It began with Philip Crane, John Connally, John Anderson, Howard Baker, Robert Dole, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. But they've been dropping like flies -- a development we hadn't expected when we undertook this series of interviews, conducted by Mark Shields, with the Republican presidential candidates. And now there are three. Never mind: maybe you'll get an idea not just of what you're going to get but also of what you're missing from these musings of the runners, the runners-up and the fallen-by-the-wayside. Connally:

. . . Education was the hallmark of my administration as governor, and I think it's a very funadmental element in our lives and in our society, and I suppose if I had to pick one single thing that would be [it]. . . . I don't know of any major position that I'd want to change. . . . Dole:

I think my independence as chairman of the Republican Party. . . . I think that, and I offered the repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution much to the chagrin of Mr. Fulbright. He offered it again a couple of days later. That's it as far as politics, I think; those stand out. My reward for being chairman was to be fired and replaced by George Bush. . . .

I wouldn't vote for Carswell again. . . . Reagan:

I think the single, probably biggest, achievement was the reform of welfare [in California], which turned out to be the most comprehensive and successful reform of welfare that's ever been attempted in this country. . . .

[I would take back] one very big one. When we tried in 1973 for Proposition One, to place a limit on the percentage of overall earnings of the people that the state could take in taxes . . . . the leader of the opposition challenged me and challenged me to debate, and I went by the old-fashioned political concept that I would be delivering him an audience that he couldn't get for himself. We were defeated in that and defeated by the big lie, a lie so easily refuted. The lie they told was that what we were going to do was transfer expenses to local governments and thus the homeowners' tax and everything would have to go up, and we actually had a specific clause that prohibited that. . . . I realize now that if I hadn't gone by that old cliche thing, that you don't debate when you're on top, if I had debated him, I could have blown him out of the water. . . . Anderson:

I think the civil rights vote of 1968 because it was a dramatic thing, it was a close vote, it was a one-vote margin [in committee] and I was the only Republican who voted for that bill. . . .

When I look back at the unhappy consequences that flowed from the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution, I wish that I had had more vision. . . . Crane:

My sponsorship, in the last two Congresses, of economist Milton Friedman's idea to put a cap on federal spending. This proposal would impose a ceiling on all federal spending at a fixed percentage of national income and prevent any increase in spending without first an increase in national income.

. . . You know, there are sins of omission and commission. It's the statements that you say in anger that you wish you could take back, and it's to the people you love the dearest that you do this. . . . and the other is the sin of omission, of not telling loved ones and people you meet how much you do appreciate them. . . .

I voted for that '76 tax reform bill, which has troubled me because on general principles, when in doubt, my rule is to vote against it. . . . It has been probably as troublesome a vote because I am not persuaded that that bill had enough merit to warrant passing it. That's one that has kind of gnawed at my vitals. I felt I had a general understanding of it. . . . Baker:

I guess I got here at the tail end of the civil rights legislation. The '64 act had been passed, of course, before I was elected in '66, but we still had the voter rights act extension, we still had the fair housing act, the open housing act. We had D.C. representation. Some people ask me from time to time, "Was the Panama Canal vote the toughest vote you ever cast?" And I say, of course not. Those early civil rights votes were the toughest. . . .

In my more recent experience is the Tellico Dam/snail darter debacle. . . . I still think that the correct balancing judgment was to finish that dam, because it was virtually completed, but I think I made a mistake in proposing an indirect and general way to do it -- that is, the creation of a special commission to try to resolve the issues. I was trying to compromise a thorny problem, and I didn't do a very good job of it, and I ended up getting myself in a political mess and one in which I was very uncomfortable. . . . Bush:

I think the job I did at CIA in one year. . . . I made a lot of changes out there in terms of people, some promotions, some moved sideways, some out. It was not done with a lot of public fanfare, calling up some guy at your paper and saying, hey, what a big tough leader I am. I made these changes. And it was a very complicated mix of administration, of public relations, of communication with the Congress and of trying to hold together and strengthen a very dedicated, patriotic organization that was down when I came in. . . . That isn't a single thing. I means, it's not a Saturday night massacre, it's not leading a charge up the hill at 0800, but that is, I think, the thing that I know I did well.

Q: Which one would you take back?

. . . But if you, say, knew that thing [the "smoking gun" in Watergate] existed and could have had a role in having it out so everything would have been laid to rest sooner, that might have been a good one, but again that's not directly reponsive because I couldn't control that. . . .

I opposed as a candidate the civil rights bill of 1964 on constitutional grounds, and my voting record subsequently was very different on civil rights. Looking back, I think fair play would have dictated my being for the '64 act.