"He's a figure of history, like a Churchill," added Wead. "I see him as a pivotal figure. I love him."
Wead's newly published book is about the parents of presidents, not just Bush. He said that he had never intended the tapes to become public, but that his publisher, Simon & Schuster, asked to hear them for libel reasons. He said after he played them for his editors, he was contacted by the Times and agreed to play portions for a reporter.
On the tapes, Bush touts John D. Ashcroft as a possible running mate or attorney general, maintains that primary opponent John McCain "will wear thin" over time, and refers to another opponent, Steve Forbes, as "mean-spirited," according to the Times.
The conversations spend much time on Bush's religious beliefs and his courting of the evangelical right. At one point, according to the Times report, Bush seemed concerned that evangelicals wanted him to come out publicly against homosexuality.
"I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Bush said after meeting high-profile Texas preacher James Robison.
The future president said he told Robison, " 'Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?' "
Referring to one conservative group, Bush said, "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."
Wead said he first met George W. Bush in 1987, when George H.W. Bush was running for president, and Wead was a liaison with the religious community. "Apparently George W. was auditing some of the memos I was sending to his father," Wead told public television's "Frontline." "I knew that his father was vetting my memos with somebody. I suspected it was Billy Graham. It had to be someone sharp who understood evangelical Christianity. . . . George W. said, 'I've been reading your memorandum. Good stuff, Wead. I'm taking you over. You report to me.' So that was that."
Researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.