In 1980, on this day a joint edition of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reversed the previous days report that "Ronald Reagan is being pushed by moderates and other Republicans interested in mending the party's left and right factions to select Bush [for Vice President]" now reporting that Reagan had already negotiated a power-sharing deal under which Gerald Ford would be his co-President.
Co-Presidency Part 2: Precedent for a Dream TicketThe problem with a Reagan-Bush ticket was that a rift had developed between the two during the "long and bitter" campaign for the Republican nomination. "Reagan, the lowly Dixon, Illinois kid whose determination brought him success, seems to have a visceral distaste for Bush, the Eastern Establishment blueblood of a different ilk," reported the Detroit News. A moderate candidate was required by Reagan, with the Detroit News reporting that "What support Reagan lacks among affluent, college-educated and union voters, Bush would clearly make up".
Reagan thought that Ford would be more effective vote-winner in this electoral space, and yet there was also a rift there too. Journalist Thomas DeFrank states that Ford "neither liked nor respected" Ronald Reagan. Reagan had challenged Ford, a then-incumbent President, in the 1976 Republican primaries. According to DeFrank, Ford believed that Reagan hurt him further that year by failing to campaign more heavily for him in the fall. DeFrank notes that Ford, a loyal party man, felt that Reagan had done a disservice to a fellow Republican and never really forgave him for it.
Both men negotiated arrangements that might lure a former commander in chief into a secondary position. Contemporary accounts said Ford was represented by former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and others. But at a 2000 conference of former White House chiefs of staff, Dick Cheney disclosed that he had been deeply involved. He recalled an intense debate about how to shape expanded lines of authority in a job often ridiculed as largely ceremonial. Ford "made a number of requests in terms of his influence over the budget, personnel, foreign policy, et cetera," Cheney said. "I can remember sitting in a session with Bill Casey, who later became CIA director. Bill had a list of items that in fact the Reagan people were prepared to discuss. They went a long way to accommodate President Ford". 1
Bill Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, explained Ford's terms to a Detroit News reporter. Brock said that Ford was interested in the vice-presidency if Ford "took on more of a policy-making function". Ford2 would "have to have the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget under his control and be the White House chief of staff as well," Brock told the reporter. "It would be a co-presidency. A dream ticket," declared the Detroit News/Free Press.
Reagan, Ford, Bush and Milliken attended a press conference at Grand Rapids in a show of unity to announce the Reagan-Ford ticket (Bush was offered Secretary of State as a sweetener). Reagan praised Ford as a man who "healed America because he so thoroughly understood America". Michigan Governor Milliken stated that Ford "restored honesty to the highest office in our land by his very presence".3
The negotiations were a dead letter, quite literally. On March 30th, 1981 Reagan was assassinated by John Hinckley, Jr and Ford became an unelected President for the second time. This tragic event had been strangely foreshadowed in Ford's defeat in 1976. "Damn it, we shoulda won. We shoulda won". said Joe Garagiola, sobbing. Ford comforted him "Hey, there are more importantant things to worry about than what's going to happen to Jerry Ford"..
And the negotiations themselves were not without future consequences. In 1980, as Ford was being wooed to run for vice president, Dick Cheney played a key role in re-imagining the job. "If there is precedent for Cheney's role [as Vice President in 2001-2009]," according to Dan Quayle, "it is the short-lived second vice presidency of Gerald R. Ford".