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Jeb Bush Has No Claim On Reagan’s Legacy

The sight of Jeb Bush opening his shirt Superman-style to display a Reagan-Bush ’84 t-shirt would be funny if the humor weren’t overshadowed by the hypocrisy of Bush claiming a piece of the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan through his father’s service as Reagan’s Vice President. 

So before Jeb Bush claims Reagan’s legacy a review of my book TAKEOVER and the history of how George H.W. Bush came to be Ronald Reagan’s Vice President is in order. 

Reagan Bush 1980Reagan’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president was every bit as tough, or tougher, than his campaign against Jimmy Carter. 

The Republican establishment pulled out all the stops to defeat Reagan in the primaries and backed George H.W. Bush’s candidacy to the bitter end. Indeed, the Republican establishment’s diehards bolted the GOP to back John Anderson’s liberal third party run after Reagan won the nomination. 

And even though Reagan had an indisputable majority of the delegates to the 1980 Republican Convention in Detroit, the Republican establishment had not given up trying to stymie the conservative revolution that Reagan’s supporters had worked so hard to bring to fruition. 

As the Convention opened George H.W. Bush and John Anderson were positioned as pro-choice moderates – they wanted nothing to do with the social and economic conservative position Reagan espoused. 

They were supportive of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion on demand (much like Jeb Bush has said same-sex marriage is the law of the land).  

They also opposed the idea of supply-side economics, with Bush famously referring to Reagan’s idea that cutting taxes would increase revenues as “voodoo economics” and Howard Baker ridiculing the 1981 tax cut as “a riverboat gamble.” 

George H. W. Bush, John Anderson, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and other establishment Republicans all had one thing in common—they were creatures of the old ways Republicans did things in Washington. 

They were perfectly content to “me-too” the Democrats on the social issues, to argue for a little less spending, but not to attack the reasons for spending, and to support the continuation of Nixon’s accommodationist policy with the Soviet Union. 

In short, they were all for the policies that got Jerry Ford tossed out of the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill consigned to “permanent” minority status. But the Republican establishment was not about to accept that Reagan and his supporters were now the majority opinion in the GOP. 

As the Convention approached, there was a steady drumbeat of criticism of Reagan from the Republican establishment to the effect that Reagan’s nomination would split the Republican Party and that many establishment Republicans might stay home or bolt and support John Anderson’s third-party run. 

This whispering campaign (in some cases it was the loudly-complaining-to-the-liberal-media campaign) wasn’t as harsh as the “Stop Goldwater” campaign had been in 1964, or as devious as the campaign to defeat Senator Bob Taft had been in 1952, but the objective was still the same—to make sure control of the Republican Party remained in the hands of the progressive-oriented Republican establishment. 

Even before the Convention opened, many establishment Republicans were talking up the idea of “uniting the Party” by having former president Ford join Reagan on the ticket as vice president. 

There was really no doubt that what they had in mind was not Ford playing second fiddle as Reagan’s vice president, but Ford taking the role of “copresident” and neutering the conservative agenda by usurping many of the responsibilities of the presidency. 

And if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is the nominee this cycle they can expect the same threats to split the Party unless the establishment is allowed to put someone like George H.W. Bush on the inside of the White House to undermine their conservative agenda. 

The idea of Ford as “copresident” was destined to fail, but it came surprisingly close to putting Ford on the ticket with Reagan because many of Reagan’s closest advisors became convinced that the establishment wouldn’t support him if they didn’t have one of their own on the ticket as vice president. 

And thus the stage was set for Reagan to choose an establishment progressive Republican, who was opposed to practically everything he had campaigned for, to be his running mate.  

The question was, which establishment Republican would it be? 

Conservatives were dead set against establishment Republican senator Howard Baker, who was the face of the go-along, get-along Republican establishment on Capitol Hill and its many defeats and cave-ins to the liberal Democrats. 

Conservatives had no enthusiasm for George H. W. Bush either, given his attacks on Reagan’s economic policies during the primaries and his family ties to the old Eastern Republican establishment. His pro-choice stance also alienated the newly energized social conservatives, but Bush had the second most delegates, and for many in Reagan’s inner circle, choosing Bush seemed like the best way to unite the party for what was expected to be a tough campaign against Carter and Mondale. 

So George H.W. Bush, almost by default, became Reagan’s runningmate, but he never adopted Reagan’s limited government goals and throughout the Reagan presidency he was never trusted by conservatives. 

George H. W. Bush’s relationship with conservatives may be best illustrated by his response to a CBS television interview Howard Phillips and I had with Dan Rather at the 1984 Republican National Convention.  

We pounded Bush for his lack of commitment to conservative principles and what we saw as his “inside the White House” fifth column against Reaganism. The following evening, Dan Rather interviewed Bush and said in so many words, “Mr. Vice President, last night I had Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips on the show, and they say you’re not a conservative. Mr. Vice President, are you a conservative?” Bush replied, “Yes, Dan, I’m a conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.” 

As I detailed in my book TAKEOVER, many conservatives look back on then-Governor Reagan’s choice of George H.W. Bush as his running mate and believe that Reagan’s first decision as the Republican presidential nominee was the worst decision of his presidency. Nominating Jeb Bush would be a decision every bit as disastrous and one that is completely avoidable with a field of 16 candidates that includes solid conservative choices, such as Ted Cruz.

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Re: Jeb Bush has no claim....

Every time I hear someone, especially any Bush, lay claim to Ronald Reagan makes me sick to my stomach.

George Bush 1 despised the ground Reagan walked on. Bush did everything he could in 1980 to sabotage Reagan's bid for President. I personally told Ron that Bush was going to embarrass him when he took to the mike in Manchester N.H. It was that moment Reagan convinced his followers that he hadn't lost his stead when he quipped "...turn this microphone back on...I am paying for this..." From that moment on Bush trailed Reagan in virtually every primary.

The term "Voodoo Economics" is just one example of the swords Bush threw Reagan. Were it not for David Rockefeller calling his bud and fellow Trilat Walter Annenberg in Palm Springs to call his neighbor, Gerald Ford to use his Lear Jet and get his butt to Reagan's hotel room and convince him to take Bush as his running mate America would not be in the predicament it now finds itself in. Reagan, when exiting his hotel room around 3AM. following his meeting with Ford was asked by the press..."...have you chosen your running mate?" He replied..."...(expletives deleted)" (The only time in history Ron was recorded swearing).

In 1986, the Secret Service interviewed me as to the evidence I had regarding Bush's connection to Hinckley. Of course, my intel never say the light of day.

What would America think if they knew they elected a man who was suffering from early stages of Alzheimer's, before ever reaching the Whitehouse?

Yes, I knew Ron like very few did. In 1975-76 I accompanied Gov. Reagan to private fundraiser and auctioned his cloths off down to his boxer shorts. Our birthdays were only (6) days apart. We bonded in a very special way.

In 1980, I gave Ronald Reagan the campaign slogan which propelled him into the Whitehouse and the history books: "The Time Is Now".

Yes, I knew Ronald Reagan and Reagan was never... ever a beloved friend of George H. W. Bush! Anyone, truly in the know...knows this to be true!

Eli Mellor