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Profile: James Cannon
James Cannon was a participant or observer in the following events:
Unaware that President Ford has already asked Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president (see August 16-17, 1974), the media continues to speculate on who Ford will choose for the position. Newsweek reports that George H.W. Bush “has slipped badly because of alleged irregularities in the financing of his 1970 Senate race.” White House sources tell the magazine, “there was potential embarrassment in reports that the Nixon White House had funneled about $100,000 from a secret fund known as the ‘Townhouse Operation’” into Bush’s losing Texas Senate campaign, which itself failed to report about $40,000 of the money. The news rocks Bush, who is waiting for Ford’s phone call while vacationing at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. (It is unclear who leaked the Bush information or why. Bush always believes it was Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird; future Ford biographer James Cannon is equally sure it was Ford’s senior aide Donald Rumsfeld, a dark horse candidate for the position.) The “Townhouse Operation” is an early Nixon administration campaign machination (see Early 1970). Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is investigating the fund; the nomination of Bush over Rockefeller would almost certainly lead Jaworski to discover that up to 18 other GOP Senate candidates received money from the same slush fund. Jaworski will manage to keep Bush’s name out of his final report, but even had Ford not already chosen Rockefeller as his vice president, the Watergate taint is lethal to Bush’s chance at the position. [Werth, 2006, pp. 114-116]
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]
Jimmy Carter celebrates his presidential victory. [Source: PBS]Gerald Ford loses the presidency to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, an obscure Georgia governor who contrasts himself to the Nixon and Ford administrations by promising “never to tell a lie to the American people.” The Republican Party’s widening rift between its moderate and conservative wings dooms Ford’s chances at being elected to the office he has held by appointment for over two years (see August 9, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 342] Ford’s de facto campaign chairman, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, contributes heavily to Ford’s loss. Unready for the stresses and demands of a presidential campaign, Cheney nevertheless wrested control from Ford’s ostensible chairman, Bo Calloway, and promptly alienated campaign workers and staffers. Press secretary Ron Nessen will later write, “Some reporters privately started calling him the Grand Teuton, a complex pun referring to his mountainous home state of Wyoming and the Germanic style of his predecessor in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman.” Cheney tried throughout the campaign to move Ford farther to the right than the president was willing to go; even with his attempts, Ford’s primary challenge from Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) did much to peel away the right-wing Republican base, while Cheney did little to reassure the liberal and moderate Republicans whom many feel are Ford’s natural base. Cheney succeeded in persuading Ford to adopt a convention platform much farther to the right than Ford, and his supporters, wanted; in particular, the Reaganesque “Morality in Foreign Policy Plank,” which stated, “we shall go forward as a united people to forge a lasting peace in the world based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God,” alienated many more secular Republicans, who were not comfortable with the aggressive Christianity and implied imperialism contained in the statement. (Ultimately, it took the intervention of James Baker, a veteran Republican “fixer” and close friend of the Bush family, to head off disaster at the nominating convention.) Ford aide James Cannon will say that Cheney “was in over his head.” Had Cheney’s former boss Donald Rumsfeld stayed as chief of staff instead of moving to the Pentagon (see November 4, 1975 and After), Cannon believes Ford would have won a second term. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 40]
Entity Tags: Ron Nessen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., James Cannon, James Baker, Bo Calloway, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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