Wednesday, December 27, 2006

SQUEAKY FROMME'S DREAM COMES TRUE

This morning brought us sunny skies, low humidity and the news of the passing of President Gerald R. Ford.
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Billy Clyde ain't gonna write an obit. There are professional writers for that stuff. But I figured I'd share with you some Texas perspective on the man who gave us the WIN (Whip Inflation Now!) pins, a pop culture phenomenon unparalleled except for maybe disco.
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(Yet another Texas angle: President Nixons' first choice to replace Spiro Agnew as veep was Big John Connally. I heard the tape myself at the Nixon Presidential Birthplace, Library and Gift Shop in lovely Yorba Linda, CA. For some reason (milk scandal?) Congressional Democrats made it known they would not support the former Texas Governor to be the man one heartbeat (or resignation) away from the presidency. If those Congresspeople hadn't been so damn obstinate, we would today be mourning the loss of a former House minority leader.)
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When you think about the 1980 Republican National Convention, inevitably the term "Dream Ticket" pops into your head. The brightly attired middle-aged insurance salespersons gathered on the convention floor had visions of an Inauguration dancing in their heads once word spread that former California Governor Ronald Reagan would be running for president with former President Jerry Ford as his running mate. Don't get much better than that.
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What many folks don't know is that a handful of Texas heavy hitters scuttled the Dream Ticket and, in the process, reshaped history for all mankind. Let's review.
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Michael Deaver and Lynn Nofziger came up with the idea of picking Ford for veep. They tasked James Addison Baker III with delivering the offer to the man who actually believed (1) that a lone gunman killed President Kennedy (see Warren Commission Report) and; (2) that Poland was not under Communist Russian hegemony (see presidential debate, 1976).
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Well, turns out Mike and Lynn picked the wrong guy for the job. See, Baker had been campaign chairman for George Herbert Walker Bush, his former doubles partner when the duo won the Houston Tennis Association championship in the mid-1960s. Instead of going to Ford's hotel room and serving up the deal, Baker instead went to Ambassador Bush's room and ratted out the Reagan groupies.
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Bush, now commonly referred to as "41," was none too pleased. See, HE wanted to be picked to be Vice Prez and this Dream Ticket stuff was muddying the waters. So Baker and Bush went to work, using the press and the assembled delegates to pooh-pooh talk of a Ford resurrection. Believe it or not, it worked.
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Deaver and Nofziger were so pissed they couldn't stand it. THEY were the guys who were lionized as the best spinners since, uh, The Spinners. No way were they gonna let these Texas yahoos beat them at their own game.
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Then in stepped another Texan.
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Governor Bill Clements had a foot in all three camps -- Reagan's, Ford's and Bush's. He had served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration, was close to the Bush clan, and was the newly minted Texas co-chairman of the Reagan campaign. Clements figured out what was going on and become the honest broker in the deal.
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Here's what happened (hold on to your hat!): Clements went to the Reagan dudes and offered his services. He would make the offer to Ford. But if Ford declined, he wanted to then make the offer to Bush. Put simply, either way William C. Clements was gonna be The Man.
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The Reaganites weren't thrilled with the notion. Bush had continued to campaign in the primaries after he was mathematically out of the race and was perhaps the last living, breathing Republican in America to endorse Reagan. But Ronnie himself bought into the Grand Clements Compromise and ordered the irritable Texas drilling contractor to make the deal.
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By this time, Ford had already pretty much talked himself out of accepting the vice presidency. He reportedly garnered the highest speaking fees in the world at that time, and his handicap was approaching single digits. He was also technically registered to vote in California, thereby creating a Constitutional conundrum if a potential Reagan-Ford ticket gave a wit about the Golden State's electoral votes. (Little known true fact: Jimmy Carter was ahead in most polls going into the final weekend. His goofy comments about his daughter Amy reminded the American public that Stagflation Boy was a flaming Georgia goober.)
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Clements, of course, knew all this. He made the formal offer to Ford, who declined. He then went to Bush and made yet another formal offer. People in the room swear that Bush jumped up and down with joy and said he would call Reagan personally to accept. Clements reminded Bush that Reagan didn't return Bush's phone calls -- never had and never would -- and that the Governor would relay the former CIA director's acceptance.
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The Bush camp was pleased as punch -- except for James Addison Baker III, who was still licking his wounds after his 1978 loss to Mark White in the Texas Attorney General's race. The Reaganites tapped Baker to be national campaign manager a few days later, so Baker stopped wound-licking.
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My mind is spinning out of control! What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall during those tumultuous hours.
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Some people (know-nothing dumbasses, mainly) may consider all this political trivia. But think about it. Had James Earl Carter been re-elected, marginal tax rates would not have been lowered, Mr. Gorbachev would not have torn down that wall, air traffic controllers would rule the free world, and Grenada would serve as a nerve center for global thuggery. And don't even get me started about the Falkland Islands!
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As the bumper sticker says, Gee I Miss Governor Clements.

9 comments:

Winston Smith said...

WOW! thanks! now it makes sense!
two comments:
was Clements that smart? i always thought he was just lucky (and abusive).
John Connally was hated for reasons other than shady dealings. when he left the party to become a republican, the democrats still in control of most of the south pronounced anathema upon him.

Um Hum. said...

Do you take the name of your blog from a certain deposition circulated around Austin and Texas that alleges that a certain State Senator once attended a "hot tub party" in his home district that involved a couple of car dealers?

Billy Clyde said...

Dear Um Hum:

I love political scandal as much as the next guy. But I think that particular story is a fake. I tracked down the owner of the website that published the story, and it was registered to a vacant lot in Navasota. The site was quickly shut down.

The name is a play on the SNL sketch "Celebrity Hot Tub Party" in which one Eddie Murphy plays recently departed soul singer James Brown.

But thanks for asking.

Billy Clyde

treehugger said...

Meanwhile, Bill Clements went on to brokering deals for recruiting football players at SMU. Nice death penalty there, Bill, way to go.

I guess their consolation prize is the Bush Library.

Billy Clyde said...

DearTreeHugger:

That is patently false!

He never "brokered" any payments. He did, however, learn about them after the fact and covered it up.

Big difference.

Thanks,

BC

Anonymous said...

The deposition about the East Texas state senator is a fact, not fake. The information related therein may be false — the person deposed was hardly an unimpeacable source — but the story about the hot tub is definitely in the deposition.

Billy Clyde said...

Dear Anonymous:

Shoot me a copy. Fax number 512/478-6475.

I've been told that the depo exists but is sealed. Something I don't buy. But who knows? Let me have a looks-see.

BC

treehugger said...

Okay, no brokering, but the board did approve continuing the illegal payments.

Hey, it was a great team for a while and fun to watch.

Billy Clyde said...

Craig James and Erick Dickerson.

Yeah, baby!