One of the worst times of my life occurred during Chairmanship of the 1980 GOP convention in Kansas City. It was hotly contested, and keeping reasonable order on the convention floor would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. The fact that the Reagan people distributed artificial noisemakers to their delegates, alternates, and adherents made it almost impossible. The human voice wears out eventually, but the noisemaker never does.
So, when I was asked by RNC Chairman, Bill Brock, to be the permanent Chairman of the Detroit Convention, I accepted with the proviso that artificial noisemakers be barred from the hall.
It appeared the Detroit Convention would be a cakewalk, and that Reagan had the nomination sewed up. His people mainly controlled the platform deliberations and kept most intemperate provisions out. It looked like smooth sailing.
Neither my assistants nor I got a glimpse of the convention's program until the day before the convention got underway. It turned out to be a masterpiece of diplomacy and a parliamentary nightmare.
One of the things those of us who run Conventions strive for is to use prime time TV to its best advantage. You want to get the keynote and acceptance speeches in prime time in order to reach the maximum number of viewers. Yet, there are other speeches to be scheduled and egos to be served.
There must have been many prospective speakers to consider, because the method adopted was to give lesser lights some exposure by having them introduce more prominent persons. I protested. I said that the introducers would never hold to their allotted seven minutes, making it impossible to stay on schedule. I was informed (1) it wouldn’t happen that way, and (2) the schedule was “in concrete.”
My good friend and colleague, Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, was the keynote speaker. He had few equals and certainly no superiors as a speaker. Yet, before Guy’s speech, the schedule called for speeches by such prominent persons as Senator Howard Baker, Congressman Jack Kemp, and Senator Hugh Scott, each to be introduced by a prominent Republican state legislator or officeholder.
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So, as the introducers droned on and on, it got later and later. About 11:00 P.M., a person who shall remain nameless rushed to the podium and told me I was to delete the balance of the program and go to the introduction of Guy Vander Jagt.
At that time, neither Senator Baker nor Congressman Kemp had spoken. I told the messenger that we had already lost prime time and to reschedule Vander Jagt for the next evening. He told me in no uncertain terms to obey the orders he had given me.
“It would be an insult to put Guy on this late," I said. "It would be an even worse insult to delete from the program such outstanding Republicans as Scott, Baker and Kemp.”
But the messenger wouldn’t give up until I said “Do you see this gavel? Do you also see the hand that holds it? Now, you go back and tell our mutual friends that Baker and Kemp will speak tonight, and they had better reschedule Vander Jagt for tomorrow night.”
They did it.
From the day we arrived in Detroit, there was much discussion of the identity of the Vice-Presidential candidate. The search was for an individual who could help unify the party and also could attract votes from persons who might not support Reagan. I soon became aware of the existence of a movement to draft Gerald Ford to run for Vice President. In my mind, I dismissed this because (1) I felt Ford would never do it, (2) Reagan would never accept it, and (3) it was a bad idea which could only result in disharmony, acrimony, and paralysis.
The night before the nomination for Vice President was to occur, I was invited to an 8 o'clock meeting the next morning in the suite of Bill Brock, the Republican National Committe Chairman. I assumed the meeting would concern the mechanics of the Convention, so I was naturally surprised when I joined at least 30 of the most prominent Republicans I knew. Among others was Howard Baker, Bob Michel, Alan Greenspan, Henry Kissinger, John Tower, and Bryce Harlow, along with various Governors, Members of Congress and party luminaries.
The meeting, I soon learned, had been called as a prelude to drafting Gerald Ford to run for vice president. We received an outline of a proposed restructuring of the presidency to give the vice presidency absolute control of certain functions — an autonomy of operation no vice president had ever had.
I was aghast. It seemed to me that this plan could not work. First, it would bifurcate the presidency in an unacceptable and probably unconstitutional way. Second, no president, and certainly no president’s staff, would put up with such an arrangement for longer than six weeks. Third, asking Gerald Ford to enter into such a cockamamie arrangement would be an insult to him, and a denigration of his many years of loyal service to his country. Fourth, I was convinced that Reagan would win anyway and should pick a veep congenial to him.
I said all of these things, leaving much of my popularity behind me, and walked out. Howard Baker and I had an appointment with Ronald Reagan at 9:00 AM and we naturally kept it. Governor Reagan asked us our choices for veep. I told him I knew of the movement for drafting Ford and suggested he not agree to it. When asked whom I would recommend, I said, “Assuming Howard Baker is not available, I heartily recommend George Bush.”
I have no recollection of what Howard Baker said, and I have no way of knowing whether my recommendation to Ronald Reagan was effective. But the result was to my liking.
Later in the day, some of the media gurus began talking about this “deal.” I am told that Reagan first heard of the divisions of power contemplated between the President and Vice President by listening to one of them. I am also told that Reagan hit the roof, and ordered that any such negotiations be stopped immediately. It was shortly thereafter that he announced that George Bush was his choice for Vice President.