young conservatives to forget Nixon and embrace conservative ideology. At a Maryland fund-raising party, Reagan tells the crowd that the Ford administration must reassert what he calls the “mandate of 1972,” when Nixon trounced Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the most lopsided victory in modern US history. By re-electing Nixon so overwhelmingly, Reagan says, “voters rejected an invitation to Utopia and reaffirmed the basic values from which our system was built. They voted for fiscal responsibility and individual determination of their own destinies.… They repudiated the idea that government should grow bigger and bigger, that we should embrace more costly programs to alleviate human misery—programs that somehow never succeed no matter how much money is spent on them. The mandate of 1972 was a matter of the people vs. big government. The people, I believe, have given the government a mandate which they expect to be enforced.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Ford administration, George S. McGovern, Nelson Rockefeller

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld speaking to reporters, 1975.Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld speaking to reporters, 1975. [Source: Gaylinkcontent (.com)]President Ford asks Donald Rumsfeld to replace the outgoing Alexander Haig at the White House (see September 16-Late September, 1974). Rumsfeld has long been Haig’s choice to replace him (see August 14, 1974). Ford does not want to give Rumsfeld the official title of “chief of staff,” and instead wants Rumsfeld as “staff coordinator.” The difference is academic. Ford wants the aggressive, bureaucratically savvy Rumsfeld to help him regain control over a White House that is, in the words of author Barry Werth, “riven with disunity, disorganization, and bad blood.” Rumsfeld agrees, and names former Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney as his deputy (who makes himself valuable by initially doing the lowest forms of bureaucratic scutwork). Rumsfeld and Cheney will eventually wield almost Nixonian power in Ford’s White House, successfully blocking the “in-house liberal,” Vice President Rockefeller, from exerting any real influence, and hobbling Henry Kissinger’s almost-limitless influence.
Blocking of Rockefeller and Kissinger for Ideological and Political Reasons - Rumsfeld begins his in-house assault in classic fashion: trying to cause tension between Kissinger and White House officials by snitching on Kissinger to any White House official who will listen. Kissinger eventually tells Ford: “Don’t listen to [Rumsfeld], Mr. President. He’s running for president in 1980.” Rumsfeld and Cheney do their best to open the White House to hardline defense hawks and the even more hardline neoconservatives led by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) and Jackson’s aide, Richard Perle. (Though Rumsfeld and Cheney are not considered neoconservatives in a strict sense, their aims are almost identical—see June 4-5, 1974). Kissinger’s efforts to win a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East are held in contempt by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the neoconservatives; using Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen as a conduit, Rumsfeld and Cheney leak information about the negotiations to the press, helping to cripple the entire peace process. Rumsfeld and Cheney have larger personal plans as well: they want to secure the White House for Rumsfeld, perhaps as early as 1976, but certainly by 1980. One of their methods of winning support is to undercut Kissinger as much as possible; they believe they can win support among the GOP’s right wing by thwarting Kissinger’s “realpolitik” foreign policy stratagems.
Rumsfeld as 'Wizard of Oz' - According to the chief of Ford’s Economic Policy Board, William Seidman, Rumsfeld’s bureaucratic machinations remind him of the Wizard of Oz: “He thought he was invisible behind the curtain as he worked the levers, but in reality everyone could see what he was doing.” Rumsfeld and Cheney will make their most open grasp for power in orchestrating the “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After). [Werth, 2006, pp. 336-337; Unger, 2007, pp. 49-52]

Entity Tags: William Seidman, Ron Nessen, Richard Perle, Barry Werth, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Henry A. Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Nelson Rockefeller is sworn in as vice president (see August 20, 1974). [Rockefeller Family Archives, 6/7/2007]
Bad Blood and Confirmation Difficulties - Rockefeller has trouble even before taking office. Branded as a liberal by many in the Republican Party, and winning as many enemies as friends with his outsized ego and gladhanding demeanor, Rockefeller garnered swift and obdurate resistance particularly from the right wing both outside the White House (see August 24, 1974) and in (see September 21, 1974 and After). During the Senate’s confirmation hearings, many Democrats and some Republicans relished forcing Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in the country, to open his finances to public scrutiny. Even President Ford privately expresses his astonishment. “Can you imagine?” he asked during the hearings. “Nelson lost $30 million in one year and it didn’t make any difference.” When it was revealed that Rockefeller had given huge personal contributions to lawmakers and government officials—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger—in the form of “loans” that never needed repaying, the Senate hearings became even more inquisitorial. The hearings dragged on for months until Ford personally intervened, telling House and Senate leaders that it was “in the national interest that you confirm Rockefeller, and I’m asking you to move as soon as possible.” [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Cheney Wanted Reagan - Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, far more conservative than either Ford or Rockefeller, opposes Rockefeller’s influence from the start, and works with his boss, Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, to minimize Rockefeller’s influence. In 1986, Cheney will say that Ford “should have thought of Ronald Reagan as vice president in the summer of 1974, if you are talking strictly in political terms.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 38]
Domestic Squabbles - Both Ford and Rockefeller want the new vice president to be what Ford calls “a full partner” in his administration, particularly on domestic issues. Ford appoints him to chair the Domestic Council, but behind the scenes, Rockefeller’s implacable enemy, Rumsfeld, who sees Rockefeller as a “New Deal” economic liberal, blocks his influence at every term, both from personal and ideological dislike and from a desire to keep power in the White House to himself and his small, close-knit aides. (Cheney, ever attentive to indirect manipulations, inflames Rumsfeld’s dislike of Rockefeller even further by suggesting to his nakedly ambitious boss that if Rockefeller was too successful in implementing domestic policy, he would be perceived as “the man responsible for drafting the agenda of 1976,” thus limiting Rumsfeld’s chances of being named vice president in Ford’s re-election campaign (see November 4, 1975 and After). When Rockefeller tries to implement Ford’s suggested policy that domestic policymakers report to Ford through Rockefeller, Rumsfeld interferes. When Rockefeller names one of his trusted assistants, James Cannon, to head the Domestic Council, Rumsfeld slashes the Council’s budget almost to zero. When Rockefeller proposes a $100 billion Energy Independence Authority, with the aim to reduce and perhaps even end the nation’s dependency on foreign energy sources, Rumsfeld joins Ford’s economic and environmental advisers to block its creation. When Rockefeller proposes an idea for the president to Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld hands it off to Cheney, who ensures that it dies a quiet, untraceable bureaucratic death.
Rockefeller Neutralized - Cheney later recalls that Rockefeller “came to a point where he was absolutely convinced that Don Rumsfeld and myself were out to scuttle whatever new initiatives he could come up with.” Rumsfeld and other Ford staffers ensure that Rockefeller is not involved in key policy meetings; when Ford proposes large cuts in federal taxes and spending, Rockefeller complains, “This is the most important move the president has made, and I wasn’t even consulted.” Asked what he is allowed to do as vice president, Rockefeller answers: “I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes.” He says, only half sardonically, that redesigning the vice-presidential seal is “the most important thing I’ve done.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 38-39; US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Following in Rockefeller's Footsteps - Ironically, when Cheney becomes vice president in 2001, he uses what Rockefeller intended to do as a model for his own, extremely powerful vice presidency. James Cannon, who came into the Ford administration with Rockefeller, will marvel in 2006, “Cheney is now doing what he and Rumsfeld blocked Rockefeller from doing—influencing policy.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 39-40]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ford administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry A. Kissinger, James Cannon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (see December 19, 1974 and After) is instrumental in keeping Senate Democrats from finding out too much about the intelligence community’s excesses. When the New York Times reveals the existence of a decades-old illegal domestic surveillance program run by the CIA (see December 21, 1974), President Ford heads off calls from Democrats to investigate the program by appointing the “Rockefeller Commission” to investigate in the Democrats’ stead. Senate Democrats, unimpressed with the idea, create the Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community (see April, 1976). Rockefeller is adept at keeping critical documents out of the hands of the Church Committee and the press. When Senator Frank Church asks for materials from the White House, he is told that the Rockefeller Commission has them; when he asks Rockefeller for the papers, he is told that he cannot have them because only the president can authorize access. One Church aide later calls Rockefeller “absolutely brilliant” in denying them access in a friendly manner. “He winked and smiled and said, ‘Gee, I want to help you but, of course I can’t—not until we’ve finished our work and the president approves it,’” the aide recalls. Senator John Tower (R-TX), the vice chairman of the committee, will later reflect, “We were very skillfully finessed.” But even Rockefeller, who has his own history of involvement with the CIA, is taken aback at the excesses of the CIA, particularly its history of assassinating foreign leaders. Rockefeller will eventually turn that information over to the Church Committee, giving that body some of the most explosive evidence as yet made public against the agency. [US Senate, 7/7/2007]

Entity Tags: John Tower, Church Committee, Nelson Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Church, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, ’Rockefeller Commission’

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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