Ford - the Last of a Good Breed

 Good old Gerry Ford, hard luck Gerry Ford, left Philadelphia under his
 own steam, reminding me that the doughty ex-president keeps having
 these near-miss experiences at Republican national conventions.

 In 1976, he came within a whisker (OK, 80-odd votes out of a couple of thousand)
 of being denied the party's presidential nomination by a rampaging Ronald Reagan.
 In 1980, he was within a hair's-breadth of being named Reagan's running mate until
 a late-night deal fell through in the Gipper's Detroit hotel suite.

 And nine days ago, amid a grueling series of interviews on behalf of the son
 of the guy who aced him out of being Reagan's No. 2 man, Ford walked his
 87-year-old body into a local hospital for treatment of a stroke. He got
 released Wednesday.

 Ford's long career was marked by a remarkable series of accidents,
 coincidences, and hard-to-explain events. But he is the last major Republican
 figure to personify the Old Guard of moderate Republicanism, the remnants of the
 wing of the party that included the congressional leaders of a half-century
 back, plus moderate stalwarts like Christian Herter, Leverett Saltonstall,
 Edward Brooke, Elliot Richardson, and Frank Sargent of Massachusetts,
 New York's  Nelson Rockefeller, Vermont's George Aiken.

 When weird things happened to Republicans, Ford happened to be in the
 neighborhood. When Richard Nixon needed a clean-jeans sure-to-be-confirmed
 replacement for the corrupt Vice President Spiro T. Agnew - Nixon and Agnew
 are nonmentionables in this scrubbed-up Republican made-for-TV commercial of a
 convention - Nixon plucked Ford from the House minority leader's office.

 When lightning struck twice, and Nixon was forced to walk the plank of
 impeachment, Ford got promoted to his second job - the only man ever appointed
 both president and vice president. It was Ford who gave George Herbert Walker
 Bush the diplomatically challenging but politically irrelevant job of special
 representative of the United States in Beijing.

 When Ford and Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state whom Ford inherited
 from Nixon, flew to China in December of 1975, Bush was at the tarmac to greet
 them upon the 2 a.m. arrival at the shabby old airfield of the capital of the
 Middle Kingdom. Ford then named Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency,
 riddled by scandal and wracked by ridicule for its Cold War excesses. After
 Ford  narrowly lost the '76 election to Jimmy Carter, Bush went to the
 president-elect  and asked to be allowed to remain on as CIA chief.

 He was the first politician ever to run CIA, and Carter rejected his request.
 Bush offered to promise that he would not run for president against Carter if
 the Democrat would let him stay on at CIA. Carter still refused. The
 Washington Post said Bush was ''a little shocked'' at Carter's refusal and wanted to
 remain CIA chief ''desperately.''

 Four years later, Bush campaigned hard for president, castigating Carter, who
 could have kept Bush out of the fray by icing him at CIA. Bush won Iowa, but
 was upset in New Hampshire by Ronald ''I'm paying for this microphone'' Reagan,
 who came to Detroit as the nominee. The night he won the nomination, Reagan
 dickered with Ford and Kissinger.

 Richard Allen, Reagan's foreign policy adviser, wrote in a recent New York
 Times Magazine that Reagan was on the verge of naming former President Ford to
 be his running mate. Ford and Kissinger had come up with a scheme that these two
 Ford administration vets, plus Alan Greenspan, would be a package deal for
 Reagan, with specific roles and veto powers over Reagan's initiatives.

 Allen claims he ''had the clearest channel to Bush and knew him the best,''
 but in the running mate derby, ''George Bush was not really on Reagan's radar
 screen,'' and would be ''a hard sell.'' Allen says he contacted the Bush camp to
 plant the seeds of Bush as running mate, in place of Ford. Reagan was never
 fond  of Bush, particularly after Bush's humiliating night in the Nashua, N.H., high
 school gym where Bush had denied Bob Dole and three other GOP candidates the
 right to debate Bush and Reagan. But by the summer of '80, Reagan needed a
 so-called ''moderate'' like Ford or Bush to win.

 It was after midnight when Reagan vetoed the Ford-Kissinger ''co-presidency''
 scheme. But Reagan still balked at Bush. Allen writes: ''`I can't take him,'
 Reagan said of Bush. `That ''voodoo economic policy'' charge and his stand on
 abortion are wrong.''' But after being assured Bush would embrace every word
 of  the right wing platform, Reagan gave in.

 The Gipper drove to the convention hall to inform the delegates. Allen:
 ''And so it came to pass that Ronald Reagan averted what would have been a disaster
 for his candidacy and the Republican party,'' if that cockeyed shared-presidency scheme
 had materialized. Ford came that close, again.

 This year Ford came to a convention even more firmly in the grip of the party's right wing
 than ever. Ford had publicly urged Bush Jr. to choose a running mate who does not want
 to outlaw abortion. But the nominee did not take Ford's advice.
 Instead, he picked Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who had been Ford's
 chief of staff at age 36 and is far more conservative than Ford.

 Still, the ex-president played the part of the good soldier, making the
 rounds of parties and interview sites, talking up the ticket, urging on the
 troops, until he was slowed and then felled by his stroke. He remains the last
 link to the old GOP, the let's-make-a-deal party.

 David Nyhan is a Globe columnist.

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