Ford, Reagan, and the sour '70s

Two Republicans look back and ahead Fellow Coloradan Steve Mueller ( took friendly exception to my year-end email reminding Republicans that the late Gerald Ford, rocklike as he was in the political crucible of 1974, still compares unfavorably to the man who challenged him in 1976 (and Nixon in 1968), Ronald Reagan. Here's our exchange of views - JA

Andrews: Let's face it: America could have done better with its leaders in the 1970s. President Gerald Ford, rest his soul, was a good and honorable man who rose to the unsought challenge of cleaning up Richard Nixon's presidential mess. Indeed he was in some ways heroic at that hour. But as we eulogize Ford, don't forget the "road not taken" by Republicans who twice missed a chance to nominate Ronald Reagan -- instead of Nixon in 1968, then instead of Ford in 1976.

Could Reagan, if nominated, have won the White House? No one can know. But Nixon, Agnew, Ford, Rockefeller, Dole, Carter, and Mondale were not inevitable. Our country (and the free world) could have done better. That is we can know, because in 1980 we did do better. An honest reading and evaluation of the past, including its "what ifs," is essential to doing better in the future, it seems to me.


Mueller: I'd like to respond to your comment below about supporting Reagan in 1976. I was very active in Republican politics back then, and even though it was 30 years ago, I remember it like yesterday. I was a two-term State Chairman of the College Republicans, and spent about 60 hours a week working for the party for a couple of years. I ran as a Ford delegate at both the State convention and the 2nd Congressional District Convention, but Natalie Meyer organized a better campaign for Reagan in Colorado than we had for President Ford.. and Reagan won in Colorado, with the exception of Gordon Allot and John Love being elected as Ford delegates.

It was beyond my belief that certain folks in the Republican Party turned their backs on a sitting Republican president -- President Ford -- and failed to go to the polls on election day. That sort of adherence to "principle" gave us Jimmy Carter, when we could have easily had four more years of President Ford... if only they had gone to the polls. The right wing of the party, which I support and embrace, was just plain stupid in 1976 after the convention in Kansas City... and it cost the Party and the Country. Don't be blaming those who supported Ford -- your blame is completely misdirected.

Secondly, a careful post-election analysis showed that even considering the conservatives staying at home, the outcome of the election ultimately hinged on a NY State Supreme Court decision that did NOT allow John Anderson to appear on the ballot in New York. In other states, Anderson pulled enough votes from the Democrats to give the Republicans a slight majority... and the vote in NY was so close that this would surely have been the case. At the time, NY's 30 electoral votes would have provided Ford enough to shift the election to our favor instead of Carter's. (If you have any doubts about this, call Rove... he did the analysis!)

One of the main reasons I was so excited about your efforts at Judicial Term Limits was because of the NY case cited above. I know there are many other reasons why they are a good idea, but having liberals embedded in the judiciary can impact more things than most people realize.

Finally, I will indeed be mourning on Tuesday January 2 during our National Day of Mourning for President Ford. I met him several times, I worked hard for him and the Party, I respected him, and I will miss him.


Andrews: Steve, thanks for the vivid bit of history. I was far less involved that year. But you are reading too much into my "could have done better" remark. There is no word of blame in what I wrote, if you want to look at it again. My point was simply that the deserved tributes to Jerry Ford shouldn't float in a vacuum of disregard for what other paths the GOP and the nation might have followed in those years.

I gave my best as a staffer for Nixon and Agnew, but objectively it's not very hard to wish that Reagan's gifts and beliefs, not Nixon's, had been at the helm from 1969 on. That in turn would have unfolded a scenario where Ford never moved to the executive branch at all. You get the idea.

It was risky for me to verbalize this whole line of reasoning in the days just after an honored ex-President's passing. Your rebuke, even if based on a misunderstanding, is fair and I accept it.


Mueller: I do agree with you that the tributes to President Ford shouldn't float in a vacuum of disregard for the other potential paths the GOP and the nation might have taken. I wanted to enlighten you (in case this comes up on the radio) that you seemed to be overlooking the most obvious one -- that the Reaganites had gone to the polls to support the party in 1976, and we could have had a Republican president instead of Jimmy Carter. I can name several activists from the time who told me that they voted for Anderson, because they just couldn't vote for Ford... who was our party's nominee, but not perceived as conservative enough by some. (Unjustifiably, they thought it was an ok strategy since they weren't voting for a Democrat.)

I've NEVER voted against (or failed to cast a vote for) a Republican whom I've known to be a good and honorable person, and I have a difficult time understanding or respecting my fellow Republicans who don't support our general election nominees, particularly from the old days when we enjoyed a stronger caucus system. (There is less scrutiny of our candidates as the system moves away from caucuses, so there is a greater likelihood of some questionable candidates moving forward.)

These thoughts still haunt me as I think about this year's HD38 race, and I saw a bunch of supposed Republicans publicly endorsing Joe Rice - who I'm sure is a decent person, but won't be adhering to a Republican philosophy during his tenure at the legislature. (I just wish all the Republicans would all adhere to the philosophy to which they purportedly subscribe.)

There is a lot of work to do to turn around the tide that swept the Democrats into office this year. I'm pretty sure that seeking a higher level of philosophical purity is a better idea than being fuzzy about our values, so using the passing of President Ford as a catalyst for a discussion might be worthwhile. We certainly need to identify and mobilize those people that support Republican values, and many need to be reminded what those values are. Good luck, John!