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How George H.W. Bush redefined the vice presidency

George H.W. Bush was America's 43rd vice president when he became its 41st president. Although he will lik...

Posted: Dec 5, 2018 5:28 AM
Updated: Dec 5, 2018 5:28 AM

George H.W. Bush was America's 43rd vice president when he became its 41st president. Although he will likely be most remembered for his four years in the White House, Bush's two vice-presidential terms under Ronald Reagan were consequential. He contributed to the shaping of Reagan's presidential policies, advanced the development of the new White House vice presidency -- then in its early stages -- and laid the groundwork for his own election as president. Whereas 14 vice presidents have become president, only four sitting vice presidents did so initially by election -- John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and Bush -- adding to Bush's unique historic stature.

Long before the presidency was a plausible option for his public service, Bush aspired to be vice president. Gerald Ford seriously considered Bush for nomination as vice president, after Ford became president following Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974. As chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bush was popular among Republican politicians. Ultimately, Ford chose Nelson A. Rockefeller, based on his superior national stature, leaving Bush the disappointed runner-up.

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Bush might well have been Ford's choice two years later after Rockefeller was dropped from the 1976 ticket. Yet when Bush was nominated as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Democrats made confirmation contingent on Bush agreeing not to participate in the 1976 campaign, presumably to depoliticize the agency. But for that pledge, Bush, rather than Sen. Bob Dole, might have been Ford's running mate.

The prize seemed near again in 1980 after Bush was the effective runner-up to Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination. Ford came to the convention backing Bush as Reagan's running mate. Yet widespread interest in a Reagan-Ford dream ticket consumed the Republican convention, and negotiators for Reagan and Ford explored such an unprecedented pairing. The dream ticket seemed inevitable even as Bush delivered his convention speech.

Yet when Reagan and Ford determined that the arrangement was unworkable, Reagan belatedly turned to Bush, though with some misgivings, because Reagan, and his wife, Nancy, had been unimpressed with Bush's primary campaign and Reagan worried about differences in their positions. Bush accepted -- without reservation -- and handled the perception that he was Reagan's second choice with characteristic grace.

Redefining the vice presidency

Bush's determination, loyalty and skill, in governance and in interpersonal relations, soon won over the President, if not Nancy Reagan. In the process, Bush made important contributions to the Reagan presidency and the development of the vice presidency.

Bush embraced the new vice-presidential model that Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale had created, whereby the vice president served in the White House as a close adviser and trouble-shooter for the President.

To do this, Bush established a friendship with Reagan and won the trust of the President and his circle by working loyally to advance Reagan's agenda. His original vice-presidential staff focused on helping Reagan govern, not advancing Bush politically. Bush developed personal rapport with Reagan during their private weekly lunches, often bringing a good joke or two.

When an assassination attempt almost took Reagan's life 10 weeks into their first term, Bush demonstrated model vice-presidential behavior. He overruled Secret Service plans that he helicopter to the White House, insisting that only the President lands on the South Lawn. He covered some events on Reagan's schedule during the President's convalescence but never aggrandized his role, a marked contrast with Secretary of State Al Haig's "I'm in charge" approach. Once again, Bush knew exactly how to conduct himself.

Bush used his diplomatic skills to handle important foreign missions for Reagan. He was characteristically self-effacing regarding ceremonial duties like attending funerals of foreign dignitaries ("You die, I fly," he said) but leveraged those occasions to establish personal relations with other leaders. His attendance at the funerals of three Soviet leaders allowed him to meet the Soviet successor on each occasion.

Contributing to the Reagan presidency

Whereas Mondale had avoided ongoing responsibilities in particular areas, Bush chaired task forces to reduce federal regulations and combat the importation of illegal drugs into the United States. These assignments allowed him to contribute in areas important to Reagan's agenda and set a precedent, which later vice presidents like Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Joe Biden and Mike Pence all followed to varying degrees.

As a presidential adviser, Bush gave Reagan space, but he weighed in on matters important to him, sometimes by organizing meetings for Reagan or by asking questions to make sure Reagan had information. For example, he worked successfully to soften Reagan's attitude toward the Soviet Union and China.

Bush's work helped consolidate the changes in the vice presidency that Carter and Mondale had initiated, an effort he continued as President by establishing similar prerogatives for his vice president, Quayle, including regular private access and inclusion in meetings, as well as significant supervisory and foreign mission roles. Understanding the challenges of the second office, Bush defended Quayle from attack and resisted calls to drop him from the 1992 ticket.

Prepping for the presidency

Yet for Bush, like most others, the vice presidency was also attractive as a means to his own presidential term. Unlike others, he succeeded. Being vice president brought political baggage, as well as benefits. Bush could not separate himself from the Iran-Contra Affair and the perception that he either was complicit or out of the loop.

Yet Bush won the contest for the 1988 Republican nomination over an imposing field including Dole, Rep. Jack Kemp, Haig and others, and, with Reagan's enthusiastic help, won the White House, becoming the first sitting vice president since Van Buren more than 150 years earlier to accomplish that feat.

Although Pence initially identified Dick Cheney as his vice-presidential model shortly after being chosen as Donald Trump's running mate, by the time of his inauguration he had recognized that Bush was a far better choice. Whereas Cheney disclaimed presidential ambitions and was often seen as unduly powerful, a model Trump might not welcome, Bush was known for his loyalty -- and he leveraged his vice presidency into presidential election.

Bush's vice presidency helped institutionalize the historic changes in the second office that continue today. Not bad for a secondary line on a resume.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 587762

Reported Deaths: 7324
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1217771724
Ramsey50848870
Dakota45493446
Anoka41276436
Washington26615280
Stearns22077221
St. Louis17637302
Scott17137124
Wright15873139
Olmsted1316498
Sherburne1157185
Carver1041645
Clay811792
Rice7991106
Blue Earth744441
Crow Wing658688
Kandiyohi650683
Chisago589051
Otter Tail571778
Benton563697
Goodhue474972
Mower463732
Douglas463674
Winona451850
Itasca428053
McLeod420258
Morrison416260
Isanti415364
Nobles407148
Beltrami391058
Steele383915
Polk382268
Becker377950
Lyon359250
Carlton343553
Freeborn340729
Pine326222
Nicollet322743
Brown304040
Mille Lacs300352
Le Sueur288222
Todd280432
Cass269028
Meeker253740
Waseca236222
Martin229731
Roseau207519
Wabasha20473
Hubbard186341
Dodge18313
Renville178643
Redwood172636
Houston171315
Cottonwood164221
Fillmore155310
Wadena154522
Pennington153619
Chippewa151638
Faribault151119
Kanabec143224
Sibley142310
Aitkin133936
Watonwan13189
Rock127819
Jackson121811
Pipestone114726
Yellow Medicine113820
Pope10916
Murray10609
Swift104818
Stevens90211
Marshall87817
Clearwater86116
Koochiching81715
Lake80819
Wilkin80412
Lac qui Parle75022
Big Stone5984
Lincoln5773
Grant5678
Mahnomen5459
Norman5399
Unassigned48693
Kittson48422
Red Lake3957
Traverse3685
Lake of the Woods3213
Cook1590

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 365723

Reported Deaths: 5925
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57406622
Linn20778334
Scott19903240
Black Hawk15777308
Woodbury15105228
Johnson1444083
Dubuque13347209
Dallas1114698
Pottawattamie11082168
Story1058248
Warren575088
Clinton552792
Cerro Gordo537889
Sioux513474
Webster511493
Marshall482075
Muscatine476299
Des Moines453266
Wapello4288122
Buena Vista424240
Jasper417771
Plymouth400480
Lee374255
Marion361075
Jones297357
Henry290837
Carroll285152
Bremer283360
Crawford265840
Boone263334
Benton255455
Washington253650
Dickinson247843
Mahaska229551
Jackson221142
Kossuth215264
Clay215125
Tama209171
Delaware208740
Winneshiek196834
Page192622
Buchanan190531
Cedar189223
Hardin184943
Fayette184741
Wright184236
Harrison179373
Hamilton179249
Clayton169456
Butler164634
Mills161722
Madison161419
Floyd160142
Cherokee158538
Lyon157541
Poweshiek154733
Allamakee150951
Iowa148224
Hancock147034
Winnebago141631
Cass137854
Calhoun137313
Grundy136233
Emmet134140
Jefferson132335
Shelby130537
Sac130119
Union128133
Appanoose127949
Louisa127849
Mitchell125842
Chickasaw123915
Guthrie120829
Humboldt118826
Franklin118121
Palo Alto112423
Howard104422
Montgomery103238
Clarke99824
Unassigned9770
Keokuk95531
Monroe95129
Ida90234
Adair86332
Pocahontas85322
Monona82830
Davis82524
Osceola78216
Greene77610
Lucas77123
Worth7428
Taylor65712
Fremont6229
Decatur6069
Van Buren55718
Ringgold55524
Wayne53623
Audubon50710
Adams3384
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