Ford as Presidential Candidate
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; 1:00 PM
Doug Bailey, former media director of Gerald Ford's 1976 presidential campaign and founder of The Hotline political newsletter, will be online Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the former president's White House years and his bid to be elected president.
In an interview with washingtonpost.com Bailey said of the '76 election that it "was close because all we did was part the curtains and let the man be seen for who he was and he was exactly what he seemed to be, which is unusual in politics now."
A transcript follows.
Laurel, Md.: TV debates have been part of every election since 1976. What decisions were made about the debate structure that were different from 1960 and that have been repeated since?
Doug Bailey: In fact I think presidential debates have become regular since 1976. I don't believe that Nixon debated McGovern or Humphrey or that Johnson debated Goldwater. One reason that they have become standard is that it was President Ford as an incumbent president who challenged Jimmy Carter to debate in '76, making it a standard part of every presidential campaign. If an incumbent president chooses to take that initiative he is virtually committing every president thereafter to do the same.
Virginia: Hello. Just wondering for how long did President Nixon did not have a VP? Could Ford be vice-president the day Agnew resigned? Why so long?
Doug Bailey: The constitutional amendment that calls for the filling of a vice presidential vacancy requires that the nominee be approved by both houses of Congress. So in taking their job seriously they arranged for serious hearings that required preparation and so forth. Frankly, I don't think there was a great deal of time that elapsed between Agnew's resignation and Nixon naming Ford but the confirmation process took a little longer.
Arlington, Va.: Since the South has been a strong GOP area since Goldwater, do you think you could have done better there in 1976? Or was the fact that President Carter was from Georgia the primary reason the Ford campaign didn't dominate the South in 1976?
Doug Bailey: I think unquestionably Carter coming from Georgia soaked up a good deal of southern vote that might have gone to Ford or any Republican candidate.
Atlanta, Ga.: President Ford always seemed to have a calm, resolute manner, never too high or too low. Was he ever discouraged during the campaign, either the Reagan primary challenge or the general election? Thank you.
Doug Bailey: We were retained only for the general election so I can't speak for the primary period. I can say that Gerald Ford was always on all things calm and steady as she goes, so it's hard for me to imagine him ever losing it, either his temper or his cool.
Alexandria, Va.: How serious was the Reagan primary threat in 1976?
Doug Bailey: It was very serious and, in fact, Ford's nomination at the convention was not certain until the very last moment. They were not more than 100 delegates apart and there had to be some last minute arm-twisting in Mississippi and in Pennsylvania to make it happen.
Clinton, Pa.: Is it true Ronald Reagan hurt Ford's chances against Carter when he refused to campaign for him?
Doug Bailey: I don't think that is true. What is probably true is that the long drawn-out primary challenge by Reagan undermined some of Ford's appeal to conservative voters and in an election that turned out to be as close as this one did in November that might have had an impact.
Arlington, Va.: The popular view is that the Nixon pardon was what ultimately beat Ford. Do you agree with that view?
Doug Bailey: Any election that was that close can be blamed on any number of things: the pardon, the debate slip-up over Poland, the Reagan challenge in the primaries. But let me stress that while the pardon may have cost President Ford the White House it was absolutely essential to restoring a sense of public calm in the country. I think of it as the most difficult and agonizing decision he had to make but absolutely the right one because without it the turmoil would've gone on for years.
Bowie, Md.: When Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California it was widely punditized that he could never have won a regular election because he couldn't have gotten his party's nomination.
Could Ford have won the nomination under normal circumstances? Could he win today?
Doug Bailey: The answer is no to both questions but for a reason that probably will surprise the questioner. To win the nomination in the primaries requires a degree of ambition and commitment to a fairly absurd and demeaning process that I don't think Gerald Ford would ever make in a million years.
Washington, D.C.: Were there down-ballot races in particular states that had your worried in 1976? In other words, was there a situation like the stem cell ballot initiative this year in Missouri that was a turnout motivator for Dems in key battleground states?
Doug Bailey: I don't remember any ballot issue or candidate race on the ballot which had significant impact on the presidential race.
Arlington, Va.: What do you know about the 1980 GOP convention where Reagan was very close to asking Ford to be his running mate?
Doug Bailey: Not a whole lot but it was a last-minute idea put forward by a few Ford loyalists and a few Reagan staffers that I don't believe was ever really taken very seriously by either Reagan or Ford.
Doylestown, Pa.: President Ford's 1976 campaign was the first of many in which I volunteered. I still remember the wonderful TV ads with the theme song "I'm Feeling Good About America." Who wrote this theme, and how did it come about?
Doug Bailey: An ad man from San Francisco wrote it and we made it central to the campaign. When you think back on it, just imagine how wonderful it was for a country that had gone through a decade of assassinations, civil rights riots, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the resignation and disgrace of a vice president and the resignation and disgrace of a president to finally be able to sort of sing along with "We're Feeling Good About America." I mean, that is the legacy of Gerald Ford, that he restored some sense of pride and confidence on the part of the American people in their government.
Rockville, Md.: What part did patriotic fervor brought on by the bicentennial play in your strategizing?
Doug Bailey: Well, everything that I just described in the previous question was consistent with the spirit of celebration. That bicentennial celebration was in many American homes as much as Nixon was gone as it was that America had reached its 200th birthday.
Arlington, Va.: Are there any candidates out there now who remind you of President Ford ?
Doug Bailey: (LAUGHS) Our politics today seem so polarized and bitter that they are the exact opposite of what Gerald Ford was and stood for. This is a man who as president would call up Tip O'Neil and ask him how he might best say something on an important occasion. His whole persona in the House and in the White House was one of civility and respect for his colleagues. My own opinion is that the country badly needs a transforming election in 2008 to get back to that kind of unity of purpose.
Arlington, Va.: Doug -- you and Deardorff were brought in pretty late to right the Ford ship. How many weeks did you have to nearly pull off the upset win?
Doug Bailey: Ten weeks. And one hour after our participation was announced Gallop released a new poll showed that the race had closed ten points so we don't deserve all of the credit but it was a 33 point gap when we were hired.
Doug Bailey: In fact, credit goes to the man. All we did was part the curtains and let him be seen as he was.
Washington, D.C.: What was your total ad budget for the 1976 general? Do you remember?
Doug Bailey: I think it was, like, $12 million. Each of the two campaigns received $21 million in federal funding. There was no party support in dollars. There were no 527's, there were no independent expenditures. So compare that total of $42 million between the two campaigns to what was spent by and for the two campaigns in 2004 which totaled $2.2 billion dollars. What have we done?
Bowie, Md.: Jimmy Carter's primary campaign is a legend.
What did his general election campaign do particularly well or badly?
Doug Bailey: I do think that as frequently happens in a campaign they simply didn't shift gears from the primary campaign to the general election campaign. We had our problems but they had theirs. Their candidate was not well known and the question was whether the people were ready to trust the most important job in the world to someone they didn't know.
Bowie, Md.: I suppose you never really had to consider this, but do you think you would have done better or worse facing some of the other serious candidates the Democrats had fielded that year -- Jerry Brown, Scoop Jackson or Morris Udall?
Doug Bailey: You're right, I never had thought about it. I do think that Jimmy Carter was a pretty good match for the country's mood but in the end so was Gerald Ford -- that's why it was so close.
George H. W. Bush: What role did he play in the '76 campaign, if any?
Doug Bailey: He did not play any direct role at all although his very good friend Jim Baker chaired the general election campaign. Bush's official responsibilities kept him out of the campaign.
Atlanta, Ga.: Now, presidential debaters always seem to have one or more prepared "zingers" to use at the opportune moment - something seemingly extemporaneous but which is really carefully designed. Did you have any of those in ready for the 1976 debates which weren't used?
Doug Bailey: (LAUGHS AGAIN) Yes, in deed, we did but I'm not going to kiss and tell. The point about President Ford was that he was so simple and strait forward that he never much liked any kind of complicated strategy and so his tendency was to try to answer the question that was asked as opposed to using some clever device to score more points. It was both frustrating to the consultants and reassuring to the country.
washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Doug Bailey. Thank you for joining us.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.