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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neoconservatives

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Dick Cheney.Dick Cheney. [Source: Boston Globe]Dick Cheney, a long-term college student who avoided the Vietnam War by securing five student deferments [Washington Post, 1/17/2006] and now a Congressional aide, is hired by Donald Rumsfeld, who had been a congressman but resigned to run the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Cheney is a young staff assistant to Representative Bill Steiger (R-WI), who took Cheney under his wing and taught him what he knew of the ins and outs of Washington bureaucracy. There are two versions of how Cheney comes to Rumsfeld’s attention. Rumsfeld sends a letter to Steiger asking for advice on how to run the OEO. The official story has Cheney spying the letter and writing a ten-page policy memo on how to run a federal agency, a memo that so impresses Steiger that he recommends Cheney to Rumsfeld’s attention. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “A more plausible version has Steiger (who died in 1978) assigning Cheney the task of collecting information on the OEO for Rumsfeld.” Either way, Rumsfeld is so taken with the memo that he hires Cheney on the spot. Rumsfeld, who is also an assistant to President Nixon, takes Cheney with him to morning and afternoon meetings in the White House. Cheney later says these meetings taught him “what [a president] has to do in the course of a day.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 24-25]

Entity Tags: Jake Bernstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard M. Nixon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Economic Opportunity, Lou Dubose, Bill Steiger

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

Alexander Haig, President Nixon’s chief of staff, is briefly staying on at the White House to ease the transition into the new, hastily assembled Ford staff. Haig, knowing that President Ford will not consider retaining him in the position, believes that Donald Rumsfeld, the US ambassador to NATO, might be the person Ford needs to head his staff (see August 9, 1974). (Nixon held Rumsfeld in grudging admiration, referring to him as a “ruthless little b_stard,” but had sent him to Europe and NATO headquarters because he did not like Rumsfeld’s obvious ambition.) Although Ford is not sold on having a chief of staff at all, Haig believes Ford needs someone with Rumsfeld’s “strong personality and fine administrat[ive skills]” to help him establish himself. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom Ford is retaining, sees Rumsfeld as, in Kissinger’s words, an exemplar of a “special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly.” Ford has a good relationship with Rumsfeld, who in the 1960s led an insurgency among House Republicans to replace Minority Leader Charles Halleck with Ford. He views Rumsfeld as something of a maverick, and wants someone not beholden to the entrenched Nixon loyalists remaining in the White House as well as someone with a good relationship with Congressional Republicans. Rumsfeld fits the bill. Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot, will later write that Ford “had to provide sufficient change to make the transition from what many perceived to be an illegitimate White House and administration to a legitimate administration. It was a bit like climbing into an airplane, at 30,000 feet, going 500 miles an hour, and having to change part of the crew.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 60-61; Unger, 2007, pp. 49-52] (Rumsfeld will, in turn, ask his own former assistant, Dick Cheney, to once again join him as his assistant in the Ford White House—see 1969). Ford’s longtime aide and speech writer Robert Hartmann will be equally blunt in his own recollections: “The Nixon-to-Ford transition was superbly planned. It was not a failure. It just never happened.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 26]

Entity Tags: Robert Hartmann, Nixon administration, Henry A. Kissinger, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

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

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

Republican political adviser and corporate lobbyist Bryce Harlow recommends former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller over former ambassador and current Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush to serve as vice president (see August 20, 1974). Bush may be a better choice for party harmony, Harlow says, but that choice would be considered indecisive and overly partisan. On the other hand, Rockefeller, a liberal Republican, would be considered a “bold” choice and “would be hailed by the media normally most hostile to Republicans.” Rockefeller’s selection would also “encourage estranged groups to return to the Party and would signal that the new president will not be captive of any political faction.”
Watergate Allegations against Rockefeller - Rockefeller’s naming as vice president, strongly supported by President Ford, is briefly held up by unfounded allegations that Rockefeller hired thugs to disrupt the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and that the papers to prove the allegations were stolen from the offices of convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The charges are leveled by an elderly anti-Communist activist named Hamilton Long. The story leaks to the press, and Ford, taking no chances, orders the FBI to investigate Rockefeller, Bush, and senior staff aide Donald Rumsfeld for possible selection as the vice president. Long’s allegations prove baseless when Watergate investigators locate the safety deposit boxes in which Long says the documents are stored, and find the boxes empty.
Ford Offers VP - After learning that Rockefeller is free of any Watergate taint, Ford privately asks him to accept the vice presidency. Rockefeller will have strong influence on the Ford administration’s domestic and economic policies, Ford promises, and, additionally, Rockefeller will be Ford’s vice presidential choice in the 1976 presidential elections. The last obstacle is the press, which is all but convinced that the White House is involved in another Watergate cover-up, this time with Ford at the helm. A White House source tells reporters that the so-called “Rockefeller Papers” are nothing more than a hoax concocted by “right-wing extremists who decided it would be useful to blacken the name of Governor Rockefeller.” The explanations by press secretary Jerald terHorst, himself a former reporter, and terHorst’s acceptance of the blame for giving confusing and somewhat misleading information about the Rockefeller allegations, somewhat mollifies the press. White House counsel Robert Hartmann recalls the Long incident and its handling as an example of the inexperience of the Ford staff and of Ford himself. “[W]e were all babes in the White House,” he later writes. “We had done the right thing and truthfully told what we had done, but it was unfair to Rockefeller to give presidential credence to Long’s hearsay. And of course, the press castigated us for that the next day.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 93-105]

Entity Tags: Robert Hartmann, Nelson Rockefeller, Hamilton Long, Jerald terHorst, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bryce Harlow, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, Ford administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

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]

Entity Tags: Townhouse Operation, Nelson Rockefeller, Leon Jaworski, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush, Melvin Laird, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, James Cannon

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons, 'Townhouse Operation'

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.

Category Tags: Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

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

Category Tags: Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

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

Category Tags: Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

President Ford’s exiting chief of staff, Dick Cheney, takes most of his papers and documents with him instead of donating them to the Ford Library as most other White House officials do. Cheney has already made a reputation for himself as an unusually secretive bureaucrat. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

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