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Profile: Ron Nessen

Ron Nessen was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Jimmy Carter celebrates his presidential victory.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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