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George H.W. Bush's 'Insider Campaigns' Took Him Far

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 (Paul Morse/George W. Bush Presidential Center via Getty Image

Saturday, 01 December 2018 07:56 AM Current | Bio | Archive

When the world learned early Saturday morning that George H.W. Bush died at age 94, political reporters were universally reminiscing about what was unique about the avuncular 41st president whom even sworn political enemies found hard to dislike personally.

For this reporter, it was that adopted Texan Bush became Ronald Reagan’s vice president in 1981 with easily one of the most impressive resumes of anyone in U.S. politics — but his positions were primarily appointive rather than elective.

Indeed, Bush’s electoral history consisted entirely of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from a heavily Republican district in suburban Houston.

The four subsequent offices he held were presidential appointments — all the result of “insider campaigns” and cultivation of high officials by Bush, a “charmer” on the Washington dinner party circuit and author of more than a thousand thank-you notes.

“Eliminate the politicians, except George Bush,” President Richard Nixon wrote in a 1973 memo on proposed personnel in his second term, “He’d do anything for the cause.”

Nixon liked Bush and seriously considered the freshman congressman from the Lone Star State as his vice presidential running mate in 1968. Two years later, as president, he made no less than four appearances on behalf of Bush in his second bid for the U.S. Senate — which he lost.

“The President was considering him for several consolation prizes,” observed Nixon biographer Richard Reeves. These included a top White House staff job, the Number Two spot at the Treasury or State Departments, and chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But Bush wanted to be United Nations ambassador. He only got the appointment when Nixon’s first choice, Harvard Prof. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, took back his earlier acceptance of the U.N. slot. (The foreign policy community had focused its fire on Moynihan’s lack of international experience and wife Elizabeth Moynihan made it clear she wasn’t moving to New York).

Bush cultivated fellow ambassadors in Turtle Bay with weekend visits to the Greenwich, Connecticut estate of his parents (Connecticut’s former GOP Sen. Prescott and Mrs. Bush) for cocktails and golf. He also won high marks from the Nixon Administration (and conservatives nationwide) for his spirited-but-unsuccessful effort to keep the U.N. from expelling the Republic of China on Taiwan in favor of Communist China on the mainland.

Following his re-election in 1972, Nixon tapped Bush to be Republican National Chairman. In so doing, he replaced Kansas Sen. Bob Dole at the party helm — a move that would fuel Dole’s animosity toward his eventual rival for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.

As he assisted embattled office-holders during Watergate scandal, Bush became a highly popular chairman among grass roots Republicans and members of the Republican National Committee.

When he learned Nixon planned to resign the presidency in August of 1974, Bush was preparing for a GOP telethon in Los Angeles. One of the guests on the program was newly-elected State Rep. Colleen House of Michigan (who is now my wife).

“He stepped away to take a call and then told us ‘The President is going to resign. Thank God the country is safe,” she recalled. (Bush remained in touch with Colleen, often writing notes, and finally signing her on to be field director of his triumphant campaign in the Michigan primary in 1980 — his victory a pivotal factor in his later being named as Reagan’s running mate).

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency in 1974, he tapped onetime House colleague Bush as U.S. envoy to the People’s Republic of China — a touchy assignment, since the U.S. still recognized Taiwan as the “real China.” Wife Barbara Bush loved this post more than any her husband held, and later hosted slide shows of the couple’s time in Beijing.

IN 1975, a Senate committee exposed secrets that embarassed the Central Intelligence Committee and savaged the agency’s morale. Ford then gave Bush the position he would most cherish: CIA director. According to veterans of the agency, he gradually restored pride and morale among its agents.

Director Bush delighted in the stunned looks of friends when he greeted them in CIA-crafted disguises that made him look completely unfamiliar. He so enjoyed being the nation’s spymaster that, according to Jimmy Carter, he asked the Democratic president-elect to keep him on the job. Carter declined, and named Annapolis classmate Stansfield Turner as his CIA chief.

As the last Republican opponent to Ronald Reagan standing in the 1980 nomination race, Bush was mentioned as a vice presidential running mate. Many of the Republican insiders he had cultivated over the years quietly urged Reagan to unite the party by picking the more moderate Bush. He finally agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Had Reagan picked someone else as vice president, history would have been different,” former Texas GOP chairman and stalwart conservative Tom Pauken told Newsmax, “George H.W. Bush would have probably become secretary of state or held another office and retired to obscurity. George W. Bush would probably be a successful baseball team owner and never held any office.”

With his thousands of thank-you notes, his storied Christmas card list, and his own charm, George H.W. Bush went farther than any politicians who served two terms in the House and lost two races for the Senate. In so doing, he made history.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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When the world learned early Saturday morning that George H.W. Bush died at age 94, political reporters were universally reminiscing about what was unique about the avuncular 41st president whom even sworn political enemies found hard to dislike personally.For this...
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Saturday, 01 December 2018 07:56 AM
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