Stu Spencer is a political consultant who served as Deputy Chairman for Political Organization in the re-election campaign of President Gerald R. Ford. Stu Spencer was interviewed for the Gerald R. Ford Oral History Project on December 2 & 3, 2008 by Richard Norton Smith.
Spencer: The initiative process in California is one where you can qualify for the ballot any issue that you want that meets a certain standard. An example: a bill that the legislature wouldn’t pass, you can take it to the general public. At the time Hiram Johnson initiated the process, there was a lot of corruption in California. There was a company called Southern Pacific that owned the state. They owned the Democrat Party and they owned the Republican Party, and all the legislators that went with them. This is sort of what Hiram Johnson, a reform person, was trying to get out. At that time and place I think it was good.
Smith: It really was the height of the Progressive Era.
Spencer: Right. So, that was passed. Southern Pacific still was prevailing in many ways. There was a firm in San Francisco started by Clem Whittaker and Leone Baxter, a man and wife, called Whittaker and Baxter. Their big client was Union Pacific. They got involved very heavily in the initiative process in the state. A candidate here and candidate there, that sort of thing – and that was in the 30s – that’s how far back it goes. Then there was a period of time where nobody was doing that. Individual lawyers would run campaigns, or political junkies, or things of this nature. Then two guys by the name of Bill Ross and Herb Baus, in 1958 roughly, started a firm which was the same in LA as Whittaker and Baxter. It was just a mirror of them. One came out of the Chamber of Commerce and one was a newspaper writer-type guy. Then in 1960 Bill Roberts and I formed Spencer-Roberts and our model was these two companies. We were young bucks working in the bottom line of campaigns here and there and so forth. We thought, “If those guys can make a living at it, why can’t we make a living at it, because this is what we love to do.”
Smith: Can I back up one second, because back in the 30s you had the great Epic, in every sense of the word, campaign with Upton Sinclair. Allegedly, Louie B. Mayer tapped into all of this Hollywood money – is that true? Was the movie industry that unified and powerful?
Spencer: The movie industry was unified at that level, the studio level, and very powerful. Very powerful. Had a lot of money and spent it that way. But nobody was as powerful as Southern Pacific.
Smith: What was the source of their power?
Spencer: Land, and they had the Huntingtons, the Stanfords, a lot of those groups. It was basically a northern California–San Francisco-based group of people. A lot of wealth was involved in Southern Pacific and the railroads. The railroads were like airlines today, they were money-makers. As they went through this valley, Coachella Valley, and put the track through they got a section on each side of the track, so they owned all that land from one end of the state to the other.
Smith: Would money exchange hands in the legislature?
Spencer: Oh yes. Even beyond that it changed hands. Artie Samish was the next big powerbroker and he was a lobbyist, and he went to jail. He represented the liquor industry and tracks – I’m not sure whether he worked with Southern Pacific or not. I would be surprised if he didn’t, because they were famous for hiring up everybody. But anyway, that was our model at Spencer-Roberts, and in June of 1960 we had been working with the county Republican committee in Los Angeles, with the director and field director. There was going to be a change in chairman, we could see it coming. All those jobs are at the pleasure of the chairman. It’s like a baseball manager, you’d better feel what you’re going to do because you’re only going to be here three years. So we said, “Let’s start a firm.” So we put up $500 each and we rented a little office for $37 a month in the back end of a travel agency and started the company.
Smith: What were you doing at the time?
Spencer: Prior to that? I was field director for the LA County Committee and Bill was the executive secretary of it. We were running the LA County Committee.
Smith: So you had a political background?
Spencer: Oh yeah, and prior to that we were both very active in the Young Republicans, and I was very active with Pat Hillings, a congressman who replaced Dick Nixon. I grew up in Dick Nixon’s congressional district, so I knew him well. Pat succeeded him and I did a lot volunteer work and other work for Pat.
Smith: Was it possible to know Dick Nixon well?
Spencer: Not in the sense that you and I might know each other, or other people. But, yeah, you could get to know him a little. You could know what he was about. He was a very talented guy, and tactically, he was as good as I’ve ever seen politically. I always said he ought to be a campaign manager, not a candidate. He had a deep paranoia, and that was his stumbling block.
Smith: Remember the famous line Kissinger once said – that something terrible had happened to him [Nixon] as a young man – think what he might have been if he’d been loved.
Spencer: Henry had a good example there. So we started the company. We had three clients going in. Two congressional campaigns and one state legislature race. We ran them, we won two, lost one.
Smith: That was the Kennedy-Nixon year.
Spencer: Al Bell was the congressman, Johnny Rousselot who later became Birch Society director. He was running and it was an upset. We won with him, he was a great candidate, but none of us knew he was involved with the Birch people at the time.
Smith: For people who don’t know, tell us about the Birch Society and the influence that they held in the early 60s.
Spencer: The John Birch Society was started by a guy back in Boston by the name of Robert Welch, who had very strong feelings on Communism. Very strong feelings. Very anti-Communist and all kinds of theories about how it should be handled. The basic theory that I saw, as I looked at it, was that he wanted to organize cells just like the Communists organize cells and fight them on the ground in the same manner. Some of his concepts, and he wrote a book, a manual, and some of his concepts in it were just over the hill. They weren’t the real world.
Smith: Eisenhower was…
Spencer: …a conscious agent [of the Communist conspiracy]. And many others who I don’t even remember now.
Smith: Earl Warren, certainly.
Spencer: Earl Warren, yeah. But John was an outstanding candidate. John Rousselot was on the pathway to the United States Senate or the governorship of California. There were a bunch of young guys around him like myself, we were all the same age, who were prepared to go that route. The first step was Congress. In fact, two years prior, when Hillings tried for attorney general, and the seat was open, we decided we were going to run John then. But Nixon was vice president, he was the power in California politics at the time and some of the fat cats in the district – the money people – they were a little leery of John because of his age and his aggressiveness and so forth.
Smith: It’s ironic, given the Nixon congressional district – aggressiveness would not seem to be a disqualifying factor.
Spencer: No, but, Nixon didn’t feel that way, the finance guys did, and they got to him. John and I were in Washington for a national Republican convention and we were summoned to the vice president’s office. Basically, the message that we were delivered by the vice president was, “Quit screwing around, you ain’t running. Pres Lieberg is going to be our candidate,” so forth and so on. So John and I got out and we got in a cab and John turns to me and he says, “What do you think?” I said, “Screw him, let’s go.” And John says, “No, no, no, the finance guys _____________.” So, Pres Lieberg ran and got beat by Kasem, an Arab candidate in the Democrat Party in a pretty conservative district.
Smith: But of course, ’58 was a disaster for Republicans.
Spencer: Yeah, but it still should never have been lost. It should have been a tight race, but never lost. There was like a thousand vote difference. So immediately we geared up, we’re going to go. Then John, he was one of our clients, but the question of the Birch thing…during the campaign in 1960, John had gone back after the Nixon ultimatum and got a job at FAA or FHA-FHA. I think that was part of the deal to keep him out of the race, but he made a lot of friends, he was the kind that made friends, and during the campaign we were getting checks from Arkansas for a grand, or I’m getting checks from Texas for two grand, and, in my naive way, I said, “Boy, John made a lot of good friends when he was at FHA, right?” And nothing was ever said, so we go on, we win, it’s all over with.
Bill and I had no clients now, so John says, “I want you to come to Washington with me and set my staff up.” So, okay, we get on an airplane, on a midnight flyer, and we’re flying back, we’re over Kansas and John starts giving me these quotes like, “Eisenhower’s a conscious agent,” and I said, “John, you’re talking right out of the Birch manual.” I really didn’t know much about it then. He didn’t say much. I said, “John, are you a John Bircher?” He said, “Yeah.” There was a seat open between us, I almost climbed over the seat and choked him. We started an argument and argued all the way into the old airport in Washington, now National, I guess. The guy was meeting us there from New York, a young Republican guy, he was a very conservative guy, Bundy Clark. He had a house in Georgetown and that’s where we were going to stay.
We get in the car, I turn to Bundy and I said, “Let me tell you about this guy, Bundy, he’s a John Bircher.” I thought he was going to drop. We were in Maryland, we were at the Baltimore airport – there was a long entrance – one way this way, one way that way, I thought he drove off over this way, I mean he was so upset. We sat up the rest of the night, until six in the morning beating on him. Our basic premise was, “Well you’ve got to get out of that thing, or you’re done.” Couldn’t do it – couldn’t convince him. In fact, we even warned him that sooner or later the press would do an expose and then you are toast in Congress. The Santa Barbara News-Press, old man Storch did it, and then the LA Times followed up and then John, Ed Hiestand, and Jimmy Utt, all California congressmen were members and they were all toast after that.
That was the end of Ed Hiestand. He came back and ran for Congress later. The interesting thing about the Birch Society at that time, there were members of the Chandler family that were involved. They had such a big family – cousins, uncles, there were some of the Chandler’s who were involved in the Birch Society and yet they did one of the best exposes of the Society that was done. But John, the next step he took was he became the national director. The Birch Society would have died, but John was so good that he kept it going. He didn’t get it going this way, up, so to speak, but he did keep it on even keel. When he finally quit that job it just disappeared. He kept it alive for about two years, in my mind.
Smith: So by the early sixties, paint a picture of the California Republican party. It’s not that long, after all, since Earl Warren had given the state in a sort of bipartisan way. Then of course, you had Nixon. But you also had Tom Kuchel in the Senate, the classic liberal Republican.
Spencer: [Governor] Goody Knight. Once Nixon got into the VP spot, ’53, he’d only been in the Senate two years, and he had ambitions. You could tell at the time. Once he got into the VP spot he used that podium or that platform in California. He was a smart politician in the sense that he knew, “I’ve got to take on my base first.” So we had a troika. We had Warren, or remnants of Warren, of which Kuchel was a part of, and we had Goody Knight, and there was basically a power struggle between Goody’s people and Warren’s people, and Nixon’s people. He started organizing, he basically started taking the state over. Kuchel, who was a client of ours in ‘62, he didn’t like that kind of stuff and he wasn’t good at that internal politics. He was a statesman, Tommy was. He liked to think in big terms and so forth.
Print media was the thing then, there wasn’t electronic media, and Tommy would just periodically get in a station wagon in San Diego and start and go right up the state and stop and see every editor and every publisher and it paid off for him. He had great press support, with the exception of papers like the Santa Ana paper which was almost pro-Birch in their era. But all the way up, the McClatchys, who detested Republicans, supported Tommy. So he had that kind of support, but he had no party support. He wasn’t as liberal as his enemies perceived him to be, but he didn’t do anything to change that.
Smith: Does he illustrate, it’s a cliché, but part of the problem with moderates in these internecine battles is – they are moderate. They are not passionately driven to take over an organization. They could see nuance, they can see all sides…
Spencer: They see two sides to the question – they are not single-minded. Yeah, that’s one of the weaknesses when you look at the internal politics of either party, in fact, as far as that goes. But Tommy was German and he was bull-headed and he made a lot of mistakes. I saw a fundraiser at the California Club with probably the thirty richest guys in southern California when he was a United States Senator. It was the time of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy I think was president, and he [Kuchel] gave his speech, so to speak. Henry Salvatori, a solid conservative oil guy, roughhewn Italian, was a driller or something before he made his money, stood up and he says, “Tommy, what are you going to do about the Wall?” Tommy danced around the answer. Statesman-like, Kennedy-esque answer. Henry stands up again, he says, “Tommy, I asked you a question. What are you going to do about the Wall?” Tommy dances some more. I’m in the back of the room, and I said to myself, “This is the beginning of his downfall. These guys are never going to forget this meeting.” And Henry Salvatori was the millionaires’ spokesman, that’s all.
Smith: What is fascinating is that so small a group of people could have such influence on a statewide campaign.
Spencer: Well, they were the money. They had the campaign money. They then went out and next time found a candidate, Max Rafferty. They said, “Tommy, if you’re not going to listen to us, we’re going to find somebody who is going to listen.” It was a bloodbath, that primary. It was a tough one and Tommy wasn’t prepared for it.
Smith: ’62 – did Kuchel have a primary foe?
Spencer: No. If he did, he wasn’t a major one.
Smith: Of course, that’s the year Nixon did have a significant challenge in the primary.
Spencer: See, that’s another thing in the relationship of those two groups: Warren and Nixon. Tommy wouldn’t endorse Nixon in ’62. They are both on the ticket, and I said, “You’ve got to endorse Nixon.” But he said, “But my labor friends,” he had great support in labor. I said, “Your labor friends understand that you have to support Nixon.” I was with him when we walked out of that hotel to Nixon’s office at Adams, Duque and Hazeltine, and he sat there and told Dick Nixon he wasn’t going to endorse him.
Smith: What was Nixon’s reaction?
Spencer: He was a pro about it. He was a professional about it. He understood the whole thing, but also he would always say to himself, “I’ll get this son of a bitch.” That’s Nixon. I could see it in his eyes. Tommy lost complete touch with the state and his party out here. Nixon filled the void and took it away from those people. Then Goody Knight was sort of an aberration. Oh, and the other factor and personality in that big group was Bill Knowland.
Smith: Blustery guy?
Spencer: Yeah, but he decided he wanted to be governor in ’58 when Goody was sitting governor. He came out and he had the base – a lot of the base – he shoved Goody out. Goody runs for the Senate. Yeah, he shoved Goody out, he ran for governor and the main part of his platform was right-to-work, which was suicidal. Now Nixon stayed clear of all this. He was, “Let these guys kill themselves off and then I won’t have any trouble.” And they did. Goody Knight – there were billboards put up that said, “Brown and Knight, Pat Brown and Goody Knight.” Of course, Goody didn’t know anything about it. I’ve seen that happen again after that, but that was the emergence of Nixon taking over the party in California, which he owned until Reagan came along. The Birch Society and its involvement was never deep in the party. None of the finance guys were into that – they knew what it was.
Smith: The whole issue of extremism is visited in the ’64 GOP primary campaign, before the convention. As for Kennedy in ’63, what’s your sense? Had Kennedy lived, would his re-election have been a formality?
Spencer: I don’t think so. I’m not sure what would have happened, but as I looked at Kennedy’s first two years there, he was accomplishing nothing. It was wearing off. I think it would have been a contest. I don’t think it was a foregone conclusion that Kennedy would be an automatic.
Smith: And if Rockefeller had not gotten the divorce and remarried, was he the odds-on favorite for the Republican nomination in ’64? Or was the party already evolving to the point where Goldwater would be?
Spencer: You can ask a lot of people that question and get a lot of answers, but my assessment would be simply that he would have been a better candidate if he hadn’t gotten divorced and gotten involved. But Barry Goldwater had already laid a very strong base, nationally in the party vis-à-vis Buckley and Rusher and those people, and the west and the south was more comfortable with Barry. Today it’s not true, but in that era, we were never comfortable with New Yorkers in the west and the south. It was a New York thing. See what I mean?
Smith: Was it the New York condescension?
Spencer: To a degree. Which Dewey personified when he ran, and that is what was in everybody’s memory politically. But Nelson, if he hadn’t done that – he almost won the California primary. He wouldn’t have gotten the nomination, if he wanted. It was locked up. But it proved that Barry Goldwater was vulnerable and that he had some weaknesses.
Smith: Now you had been approached by both candidates about running their campaigns?
Spencer: No, never approached by Goldwater. Never. We got the Rockefeller campaign based on Tommy Kuchel’s recommendation. George Hinman went to Tommy and talked to him and we went to New York and we cut a deal.
Smith: Let me ask you, one of the things that has been said over the years is, for whatever reason Rockefeller would never put all of his trust in a Jim Farley, or Louis Howe…and that George Hinman, who was a beloved figure in many quarters and a great gentleman, was no Jim Farley.
Spencer: No he wasn’t. But he functioned very well for Nelson in the sense that as National Committeeman, he had made a lot of connections, and he knew a lot of people in a lot of states. And what George was doing was going around hiring people in individual areas and regions and states to do the Jim Farley type of activities. But also, the Rockefeller organization that sat in New York was top heavy. I mean Ronan, I can go down the list, and they second guessed us all the time in California. But we had Nelson’s support, basically, because Nelson’s attitude was simply, these guys know California, you guys don’t. He was a practical guy. But they were always second guessing us. George had to live with that on a daily basis, and it had to have hampered him.
Smith: Was Ronan particularly heavy handed?
Spencer: I thought he was. He thought he was pretty brilliant, and I guess he was pretty brilliant in some ways. He knew how to get to Nelson, and he knew how to be the last guy in the room. Right? Which is an important ingredient when you are dealing with people like this and there were a couple of others. The press guy, McManus, he was pretty good. He was a pro. The advance guys were good. __________________, but there were others who I can’t remember now, but they were all Ronanites, so to speak, intellectuals.
Smith: Funny you say that because one thing about Rockefeller is that long before the term caught on, he himself was a policy wonk.
Spencer: Yes, he was.
Smith: Ideas mattered. Programs mattered.
Smith: The irony was, here is a guy who thinks that the way to become president, at the head of a party that’s increasingly suspicious of government, is to demonstrate a genius for government.
Spencer: That’s right. But you know something else I noticed about him? In all those top – Nixon, Barry – I didn’t work with him – but all those people – the toughest guy I ever heard talk about the Communist threat in Russia, was Nelson Rockefeller. He talked in terms that I thought to myself, “If he wins, he’s going to be dangerous.” He was tough. He was never perceived as that. And I asked him the question one time, I said, “Why are you this way?” He says, “Well, if you were a Rockefeller, they won’t mind.” Which was a very upfront answer, I thought. I said, “Okay, now I understand.”
Smith: You think that side of him never really came across to voters?
Spencer: No, it never did. Because, in many ways, it seemed like he was always talking domestic and concerned about domestic. When you went into the White House, Ford almost gave him the assignment of domestic. He gave him control of domestic counsel, and that’s how Jimmy Cannon got in there. Then Rumsfeld and Cheney jerked it out from under him. He liked it, the domestic issues. He had a feel way ahead of his time – the race issue – he had a real feel for it. Where he got it, I don’t know. All the money they spent at Spelman, or I don’t know what it was, his friendship with Jackie Robinson – but in ’64 we had a problem. We were down twenty odd points in January and the election was in June.
So we had to do two things. First, we had to destroy Mr. Goldwater. Secondly, find some kind of base somewhere, somehow. So we scheduled a meeting of the professional black types at the Statler Hotel in LA – a breakfast meeting which he hated. He didn’t like to get up in the morning, and he was terrible when you got him up in the morning to give a speech. So I set this meeting up and I had this black guy working with me, Don Taylor, nice guy. He set it up and I expected 35 people. 240 people showed up with their best dress, best hat on, lawyers, bankers, accountants – all blacks. I’m stunned at this thing. So when the thing is over with, I went up and I said, “Nelson, I’m stunned. I don’t understand this. What’s the basis of this.” He said, “Well, I bet you they are all graduates from black colleges.” So I went back and I had Don check, and they were! They felt they owed Nelson Rockefeller something.
So, being a Paul, I said, okay there’s something to hang my hat on. We’ll jump on this one. But, in a primary sense, there were no blacks in the Republican Party, so I put an organization together north and south where we went out and starting in March, we went into the black communities with money and re-registered 90,000 blacks to the Republican Party. Now you couldn’t do that unless you had a message. Nelson was the message because of his support of the black colleges and Jackie Robinson came out and helped me, which was important.
Smith: Was he a good campaigner?
Spencer: Yeah. The kind of guy that was issue oriented. He was interesting. But, anyway, and we did probably 20,000 in Alameda County and north, so we were able to utilize that. And the race was very close. It wouldn’t have been that close if we hadn’t got those 90-100,000 votes in.
Smith: I’ll tell you something, because we talked about this years ago, and I know over the years there has been a lot of speculation that the birth of Nelson, Jr., was the tipping point. You’re not the only one who believes, that it was at least a contributing factor.
Spencer: It was. At the time I thought it was. The scenario – how it came about – Happy came out and campaigned with him and she was great. But she was really pregnant. In fact, we were in the Hollywood Palladium, a big Republican gathering and his good friend Mark Hatfield is brought down to be the emcee and to introduce him, and it was a hostile audience of fat cat Republicans, and it all kind of indicated – early hissing and stuff before he could hardly give his speech. Mark Hatfield folded. He didn’t know what to say about it. And he had a hard time saying anything good about Nelson, when he was introducing him. Then Nelson, in his way, he got up there and he stuck it to him. I mean, he stuck it to him. But he was mad. He walked off stage, Happy walks off, I’m back there behind the curtain. We’re walking out to the limo, and Nelson turns around and he says, “I’m so pissed off I could belt ya!” He says this to Happy. Happy says, “Go ahead, Nelson. That’ll make a hell of a headline.” I mean, she was a great gal. They get in the car and drive off and he’s steaming. She was that kind of lady.
Smith: His anger, it wasn’t directed at her, but it was just…
Spencer: If you’d been there, it would have been you.
Spencer: He was mad and he was mad at Mark Hatfield. So anyway, we got a phone call – Bill and I prior to the primary on Tuesday, June 2, and about four days out – five days out, and it’s Hinman. He says, “Will there be any political consequences if Happy had this baby prior to the primary?” Bill and I didn’t even have to consult. I said, “Hey, George, you got that place up there Pocantico – you can go have the kid there and hide it, but DO it! It will make a hell of a difference.” Our campaign of destruction was based on overcoming the image that he was a playboy, that he was a philanderer, that he ran around. They had effectively tagged him with that early in the campaign, so we had countered it by saying that you can’t trust this guy Goldwater with a nuclear button, and all these sort of things. And it worked because in the polling data we were coming up like this [illustrates his point with hand gestures]. It was working. Then all of a sudden all the birth did was reopen that wound, which we’d spent two million dollars trying to solve. That’s why we were opposed to it.
Smith: I want to tell you something that I think may or may not come as news to you. There was more than gossip at the upper levels of the campaign for years – no one would go on the record, of course – that, in fact, labor was induced. That they actually thought that – and Happy basically confirmed that in a conversation that I had with her last year. What does that tell you about their political judgment?
Spencer: It tells me that Ronan prevailed, because there were people in New York that believed that.
Smith: How out of touch can you be?
Spencer: I don’t know. I guess I rationalize it this way, I said to myself, “Well if he’d won it, the primary, he still wasn’t going to win the nomination.” It wasn’t going to turn the world around.
Smith: Could Goldwater, though, have been stopped? Might they have turned to a Scranton, or somebody?
Spencer: Goldwater had that thing locked up. It was locked up. The Scranton effort which came about in Frisco, probably would have had more life, but it would never had got the job done. They controlled the machinery – I was given a room over in Oakland – that’s how they controlled – I wasn’t invited. I hung out with Dick Gregory and a bunch of black friends of his, and I was going to more black bars than I’d been to in my life. ‘Cause I was the enemy.
Smith: Were you in the hall the night that Rockefeller spoke?
Spencer: No! They wouldn’t let me in the hall. He could have given Kennedy a battle though. Get out of California – he would have given Kennedy a battle. It would have been his money versus Joe’s money – and it would have been a donnybrook.
Smith: Stop and think. If you start looking at the electoral college – what would Nelson Rockefeller’s appeal have been in the south?
Spencer: Not much.
Smith: Which is where, obviously, there’s disaffection with Kennedy because of civil rights. You can make a case that Goldwater at least had a base, in the south and Rocky Mountain states. It is really tough to see how Rockefeller in ’64, particularly against Johnson…
Spencer: In ’64 I can see him – you could cherry pick New Jersey, you had New York, the New England combine, and you had a ballot you could put on Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and those states. You had a chance. It’s similar to Ford. We knew he couldn’t win – I knew he couldn’t win the south, with Reagan or Carter. So I never spent any time there, I never spent any money. I gave my field director, Margaret Tutwiler, who now is with the State Department, Baker’s number one gal. She was a twenty-one year old girl when she came to work for me. She was a receptionist, and after the primary she came in, as a lot of young girls were doing in those days, and said, “I want more responsibility. I want some of the action.” It was the growth of the women’s movement. She came from a very wealthy family in Birmingham – they owned the town. So I said, “Okay, Margaret, you’re going to Birmingham as state director of Alabama, and your budget is $20,000.” Thinking in my own mind, “She’ll get some of Daddy’s money if she wants to make the show right.” Right? Of course, that was illegal because we were federally funded, but it happens every now and then. So anyway, she went down there and did a hell of a job. But that’s how much I thought…
Smith: By the way, in later years it was said she was one of the very few people in the Reagan administration who would return Gerald Ford’s calls.
Spencer: Sure, because she had worked for Gerald Ford and she loved him. All those girls, that whole group of girls and I had about twenty of them. One morning there was a ringleader in it, who was one I really disliked the most, not because she was a ringleader, but because she was trying to work her way to the top in different ways. So she came in, it was really obvious to me, she put this group together – they all came into my office and I had such a little office, it was littler than this – I said, “We’ve got to go in the assembly room. There’s twenty of you.” Well, basically, their complaint was, or their request was that they were tired of being calling secretaries. They wanted to be assistants. I says, “I’ll call you anything you want, just go back to work.” But she was in that group.
Smith: ’64 sees Reagan with a famous speech on Goldwater’s behalf and then you’ve got the ’66 campaign. How did you come to be running the Reagan campaign?
Spencer: Well, I was shocked, surprised. In interim periods, off years, we’d do a lot of city council races and related stuff like that – trying to stay alive. Although we made, relatively speaking, we made a lot of money with Nelson. I paid more in taxes than I’d ever made in a single year prior to that. So, all of a sudden we felt kind of financially secure – semi. So anyway, we were sitting around doing whatever we were doing, and at the time about late November-December ’63 – we’d been doing some council races in LA. Got a call from Kuchel, and he asked if we’d have any interest [in running the Rockefeller campaign]. And our answer was simple – we’re always looking for clients. We didn’t think much about it.
The next thing you know, we get a call from George Hinman. He comes out and spends some time with us. And we’re talking, talking. Finally he called and asked us to come to New York. We talked to Nelson, talked to Ronan, talked to a few other people, and went back to our hotel – we stayed at the Waldorf. We were going to leave the next day in the afternoon. Then that morning George called and he says, “Change your flight.” So we went up to Pocantico, or whatever it is, and it was cold and snowy. We had a driver and everything. We consummated a deal.
We went back to the city and waiting for us was Nick Timmins of Time Magazine. Nick’s brother was married to one of my partner’s sisters. That’s the only reason he knew what the hell was going on. So he took us to – what was that restaurant that was a big sports hangout? [Toots Shores] – the guy’s name in New York? Well, anyway, we went there for dinner. It had been my ambition in life at that point to have lunch or dinner there, so he took us there for dinner. He naturally had an exclusive. We started the campaign and the first thing we do is the survey research, and man, he was like 27%, Nelson was – he was in trouble. We were like, “Ohhhh.”
Smith: Was it the divorce and remarriage, in particular, or the liberal image, the New Yorker?
Spencer: That was just a piece of it – there was the New Yorker, the liberal stigma that he had. He should be a Democrat, he shouldn’t be a Republican. That was how he got that campaign and then – this is ironic, I think. We got through that and ’65 comes along and there were rumors that Reagan was looking at running and they were talking, but we didn’t pay much attention to that stuff. He had been Barry’s chairman out there. We got a call from his brother, Neil, one day. He takes us to lunch and he asks if we had any interest in working with Reagan. We said, “Hadn’t even thought about it. Let us think about it.” Well, at the same time, right after that, and this had never happened to us before, George Christopher, the other leading candidate called us, and asked us to run his campaign. So first in line position between two major candidates, so we had a decision to make. So we’d gone out and met with Reagan at his house – he and Nancy. We talked for hours. We went back and Christopher would come down to see us and we’d talk. Bill and I were really in a quandary. Part of the success of your business is picking winners, but still, by the same token.
Smith: Presumably, the reason they were both interested…
Smith: Presumably the reason, ironic as it may seem, that Ronald Reagan was interested in hiring you, was because of the relative success that you had in the Rockefeller campaign.
Spencer: Yeah, that’s correct. It showed how pragmatic Reagan was, too. He visited his in-laws in Arizona and met with Barry while he was there and he indicated to Barry that he was going to run in California for the governorship, and had pretty well made his mind up. They talked about it – running, and what he should do and shouldn’t do. At the end of it, sort of a throw in, Barry said, “By the way, if I was going to run in California, I’d pick those sons of bitches Spencer-Roberts.” End of conversation. Well, Reagan was the kind of guy that was pragmatic. People didn’t realize that. In the end, it was a recommendation.
Smith: And that was, presumably, a back ended tribute to the job of destruction that you had done in ’64.
Spencer: That is correct – the fact that we’d given him such a hard time. So then the discussion got very, very intense, back and forth, and Bill and I had to really struggle to make a decision. But we finally came to the conclusion that Reagan had a quality that most candidates don’t have. People don’t remember this, but George Christopher was the favorite. He was the choice of the party establishment, so to speak. He was the newspaper peoples’ – for example, Fiddler(?) – not this actor who had given one speech. But we saw the potential in Reagan and we also knew what George was all about. He had plateaued out, he was never going to get any better than he was. He was a good man, he was a smart guy, but he was dull as hell and all of that. And he came from the north, which was not a plus in California in those days.
So we made the decision to go with Reagan. Reagan called us, it was in one of his trips over to Arizona, and we’d been stalling him and he called us and he said, “When the hell you guys going to get off the pot?” I said to him, “Hey, we don’t even know if you’re a Bircher. We’ve been investigating you, we don’t even know what the hell you’re all about.” He said, “Okay, be at the house tomorrow night at seven o’clock and we’ll discuss it.” So we showed up and he’s sitting there, his legs crossed, he’s got the reddest socks on you’ve ever seen in your life. It’s his way of saying, ‘I’m a Pinko.” . So anyway, we talked at length and we finally said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” We had to consummate the financial deal with Holmes Tuttle and those guys, because he never even understood that, or cared about it, or touched it. So that was the beginning.
Smith: Did you see him then, or did he see himself then, as a potential president?
Spencer: I didn’t. We didn’t. We didn’t even see him yet as a governor. The other part of the question is hard to answer. Instinctively, I think that was the plan. Instinctively, I think that they had talked it over and they said, “Let’s roll the dice. We’re not going to make it in this other business anymore, let’s go to this new business.” I don’t know that for a fact, but that could be.
Smith: Was he as remote as – almost like FDR. Here’s this guy who had millions of “friends” but very few friends.
Spencer: That’s true. He had a lot of acquaintances, he had very few friends. His friends were Nancy’s friends. She was the one who had the friends and brought them in and he went along.
Smith: Historically, I’d say, if it hadn’t been for Mary Lincoln, there would not have been a President Lincoln. If Nancy Reagan had never happened into his life, would he have become President of the United States?
Spencer: No, he would have never become governor or president. She was the driving personal force behind him, that was smart, that learned quickly. In May’65 we said we’re going to do an exploratory committee. He didn’t know what we were talking about, but we’re going to do an exploratory committee, because you may bomb, you may not have it. You may not be acceptable, and you’ve got to have an out. So we’ll do an exploratory committee and when we get to January, roughly in that period, we’ll see how you did, what’s going on and so forth. And that was our period of watching him. We were five months into that before Bill and I became convinced that this guy could do it, but I think he was thinking all along, I’m going to run. I mean, he was running. Do you see the difference?
Spencer: It would have been interesting in history if we had set down and said, “We don’t think you can do it.” It would have been interesting what the reaction would have been. At that time we said, “Hey, this is a real horse, and let’s go!”
Smith: How unpopular was Pat Brown by that time? How much of a factor was Reagan turned out to be a star and how much of it was that Brown, by that point, had worn out his welcome?
Spencer: A great deal of it. It was two things: you’ve got to believe in miracles to be a good candidate, and number two: you got to have a lot of luck. I have never seen a luckier politician than Ronald Reagan was in his whole career.
Smith: Including losing the ’76 fight to Gerald Ford?
Spencer: That’s right. But Pat Brown had worn his welcome out to a great degree. He still had a lot of support because of who Reagan was. Reagan was an intruder into this process. But he’d been there for two terms. The dysfunction in the Democrat Party at that time, Unruh and Brown, the two major leaders were at each other’s throat. Jesse was ___________. Brown had basically committed that he would not run for a third term and it was Jesse’s turn and he’d backed down and that just turned Jesse off. So there were all kinds of things going on out there that were helpful to Reagan. And I’m sure that George Christopher saw those things, too. The best way of saying it is, the nomination for the Republican Party was worth having in the governor’s race in that year 1966.
Smith: Plus, 1966 turned out to be a good year for the Republicans bouncing back from the disaster of ’64.
Spencer: That’s right. But people don’t realize the learning curve that he and Nancy were on. Nancy and I were talking about this two weeks ago, or three weeks ago. I reminded her, “You didn’t know a damn thing when we started in 1965, Nancy.” She admits, “That was a real learning curve. Things were happening. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Smith: Like what? What sorts of…
Spencer: Why we would go here instead of there? Why we would only give one damn speech and not do a new speech? We’d let them add two things, maybe ______________________. But he wrote his own speeches. We didn’t have a speechwriter. In his gubernatorial race every speech he gave he wrote. Why? Because he was one of the best speechwriters I’ve ever seen. That’s how good he was. He liked to do it. It made him more comfortable and his speeches were better because he was comfortable.
But they were on a great learning curve. They both learned fast. She sat in every session we had at the house with him, which was sort of like, one-on-one politics – let’s talk about it. See what I mean? Or I’d bring in Charlie Conrad, an old actor who had a good rapport with him, who was a state legislator. He was still doing bit parts, but Charlie was an excellent parliamentarian. He was known for that. We’d say, “Charlie, tell him about the legislature. Tell him how it functions, how it relates to this.” Charlie did a hell of a job with it. That was all learning curve stuff. Reagan’s strength – still there was a gap of knowledge as wide as a street – when he hit those gaps, by the press, I mean, the way he handled the answers was, “Hey, I don’t know everything. We’re going to learn. I’m an amateur.”
Smith: You wonder if a Ronald Reagan could happen in today’s media climate? The 24/7 news cycle and the internet, and YouTube, whether someone like that could come along, be brought along, almost learn on the job, if you will.
Spencer: It would be difficult. The closest thing to it is Obama. But he had a better grounding in the legislature, and a few years in the Senate, than Reagan did. But they are both glib and they both were adroit on their feet.
Smith: You talk about Reagan as a pragmatist. I often think of these people who proclaim themselves to be keepers of the flame. Let Reagan be Reagan and all this. I often think, well, what Reagan are you talking about? Are you talking about the Reagan who was going to put Dick Schweiker on his ticket in ’76 because he wanted to win. That Reagan never gets factored in.
Spencer: Yeah. Well, Reagan hated that saying, Let Reagan be Reagan. He detested that, because he didn’t feel he wasn’t being but himself at all times, really. Yeah, there was a practical side to him. The biggest single thing that motivated him was he wanted to win. Because he was practical; “I can’t exercise my authority, and accomplish the things that I want unless I’m in office. So let’s win.”
A lot of the very conservative people that were blinded to the Schweiker things and so forth…If you really look back on how it worked, we handled them with smoke and mirrors. We gave them enough, but you never sold out. But he’d give them enough. Here is the guy who signed the most liberal abortion bill in the country somewhere in his 60s here in California. The Beilenson Bill. Then later on in his career he became pro-life. I asked him that question one time, I said, “What happened?” He said, “I didn’t know anything about abortion when I signed the bill. I looked at it and studied it and that’s not where my head was.” Which was a reasonable, honest answer.
Smith: You couldn’t get away with it today.
Spencer: Well, he never said that publicly. No, no, he never said that publicly. But, as candidates go, he was just the cream, the top, the best. Timing-wise, his training as an actor was a plus. You can’t deny that. People try to put it another way, but, I can remember watching him in Cleveland, 50,000 people outside City Hall – he’s going to go on – a crazy Jim Rhodes is trying to lobby him every five minutes about something. It was dangerous, Jim was. So I got Rhodes away from him, because he had to have his twenty minutes before he could go on stage to get ready.
I’m sitting there talking to Art Modell with the Cleveland Browns and my event guy comes over and says he’s got three minutes. So I get up and go over and say, “You’ve got three minutes, Ron.” “Okay,” he stands up, he walks out to the wing and out here’s 50,000 people, and I’m behind him, and he took his first steps out on the stage and I swear to God, the guy got bigger. He had this ability of – he got bigger! It was odd. The show started and he was going to deliver, and he did. I see candidates slouch out there…
Smith: I have to ask you, because there is so much to talk about later on. There was the famous remark which I’ve always wanted to hear from your lips. We’re jumping ahead obviously, but supposedly the origin of the Rose Garden strategy – by contrast, with what you’ve just described, can you describe the exchange you had in which you…
Spencer: With Gerald Ford, I assume you are talking about. Well, the whole Ford campaign was an interesting thing and when I got back there it was very dysfunctional. I was on a real learning curve, they were on a real learning curve, and he was on, because here’s a guy, a congressman who wanted to be Speaker that now’s the President, so everybody is on a learning curve. But we reached the point where when he went out and campaigned, and we were doing daily and weekly tracking, particularly wherever you went. When Gerald Ford went out and gave one of his great speeches – ponderous speeches, which weren’t all his fault, he had a bad speechwriting shop – he went out and gave them and our numbers would go down.
That didn’t happen once, this happened about three times. He was always pounding on me, “I’ve got to get out here and talk to the people! I’ve got to get out here…” He was Harry Truman in his own mind. “I got to get out there, I’ve got to do this.” So finally I was at the end of my rope one night, it was six o’clock in the Oval Office and he’s pounding on me. Cheney is sitting there. The world wouldn’t realize how quiet Cheney was in those days. The little mouse in the corner, but bright and loyal to Ford. So, I finally got tired of it. I says, “We’re doing this for a reason,” and I went through the reason. He said something smart to me, and I said, “But basically the question is, you’re a lousy, fucking candidate.” He just looked at me kind of like, oh, okay. End of conversation. He was that way.
Very secure in who he was – it didn’t bother him, but somebody writes the book, Witcover, I don’t know who it is, Jules, Germond, somebody. They write the book about the campaign and I’m sitting there reading it one day and there it is! I went ballistic. Three people were in the room. I know I didn’t say it. Had to be Cheney. I called Cheney on the phone and before he says hello I’m on him. I’m all over him and he lets me go and gets all through and he says, “There was somebody else in the room.” And I said, “Are you saying to me the President told him?” He says, “Yeah.” I said, “Oh, God, in some ways I feel better, much better.” But what that indicated to me was how secure that he was as a person. You know what I mean? And you don’t see that in many of those people.
Smith: He was Trumanesque – in that sense.
Smith: He couldn’t do a Harry Truman imitation out on the whistle-stop but in his character and his authenticity, he was Trumanesque.
Spencer: He was and, in fact, he kept talking about Truman early on. I went over and got the Clark Clifford campaign plan that he wrote for Harry and read it. I thought maybe there are some similarities that we can work with. But, yeah, I have become famous for that remark that was said in private, three guys, they’re all under the rope and I tend to be profane, which he knew and always knew and never bothered him.
Smith: When you said it did Cheney react in any way?
Spencer: Cheney was stoic – still is. But it was like sort of, did you really say that? He didn’t say it, but did you really say that? Because I prefaced it by saying, “Mr. President, you’re a lousy, fucking candidate.” Oh God
Smith: Could you have said that to any other president? Could you have said that to Ronald Reagan? Not that you would have occasion to, but could you have had that frank exchange?
Spencer: I might have said it, but I’d never have gotten away with it. Dick Nixon would have had me in Siberia, and God knows what Nelson would have done. It’s hard to say. He might have laughed out loud, but he’d have never repeated it, I don’t think. Reagan? I came close to saying those things to Reagan in private. I learned something. I said it, man on man, I didn’t have a Cheney sitting there. I learned a lesson.
Spencer: The Ford campaign was – I got back there in September of ’75, right after the Saturday Night Massacre, which was dumping Schlesinger, I think, or maybe it’s before.
Smith: Oh yeah, it was the Halloween…
Spencer: Oh I was there then, but barely there. Because the first guy that I talked to was Rummy, Rumsfeld, and then all of a sudden I’m dealing with Cheney, because Rummy had gone over to Defense at that time.
Smith: And you know Rockefeller went to his grave believing that Rumsfeld was the dark power that did him in…
Spencer: He’s correct.
Smith: And that Rumsfeld went over there because Rumsfeld wanted to be on the ticket in ’76.
Spencer: I don’t know about that, but he did him in and Cheney helped.
Spencer: Just every way that he could internally. Alerting staff, don’t let Rocky’s people know this, don’t let them know that. The whole thing. Jimmy Cannon knows what the whole story is, but Cheney as much as admitted to me when he became vice president of the United States. With a wry smile he says, “Jesus, Nelson Rockefeller would die if he knew this was happening.” I said, “You’re right! You’re right, Dick! You’ve got that right.” I used to meet with Nelson – he was so out of the loop on stuff, I made a point of going over there sometimes on Friday night at five o’clock when he was in the EOB building next door. Who was that gal out front there? Nice old lady, secretary for years.
Smith: Ann Whitman?
Spencer: Yeah, Ann.
Smith: Who had been in the Eisenhower White House.
Spencer: Yeah. She’d see me coming and she say, “It’s going to be a while, I’m going home Stu. I’ll lock the door and you guys go at it.” And the Dubonnet would come out and I’d drink a lot more of it than he did. He only had one or two, he always quit. But he’d say, “What the hell’s going on?” So I’d fill him in, I’d tell him everything. Then he’d ask other questions and I’d ask him for counsel and advice. He knew a lot of things. I swear to God he had a better intelligence around the world than the CIA did. He’d always know. He’d tell me about stories and I’d say, “Come on, Nelson. You’re BS’ing me.” I’d get the whole pile again.
He had good people, but I felt sorry for him. He could be helpful to me, and I wanted to keep him plugged in. I really think he really appreciated it. I think he really appreciated it that I was the only guy around that would talk to him and keep him plugged in. They all knew full well that if I’d been there when they made the move on him, I would have raised hell. Now, it would have been tough to win that primary with Nelson on there, but you could have done it. You could have found ways, and he would have been one hell of a plus for us in the general election. Really. But they’re sure short-sighted. They didn’t see that. Now let’s look at the Ford campaign.
Smith: Let me back up for just a moment. First of all, what, if any, contact did you have with Ford before…
Spencer: I knew Ford before I got the phone call from Rummy. I met Ford in 1964, roughly. He was a congressman, I think he was Minority Leader then. The National Republican Congressional Committee had a retreat going on out at Arley House, which is in Virginia by Dulles, and had about twelve people in it. The purpose was, how are going to take over the Congress and Jerry Ford is going to become Speaker, right? Bob Wilson, who was congressman, the chairman of the committee, Jack Mills was the guy who ran the committee. I think Mel Laird was there. Bryce Harlow was there, Jerry Ford, of course was there. I think Les Arends, the old Illinois guy was there, congressman, and maybe young Bob Michel, I’m not sure. But we’re staying there two or three days, and Ford and I were roommates. Maybe I’d met him occasionally before that, but it was the first time I’d been with him. So we’d go through all our sessions and everything and talk and go back to the room and he and I would sit there and drink a bottle of whiskey and talk.
It was something I never forgot – that night he was really inquisitive about this guy Rockefeller, because I was doing the Rockefeller thing, so to speak, or had just done it. He said, “Tell me about him.” He had an unusual interest which struck me as kind of funny at the time, but I gave him everything I had and knew because he operated – he digested all that stuff and I’m sure he remembered some of it. So that’s the first time I met him and we spent about two nights together, lock talk politics upside down. And then…
Smith: He was a political animal?
Spencer: Oh, when he’d come west after that, I’d have to advance his trip to California. We’d speak in front of all these congressmen and stuff. Then we went into Michigan in ’66 and did the Don Riegle campaign in Flint, Michigan against an incumbent sitting Democrat. He reminded me of a young Rousselot, a Harvard graduate, same thing. First survey, down by 40 goddamn points, it was awful. We developed some new targeting methods and it was one of the reasons we went and Don knew it because it was a perfect district to test it. We had General Motors, we had labor, and we had guys on the other side of the river with money and were in the country club, so it was a way of testing it. But he was also a great candidate.
So the fact that I got involved in his state in a congressional race, then I started getting a lot of advice and counsel from Jerry Ford, right? We ended up winning it and he didn’t think it was winnable. He wanted to try. The only guy when we were halfway through it that thought it was winnable was Dick Nixon, but he was a very good pol with that aspect. He saw what we were doing, how we were doing it. I brought him into the district (he was out of office) fundraiser, and Art Summerfield lived in that district who had been Eisenhower’s Postmaster General. He was close to Dick and he kept giving Dick all these reports, Art did. Then after that, I didn’t see much of him. I probably saw more of Everett Dirksen than I saw of him.
Smith: By the way, while we’re on Michigan, was George Romney in over his head as a presidential candidate.
Spencer: Yes. He wasn’t quick and glib enough. He was a mechanical candidate with good credentials. You’ve got to be kind of glib to handle all the stuff that comes at you. Worse now than it was then. No, George Romney was in over his head. And I heard that from people who were working with him close, they thought he was over his head, too, in retrospect. I get this phone call from Rumsfeld, asked me if I had an interest.
Smith: Now this in ’75?
Spencer: ’75, yeah.
Smith: Are you assuming at that point that Reagan is going to run?
Spencer: Oh, yeah. I knew Reagan would run, but I knew I was never going to get that phone call. I had reached the point – I ran both Reagan’s governors races and he had a lot of problems in his staff in Sacramento. The first thing was the gay thing, after that policy problems – a whole bunch of things were coming down. He has some pretty good cabinet people around him. Vern Orr and people like that, they were very good. Cappy Weinberger, finance director.
Smith: Who had been Republican state chairman in California, and who told me, he was a closet Rockefeller supporter in ’64.
Spencer: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Cappy was a guy, San Franciscan that ran for attorney general in ’58 against Pat Hillings in the primary. Pat beat him. He went back to the law practice, so to speak, had been state party chairman etc., etc. When the meetings were being held with the – what was that…The Kitchen Cabinet. When they were sitting around they could divide the pie up and make decisions on who was going to go – they would invite me to the meeting.
I made a point in the meeting of saying there’s two important appointments this man has got to make. The way he operates the chief of staff is really important – which proved out. Secondly, for finance director, because of the economics in this state and the fact that he didn’t like taxes, but he was going to have raise them – that’s what it boiled to. So they said, “Oh, we’ve got the guy, we’ve got Gordon Smith. He’s a CPA with an accounting firm, a big firm.” I said, “Well, there’s a lot of politics in being finance director. You’ve got to deal with legislators, you’ve got deal with Democrats, you got to deal with Unruh,” who was a master. So I said, “I would suggest Cappy Weinberger.”
I was not one of Cappy’s favorite people at that point because I’d helped Pat Hillings run against him in the primary. But I knew his skills, so I said Cappy. “Oh, he’s too liberal, he’s too this, he’s too that.” I didn’t break my pick for Cappy, I let it go. Well, Gordon Smith was a total disaster, which history will show. Who’s the next guy they turn to, they went to Cappy. Cappy and Reagan became like twins. That’s how close they became. From there on out, through history. But he was too liberal at the beginning for them. It was just a perception. He was a San Franciscan.
Smith: Why weren’t you going to get the call to run the Reagan campaign?
Spencer: I wouldn’t get the call because of the palace guard, that is the chief of staff, all the people around him. I’m not going to name names, you can go back and look them up. But there was some turnover. I was in a terrible position. The Kitchen Cabinet, they’d do something up there that didn’t look good, or wasn’t right or something like this, and Taft Schreiber was usually the guy.
Taft was a tough guy – Lew Wasserman’s guy, and an old ancient friend – he was ancient for Reagan. He told me one time, before I got involved, he took me to lunch and he said somewhere in the conversation, “You got to fire a lot of people.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Ronnie’s never fired anybody. I did.” I said, “You got to be kidding.” But he was right, he was dead right. So, those guys forced me into going to Sacramento when they had a message, and delivering the message.
Now, these guys had been my breadbasket – they took care of me – they were wonderful to me. If they had a project they hired me, they paid me well, and I was loyal to them. And yet, some of these guys up there I’d created like Deaver, a field man for the state party and stuff, and Lyn Nofziger, who I gave the first political job in his life – and that was press director for Reagan in ’65, first guy I hired. So, I’d go up there and I’d try to do it politely, for the good you know and so forth. But they didn’t want me around. But I kept knocking the door down when I had to, and going in and doing what I had to do. The Reagans weren’t involved in that.
Smith: Was that a matter of very artfully keeping a distance from what’s unpleasant?
Spencer: No, I think it’s a matter of, I wasn’t the kind of guy that would go tell him. Say, hey, if you’re going to treat me like this, I’m gone. The Palace Guard was not going to tell them, because they knew I was still held in respect in anything political. Not policy – it was politics Reagan __________________, too. To that point. I had a lot of battles with them and they didn’t want me around. Which goes back to one of my thesis, which I don’t think they recognized. But the one I always had with Reagan was, whoever owned the body ran the shop. You see what I mean. I knew that. I don’t think they ever recognized that. If they did, I didn’t give them enough credit. So anyway, I would just start backing off.
I did the ’70 thing and did it with Tom Reed who was not a problem for me up there. Then I just started really backing off. I’ll just tell you right now that they poisoned the well from there on out in terms of anything…so I went my way and they went their way. They wanted to be the guys that put him in the presidency, and all that stuff.
Smith: By ’70, was there any doubt in your mind that he had the White House in mind?
Spencer: Not at all. In ’68 I knew he was going, because they started getting these people, the Cliff Whites, the Rushers, and the Buckley’s and all these other people were coming talking to him about it. Then they put a little group and the Reagans insisted that I come to these groups in ’68. I sat there and I listened to Cliff, of course I’d known Cliff for years in other ways, and so forth, with the whole thing. It just didn’t smell right to me – the president – ’68. Plus I knew that Nixon had it locked up.
Smith: Let me ask you – remember there was this kind of bizarre coalition of convenience between Rockefeller and Reagan. That was the only way to forestall Nixon’s nomination, the hope being that if you could stop him on the first ballot then eventually one of them would win the nomination.
Spencer: Yeah, that’s talk. There was no coalition. They weren’t talking. I remember going to the first governor’s conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado with Reagan and when I got there I said, “You’ve got to meet Nelson while you’re here. You two guys have a lot more in common than you think.” The irony was, we get on an elevator and we’re going up, I think. We stop at the first floor and who is standing there? Nelson. So I said, “Governor, meet Governor.” There was no communication there – any attempt at it. Because most of those people around Reagan, they couldn’t stand Nelson. They weren’t pragmatic enough to sit around in a room with him and say, “Nelson, let’s make a deal.”
Smith: And was Strom Thurmond the factor in supposedly holding enough of the south for Nixon? Clearly, there were southern delegates whose heart belonged to Reagan.
Spencer: Oh, believe me, yes. Yes, Strom was – and others, but Strom was the key guy. In one of these meetings I listened to it and I said, “This is going nowhere.” Some guys like Tom Reed, they had him running around the country at this point talking to people. So I stayed over that night and went and saw Reagan and Nancy the next day and said, “Are you running for president? There’s three of us, tell me.” And I got the famous quote that was, “The office seeks the man.” I remember, I leaned forward, and you asked me if I ever said anything to him, I said, “Ron that’s bullshit. If you want it you’ve got to go out and get it and you’ve got to put it together right to get it.” He listened. Oh then, I closed by saying, “If this is the way it’s going, then I don’t want any part of it. I’m out of here. I just want you to know. It’s either going to be done right or I can’t be a part of it.” He didn’t argue with it. He was passive. He really believed that the office sought the man.
Smith: That was totally sincere on his part?
Spencer: Totally sincere. I guessed it ain’t gonna work and I backed off.
Smith: Was she more realistic?
Spencer: Oh, yeah. She’s going like this. I’m nailing him and she is giving him this, you know what I mean. And God knows, I always wanted to know, what the conversations were like after I left. That’s what I always wanted to know. That’s when I knew, yeah. He was running. Of course, it didn’t go anywhere. In fact, I backed off and with the finance guys – they kind of liked the idea – I put together the delegation that went to Miami and it was a great delegation. If they only knew what I did.
I had balance between Reagan and Nixon. They could go either way. I had them either way. Because Nixon, you’re going to fail, he may have jumped in there and tried to push it to Nelson or something, you never know. But I had a twofer delegation, which with Bob Finch, I used him as my key lynchpin because he knew what I was doing. So it was a comfortable delegation for Reagan, but it was also – I had no problem with Mr. Nixon if it was obvious.
Smith: This is sort of a detour, but it has always fascinated me. Politics is full of people who appear to have such promise, unlimited promise, and for some reason or reasons, including circumstance, it just is never realized. That’s probably the historical reputation that Bob Finch has. And why was that? Was he too loyal to Nixon? Or do people exaggerate the talent, the potential?
Spencer: No, he was very loyal to Nixon. That was a plus and a minus. He was a talented guy, he was a creative guy. He’d come up with great, off the wall concepts and ideas and things to do. Some of them good, some of them bad. But his loyalty to Nixon was probably the biggest problem because he made some bad decisions, and all of us who were close to him told him. The first thing he runs for lieutenant governor, he’s not necessarily a Reagan guy. But Reagan embraced him and he wins by the biggest margin.
Three weeks out he’s only 300,000 ahead and we turned our billboard around and made them Reagan/Finch. We put a bundle of money behind Bob and he gets more votes than Reagan. He never quit reminding the world of that. I used to say, “Robert, where were you three weeks out?” He knew what I was talking about. It was nice. He is sitting there as lieutenant governor, he’s the heir apparent. Nixon offers him something in the cabinet and he didn’t offer him HEW. He said, “What do you want?” We get the group together and Bob tells us, “What do I want?” We said explicitly, it was HEW then, we said explicitly, the worst job in the cabinet for a Republican is HEW. You just ruin your credentials. So what’s he do? He takes HEW. Ah! So, his decision making was poor. Leaving the power base that he created for himself of independents, going back to work for him…
Smith: And then getting ground up.
Spencer: He was an insecure guy, Bob, and I loved him, but he was really an insecure guy. He wasn’t like Ford here, who felt good in his own skin.
Smith: That’s interesting. Tell me about Ford’s intelligence.
Spencer: He was very intelligent. He wasn’t – some people who are intelligent are quick and glib – he was intelligent – he tended to be ponderous about it. But he was intelligent. He always came out on the end of the tunnel with logic and the correct thing to do, based on the input of facts that he got. His biggest weakness was he would let personal feelings enter into to some decisions, color some of his decisions. His extreme loyalty to people was a great plus but a great minus. I can sit here and give you so many examples of loyalty to me.
Smith: Give me some.
Spencer: When I went back there, I went back on the commitment that I was going to run in New Hampshire and the Florida primaries and then I was going home. Well I got there and the campaign was dysfunctional. Callaway was in trouble, he canned Lee Nunn, I didn’t know all this was going on.
Smith: Where did Calloway come from? Was he a Rumsfeld person?
Spencer: Rumsfeld had picked him, yeah. Their thought and theory at that time when they made that choice was that he had started GOPAC, which I think is sort of a conservative fundraising thing…that Ford could carry the south.
Smith: Against Reagan?
Spencer: Yeah. Of course the first thing you’ve got to recognize is they didn’t think Reagan was really going to run. Number two, if he ran, he was a lousy candidate, because he was an actor and a this and a that – the whole Washington establishment, both sides of the aisle, they all felt the same way. I knew better. When I arrived on the scene that’s all I heard. And I was whistling in the dark, and telling them all, “You’re crazy man, you’re crazy. Number one, he’s going to run. He’s been planning on it, he feels like he was cheated out of it by Watergate.” And I said, “Rightly so, he was the heir apparent. And then you come along and you’re in his way. Secondly, he ain’t dumb. He’s a smart campaigner and he has a real pulse of the party – what they want to hear, what they want to do.” They didn’t believe me.
Smith: Did that include Ford? Did you have conversations like that with the President?
Spencer: Oh, yeah. But, you know, it’s like when you’ve got Marsh, who is a great guy, and you’ve got Hartmann, who’s a dumbo, and everybody else telling him that Spencer’s nuts – what do you do?
Smith: How much of that was – part of the beef was – Ford took a long time, maybe never did fully outgrow his congressional roots, whether it’s how you run the place, the whole spokes of the wheel notion, or even the campaign. Hartmann was clearly a lightning rod in his congressional office, yet he brought him along to the White House. Who was Bob Hartmann and why did he matter?
Spencer: Bob Hartmann was loyal to Gerald Ford. Bob Hartmann wrote two good speeches a year. But the other twelve weren’t too good. He was there in the tough times for Ford and he was loyal to him and Ford honors that and he respects that.
Smith: Difficult person though, right?
Spencer: Bob? Oh, yeah. He was difficult. Drinking was his problem. He was a two time person – I remember when he was a political reporter for the LA Times. He ran the Washington Bureau for the LA Times. Drinking was his biggest problem. Is he still around?
Smith: No, he passed away about a year ago.
Spencer: Down in St. Croix or somewhere he moved to?
Smith: Wherever, yeah.
Spencer: That was his biggest problem, he drunk days, not just drinking at night.
Smith: It’s interesting you say that because he clearly was this very polarizing figure within the congressional office. When they moved into the White House, the little hideaway office off the Oval Office – he wanted that office for himself. Which is revealing, but what does it say about Ford’s comfort level with difficult people? Diverse, egotistical, whatever you want to call them.
Spencer: He could handle it. He could bounce it all together. Jack Stiles was the same way, his original campaign manager. When I got back there Jack Stiles is sitting in an office. I say to him, “What’s Jack doing?” “Well, Jack’s this or that.” Well, I had to find room for Jack. I went to the President and I said, “What do you want me to do with Jack Stiles?” He said, “He’s my guy.” I said, “Okay.” So I pleased Jack.
Smith: He was from Grand Rapids?
Smith: And had been in the congressional campaigns?
Spencer: He had run his first campaign for Congress. A lot of people showed up from Michigan. I found them all over the place.
Smith: Was that part of the problem? That it was a congressional mindset being superimposed on a presidential campaign?
Spencer: Yeah, plus, the breakthrough I had to make was, he’d been in that town so long, everybody liked him – both sides of the aisle. Most of his people were Congressional people – they all had the answers, they second guessed me everyday – every hour of the day of the week. They had access to him. It was a nightmare for me through the early stages. A nightmare. But this is a demonstration of his loyalty, too. I went to my godfather, Bryce Harlow.
Smith: The original wise man?
Spencer: Yeah. I said, “Bryce, my commitment was to come back for New Hampshire and Florida, then I’m going home.” I said, “These people don’t realize that if they don’t win New Hampshire they are dead meat. They just don’t realize that.” But that’s the truth. He agreed. I said, “The second problem is Florida. If we can get through three, then I think we’re in a race, at least.” But if a sitting incumbent president loses the first primary, he’s done, especially with a guy like Reagan out there sitting.” So, Bryce agreed with that. So I says, “That’s what I’ve committed to do. Besides that, I’m sick and tired of fucking Mel Laird…” and I go down the whole list.
Smith: Tell me about Mel Laird.
Smith: There must have themselves, a reaction from the Reagan camp, or at least from the Reagans when you committed this ultimate betrayal of going to work for Ford.
Spencer: I think they’d accepted the fact that I was out of the picture by then because they’d been running. I never heard anything. There was never any reaction until I did my infamous commercial which said, “Governor Reagan couldn’t start a war, but President Reagan could.” Then I got a reaction. He blamed the whole thing on me, put his fist through the bulkhead. That was the only reaction I ever heard about to my participation in the Ford campaign.
Smith: Was that the raw nerve? The warmonger issue?
Spencer: No. The key to the New Hampshire win, I don’t care what anybody you interview says, the key to that win – the White House, the Ford entourage of Washington – didn’t know Ronald Reagan. They didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t respect him. The fact that I was hired by Ford, I don’t think at any point in time it went through their minds that we’ll hire him because he knows Reagan and he worked for Reagan – which would have been a smart way, I think. I had never found any indication that it was for my other alleged “raw political skills,” shall we say.
So, I know one thing about Reagan. They’re lucky they got me in that sense, and I don’t say that to brag, it’s just that I was the only person that knew anything about him. I knew that he was a rhythm candidate, ‘cause I’d seen him in rhythm, and I’d seen him out of rhythm, and my whole goal was to get him out of rhythm in New Hampshire every chance I could get. Because I knew we had a week’s down time because he would screw it up when he got out of rhythm.
Smith: Explain rhythm and out of rhythm.
Spencer: Rhythm is, he doesn’t get a tough question. He gets a question that he can’t handle, something in his past is brought up that he really said that is kind of stupid now, but he said it – you’ve got it documented. An accusation when he was running for governor, he was on the same stage with Christopher one time and either Christopher or _______________, I can’t remember which, basically accused him of being a racist. He lost it. He storms out of the meeting, I’m chasing him down the hall. It’s damage control right now, what are we going do? He’s cussing Christopher, he’s cussing everybody, “I’m not a racist.” And he wasn’t a racist. I forget what brought it up, but it came up. I saw him lose his cool on that one and it was hard getting him back in focus. That sort of thing really upset him. So I set up, I had a press guy call me in the Chicago Tribune, can’t remember his name now, and he said, “Have you heard about the ninety billion dollar program that Reagan advocated in New Jersey or someplace?” I said, “No, I never heard about it.” I didn’t think much about it.
Smith: It wasn’t Peter Lisagor
Spencer: No, no. It was J something. And he thought it was a great story. He was mad because they buried it in the seventh page and it had happened prior. It was speech written by that guy Bell, who was…
Smith: Jeffrey Bell.
Spencer: Jeffrey Bell. So I get the speech and I read it and I’m not a big policy wonk, but I said, “This doesn’t look good.” So I turn it over to some research guys and said, “I want you to take this and extrapolate it. I want to know how much this would cost the people of New Hampshire, of Florida and every other state.” Knowing in my mind that New Hampshire was a non-taxed state. They prided themselves in being a non-taxed stated. So the numbers they came back with were astounding. It was going to cost everybody in New Hampshire twelve grand or so. It was one of those off-the-cuff speeches you give to the Women’s Federation type thing– raw meat time. So, with Peter Kaye, my press guy – he was a wily little guy, we put together a campaign, we put together a kit, we put together a timing, we took the _____________ who had great rapport with the media, went to the right guys, the Broders, and all these people and prepared them that something was coming, and so forth. The day we hit it, it was on the seats of every press guy on the Reagan plane, as well as every press guy who was traveling with Ford ____________.
Smith: Now how did it get on the Reagan plane?
Spencer: You have ways. You have ways. And so, it’s a charge we made and we delineated what it would cost the people and then we attack him on it. He stumbled all over New Hampshire for three days. Couldn’t answer the damn question. Guy got him out of rhythm. So then he goes back somewhere else and tries to get – it takes a week to get him back, I noticed. It bought us a week’s time – that week. And that’s exactly what my Governor Reagan couldn’t start a war, was the same thing. We did it in California, where I knew we’d have our tail handed to us. It was just a matter of – you get beat by ten points or twenty points. I said, “How can I make something good out of that?” So I said, “We’ll do it in California, ‘cause it’s going to affect Ohio and Jersey and other states.” They were still a little iffy about this guy, whether he was a warmonger and all that kind of stuff. We got swamped in California – the reaction there was fierce. They were all over me. We only ran it once, and the national media picked it up for us and did my job by running it in Ohio and New Jersey and everywhere else.
Smith: It really is almost like the famous Daisy commercial.
Spencer: Yeah, same thing. Same concept. So, that put him in orbit. But it also put him off his feed prior to those primaries. That was my whole goal – always trying to keep him screwed up.
Smith: While you were coming up with this stuff, did Ford know about all this?
Spencer: I would brief him, but not into any great depth. I’ve always believed the candidate should know what you’re doing, particularly if it’s going to get controversial. He bought in.
Smith: For example, this particular ad…
Spencer: He knew about it. I don’t think he understood the depth of the consequence. I don’t think he understood the rhythm thing that I was talking about because he wasn’t a rhythm candidate. But he trusted me, he had faith in me. But getting back to the Laird group and all that. It wasn’t the Laird group, it was the Rhodes, Johnny Rhodes, Jesus, I can go through the whole list of them. I was always being summoned to the Hill to be told what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, and so forth. I got sick of it. I’m living in a motel or a little hotel across the street from headquarters. I’m getting about four hours sleep a night. I’m killing myself, and so I go to my godfather, Harlow, and I tell him my commitment to stay and I’m going home. Bryce looked at me and he said, “No you’re not.” I said, “Why?” He said, “The President needs you.” I said, “I don’t give a goddamn,” and then I dump all over his friends.
Bryce got on my ass, “Okay, Spencer, yeah.” And he did this (contemplative hand gesture) and the whole thing.” When I leave, Christ, I’m not gone two hours and the phone rings. It’s the President. He says, “Come on over to dinner tonight.” Right? “You’re not going anywhere.” You don’t say no to a President is what it was. I says, “Okay, then the ground rules change. Your goddamn friends,” and I named them, and I told him and went through the whole thing, “they’ve got to get off my back and leave me alone. They can be helpful, but let me go to them to ask for their help. They’re taking up four hours a day.”
“I’ll take care of it.” I never heard from them again.
Spencer: He took care of it.
Smith: So he could lay down the law?
Spencer: He could lay down the law. John Heinz was running for the Senate. The closing days of that campaign, I get a phone call from my field guy in Pennsylvania, he says, “I got up this morning and went to work and there was these Carter-Heinz signs, billboards all over Pittsburgh.” I said, “Take a picture of one for me.” I know what’s going on. I called John Heinz up, he’s not a Senator but I called him. I said, “Heinz, what the hell’s going on?” “I don’t know anything about it.” I said, “I don’t believe you. You’re full of bull.” I got all over him. He started getting mad at me and we’re going back and forth, finally I says, “You know, John, some places in this country you’d get kneecapped for doing that.” He said, “You’re threatening me,” and I said, “No,” and I hung up.
Well, afterwards I thought, Jesus, I’d better go talk to the President. So I called over and that secretary answered and I said, “Whatever you do, don’t let Heinz through until I get to see the President first, okay?” She said, “No problem.” So I get over there I says, “I’ve got to tell you a story.” So I tell the story and what I say to him, all these billboards popped up, he goes, “What?” So I tell him the story. “But let me tell you about my conversation with Mr. Heinz.” So I tell him this little story straight, the way it was. He looks at me, “You did the right thing. I hope he calls.” So I says, “Okay.”
Bill Simon, his great secretary of the treasury, my sources kept feeding back to me that he’s out giving speeches and he never mentions Ford’s name. I know his advance guy, so I call and I said, “I want a copy of all of Simon’s speeches.” I read a bunch of them. He never says his name. He gives a hundred and twenty speeches, he never mentions the President. I had already passed the word to the Cabinet that when you’re out giving your speeches and something good is coming down, refer to the President and give him some credit. Butz and those guys, they were great. Coleman, he was great.
That ticked me off, so I call up Hines(?), Garland was his chief of staff, former advance guy for me. Garland knew that I never went to see these guys unless I was mad, he knew that about me. So when I walked in the door, he said, “What’s the subject?” I says, “He ain’t going to like it.” He said, “I’m getting the hell out of here,” because he had a terrible temper, Simon did. I get in there and we chatted and he’s a happy man, he’s always got something. Bill Simon had ambitions of his own to be president and I knew that. So I says, “Bill, you’ve given 127 speeches in the last twelve months or something. You’ve never mentioned the fucking President’s name!” Psssst – up straight up, and it went bad from there.
Smith: What was his explanation?
Spencer: Well, I was wrong! I said, “But I read them.” Grrrr – sidebar – “I did this…” It went on and on. I said, “I don’t know what your game is, but I’m just putting you on the alert that we know about it and we expect more support for the President from his Cabinet.” Again, I said, “Jesus Christ, (words unintelligible) So I run across the street and the Treasurer is talking to Kissinger and he sends Kissinger out because I said it’s important. So I tell him the story. Again, “You did the right thing.”
That’s support! I had it 100%.
Smith: Do you think he suffered from not having more people like you around him?
Spencer: Early on he did, because he was working with the Nixon crowd. They weren’t Ford people. At least Hartmann was dedicated.
Smith: Leon Parma told the story: at the last minute he and Rhodes and other folks from the Hill got sort of pushed into the East Room for the inauguration at Ford’s insistence. Afterwards there was a little receiving line that formed up and they said, would everyone join us in the East Room and so on. He said, “We were down in the East Room, there were a few of us, and the Nixon people, en masse, turned and walked away. Never came down to where the President was.” What more dramatically illustrated the fact that Ford was marooned in a White House staffed with Nixon people?
Spencer: He was. It is a difficult thing to say, because they knew where the keys to the door were. Slowly it transitioned out. Gergen was there, Jones ___________ was there, he was Al Haig’s guy, they were all there and Rummy to a degree, but you can’t put him in that category, because he was close to Ford. Cheney was a detachment of Rummy’s.
Smith: When you look again at the Rockefeller situation. In many ways, Ford almost created that situation by leading Rockefeller to believe that he was going to be in the domestic sphere when Kissinger was in the foreign sphere. That he was head of Domestic Council and it was really built up. Rumsfeld, for all of his shortcomings, is basically in an impossible situation himself. You never want to blame the president so it’s always the people around the president, who are your enemies. Could it have worked, given the temperament, given the personalities? Example, Rockefeller loved programs – that’s how you get elected in New York. Ford decided early on there weren’t going to be any new programs.
Spencer: You’re right. A lot of it is Ford’s fault. When I first read it and saw the job description, I said to myself, that’s not right, because they are a hundred miles apart on domestic issues. They were on in foreign policy, but how could he give Nelson that? That must be a misprint or something. Nelson would come up with a program and go into the President and the President would ash can it. Or they’d get in a big argument because they were that far apart. Yeah, he has to hold some responsibility for that sort of thing. The chairs were changing in the office, the power was moving back and forth. Cheney developed into an excellent chief of staff. The thing that I appreciated about him and noticed about him was that no matter what the point of view was, the person got access and the right to talk. He didn’t shut people out. You would have never known what his philosophy personally was in that era. That’s why so many people say today, “That’s not the Cheney – that’s not the Cheney I knew.” He was acting as the honest broker and he was a very good chief of staff in doing that.
Smith: One thing I don’t think we actually nailed down: what was the original approach made to you about coming into the Ford campaign?
Spencer: First one was by Rummy in a phone call, and they were going to meet in Sacramento when he got shot at by Squeaky. I went up there, I was in the hotel. Rummy and I were starting to talk about it and all hell breaks loose. We’re out the front door and Squeaky’s taking the shot and…..end of conversation.
So I come home and I don’t hear from anybody. Then I go to the state convention – Republican Party in San Diego. I’m going to be there a couple of days and Bo Callaway comes to it as National Chairman of the Ford campaign. He corners me. He really starts working on me. You can tell he’s talked to everybody back there. His mission was to get me to come back and do something in the campaign. So he lobbies and lobbies and lobbies, and I didn’t know. I thought about it.
At the time the marriage I was in was not going well, and it sounded pretty good – like get the hell out of town, to be honest with you. So I says, “Okay,” and I left on that plane with my little ditty bag and Bo and came back to DC and walked into an absolute firestorm of problems.
Smith: Describe the campaign that you walked into.
Spencer: When I walked into it, Bo the chairman was now in trouble with the West Wing. They realized at that point that maybe the southern strategy wasn’t going to work, and yet he was the kingpin of the southern strategy. Number two: Bo had hired Lee Nunn out of Kentucky to be his political director, and they didn’t get along. Discord between the West Wing and the campaign, dysfunction going on in the campaign headquarters – I almost got a plane and came home. The only reason I stayed was that I had made this commitment, they can do what they want to do, I’m going to go run New Hampshire like it’s a Congressional race. And I’ll get Florida started.
So all of a sudden, Lee – he’s got me – so he cans Lee. I took the credit – they gave me all the credit for Lee – I had no idea what was going to happen. Now I’ve got an enemy all over the country, poor-mouthing me, calling… I had nothing to do with it. I was used, so to speak. So I’m now political director, so I start thinking over some things, and had the complete confidence of the White House. Well, Bo didn’t. I’ve got to get things done! I’m in a balancing act trying to keep my chairman happy and not trying to hurt him, yet doing the right thing, back and forth, back and forth. Then Bo gets in trouble and they find an excuse to dump him.
Thirty days went by and I’m called vice-chairman of the campaign – I’m sort of the top dog over there – but I’m still busy running campaigns. I’m going to take care of this other BS. Finally they bring old Rog in. Morton, who was a great chairman, but sick, dying of cancer. He said, “You do what you want to do, Stu. I love ya. I’ll back ya.” And he did. He gets sick and he couldn’t come into work and then he got in trouble with his great statement, which was a cheap shot by the press, the White House really felt after the convention they had to get rid of Rog.
Smith: Was that the thing about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?
Spencer: That was the first one. That was the primary night. In his office, we had a bar set up for the press and it was all behind him – Rogers wasn’t even drinking – they were drinking the goddamn booze. Oh that was a cheap shot.
Then the other was at the convention he made some crack that was blah. But anyway, Jimmy Baker had been brought in. Rogers came to me and he said, “I got this guy over at Commerce (I think it was). A bright young guy, he’s this he’s that, and he wants to get in this political thing.” Well, I said, “Rogers, I’m at the point where I’m running campaigns. We’re getting delegates. I can’t keep track of the delegates, somebody’s got to take care of the delegates, ‘cause I’ve got to go to another two states next Tuesday and another two states, and now you’ve got eight states behind us with delegates. Half of them are emotionally committed, but not legally committed.” I said, “That’s what I need.” That’s what I had in mind. I said, “Bring him over.”
Bob Teeter and I interviewed Baker. I liked what I saw. I explained what I thought his role would be and he came. He moved right in and he did a great job. Just a great job. Jimmy always does a good job. After the convention, Rog got into trouble again. We were at Vail, Dick and I and some others, talking. It was a consensus that Rog wasn’t up to the general election effort. So then the big debate became about them. I thought Jimmy would do the job. I wasn’t totally sure, but my job description for a chairman is the ability to handle the Sunday shows, be articulate, to go on and do all the news shows on Sunday. Take care of the money, because we’re federally funded – there were laws involved. And stay out of my way.
That was sort of my theory of what the hell a chairman ought to be. Jimmy came and did a great job. The funniest part of the whole thing was, he was so worried about the law which said that if you spent more than $21 million dollars, the president and the chairman could go to jail. I said, “Jimmy, there ain’t no way they’re going to throw the President in jail or you. It’s BS!” Well, we went home with a million bucks because Jimmy was cautious. I learned later he was always cautious.
And the second was, when I came in to tell my chairman that I was going to send out a mailer to all the – I’ve got a great list of all the religious right around America – and I got this Catholic list and I got this other list and I’m going to send out inflammatory mail, and I’m going to put a little newspaper together and send it out. He was like a nervous cat on a hot tin roof. I found out later, I won’t say who from, but it was a person we both knew well, Jimmy and I…he said, “When I do that dumb crap,” the lawyer in him would make a memo ‘for the record’ and put it in the file. The file was about that thick when the campaign was over with, because he was – I’m a guy that swings for the homerun – he’s super cautious. We actually made a good team. We made an excellent team. I really became very close to him – still close to this day.
Smith: Let me go back to the primary campaign in New Hampshire. You’ve got Reagan in some ways at least in a vulnerable position. You’ve changed the dynamics of the race, anyway. But you still only win by what? A thousand votes?
Spencer: Oh, yeah!
Smith: It’s a cliffhanger. What do you remember that night? Were you confident that you were going to win in New Hampshire by the time the primary rolled around?
Spencer: I wasn’t confident, I felt good, but I knew that it was up for grabs. That’s why we drove our phone banks to the end. Reagan cut his off. There were a lot of things. Reagan left the state, we flew the damn Air Force One into some burg town. They could hardly fit it in. We stayed until the end because I was worried. Reagan – they pulled out. Their polling data showed them winning by eight points or something and they pulled out and left us a 24-hour gap with all the accoutrements of a president, the airplane, the Secret Service – all the things – the trappings that you can take into a little state like New Hampshire.
Smith: Remember though, it was right about that time that Richard Nixon decided to visit China?
Spencer: Yes. Well, I knew Dick Nixon. I grew up with Dick Nixon’s school of politics. When I came home from the Navy and I’m out drinking beer one night and I come home and sitting at the kitchen table is my dad and Dick Nixon and they’re talking about how they are going to raise money in that area, that part of the district, for the race. I’m introduced to him. Politicians didn’t impress me when I got out of the Navy. That was the first time I ever met him. I was around him a lot after that. I knew the guy.
He knew what he was doing when he went there. He knew it wasn’t helpful to Ford. He knew that his timing was a factor. He knew those things. I said something to Brokaw, and of course it was a great news story. The White House came unglued. Cheney really climbed all over me. There were a lot of Nixon people still in the White House. I stuck to my guns. I said, “Look, I’m telling you right now, that son of a bitch knew what he was doing and he’s sending a message.”
Spencer: I don’t know! That whole transition from Nixon and the Ford, the pardon, the whole thing – I was never a part of, I’ve heard conflicting stories – the only people I know in the world who could probably tell you what really happened is Phil Buchen and Becker – Benton. And Becker would never talk to you because I know Benton very well. Benton’d talk to you, but he’ll never tell you the truth. He was in it up to his ears. He was sharp – Benton’s a sharp guy. I believe Ford’s story on the pardon, I mean, I have no reason not to.
For people who believe in conspiracies there are a lot of reasons not to believe in it – so, leave it alone. Everything that transpired there about his records in the White House, trying to sneak the records out, all kinds of stuff. There could have been some bad blood, there could of have been some, “Well if I can’t have it, why should this guy have it?” I do know one thing. I know the man well enough, I knew the man well enough, to know that it wasn’t an accident, that he knew what he was doing and he knew it could have an effect upon what happened.
Smith: And did it have an effect?
Spencer: I don’t know. That race went back and forth, back and forth.
Smith: You know there is an argument that Reagan unintentionally performed a service in that he made Ford into a better candidate than he would have been otherwise.
Spencer: True. It’s true. There’re dichotomies in everything that Ford did. That made him a much better candidate. That was two 400 pound gorillas going at it, those two guys. One with the power of the presidency, the other with the talent and really the hearts of the voters, the Republicans were with him. We had to muscle him away from him. Giving stuff away, doing everything, making commitments, and then holding them. It was close in Kansas City, really. So, yes, that made him a much better candidate. But then by the same token, the division we created hurt him in the general election. So you go back and people say, “the pardon.” I think he did the right thing. Did it hurt him? Yes, it hurt him in the election. So he does the right thing, and then it’s the burden he’s got to carry.
Smith: The other school of thought which is: say he hadn’t pardoned Nixon. And say we’d spent two and a half years obsessing about Nixon’s legal problems and Nixon’s papers, etc., etc. It can be argued either way.
Spencer: It can be argued, but I could not have run a campaign if every time he went in front of the press somebody hit him with a Watergate question. We couldn’t have gotten the message out. We couldn’t have had any continuity, and we would certainly have had a frustrated candidate.
Smith: I assume candidates, even people who are gentlemen and who like each other at the beginning of a campaign, probably can’t avoid developing a personal animosity the longer the thing goes on. And there was no pre-existing friendship between Ford and Reagan.
Spencer: No. There was no respect of Reagan on Ford’s part. He didn’t think he was qualified. Reagan felt that Ford, by his appointment, and then in saying he wasn’t going to run after he got it, that he interrupted the natural flow of the Republican process. It was his. So there were a lot of reasons. They never liked each other – before, after, to the end. Period. They were civil.
Smith: It wasn’t simply a question of staffs or wives, those functions that often tend to drive these things. It was the principles.
Spencer: Yeah, they just didn’t like each other. He asked Reagan if he wanted to be VP. I would say, “Do you want Reagan for your VP?” “Hell, no.” “But you’re going to ask him, aren’t you?” “Oh, yeah.” Reagan says, “I don’t want to be asked,” because he doesn’t want to say no to a president. That’s all in the ________________.
Smith: You were getting those signals in advance – don’t ask – but by that point – did Ford want to ask?
Spencer: No, but he knew he had to. We had to have that cover with that base. When it all came out and everything, we had to be able to say that we asked. That it was going to be first choice.
Smith: So, did he ask Reagan in the meeting? Or was that just something in the run up to the convention.
Spencer: The word was passed through Cheney to Sears that Ford would pick him if he had to – not if he had to, but if he wanted to. In other words, backhanded, I really don’t want it. So never were they in a face to face.
Smith: But through channels, reliable channels, the word was passed that if Reagan wanted it, he could have it. And the response was?
Spencer: No. Now, in the Reagan campaign they weren’t communicating internally very well because a lot of the people over there thought that Ronnie should get it, were blaming Ford because he wouldn’t – they weren’t keeping their people informed. But we had a ground rule early on before the convention started. One spokesman, one spokesman. Cheney here, Sears here. They wanted me to be it, I said, “There’s no way.”
Smith: It is fascinating you say this, because Leon Parma told the story of where after the convention, he was approached by Justin Dart, who went off about this. And he said, “Wait a second, Bill Smith told me not to ask,” etc. etc. and Dart said, “You’re lying.” Fortunately Smith came into the room at this point and vouched for everything that Leon had said.
Spencer: A lot of those Kitchen Cabinet guys weren’t informed and they were mad as hell about the whole thing, but our side, everybody knew what the game plan was.
Smith: If Ford had lost New Hampshire – now remember for much of the evening Reagan led, it was only late that Ford eked out this victory – would it have been over?
Spencer: Yes. I’m probably the only guy in America that believed that, at that time. But at that time I don’t think anybody – that would have been the catastrophic defeat for a sitting President of the United States by one of the best candidates America had seen since FDR at that time. That would have been a chink in the armor. Boy that would have been dead meat. I even tell it to a degree the same way about Florida, that we couldn’t lose that. Then I breathed easier, we went and won Illinois and then it all came down – we got our lunch handed to us in North Carolina, which was an indicator of where there was going to be long summer.
Smith: Describe Florida because, that’s thirty years ago, it may surprise people today to think of Florida as a state where a relatively “moderate” Republican could win, particularly against a charismatic conservative.
Spencer: There was a quite large Cuban delegation in there and it was all pretty conservative. But Florida was also settled by retirees from Michigan and New York, and etc., etc. We found ways of accessing those people by mail and we pounded them with mail. Plus we used the trappings of the presidency again. We put him in an open car up in Palm Beach, and make him drive in the rain all the way through Miami. A whole road would be lined with people to see a president, which they do. We had a chairman named Lou Fry, he was a Congressman, he was awful. One of my first moves was dumping Lou Fry, again a Congressman. He had a Cuban working for him, Juarez, and he was a staff guy and I’d go in the office one day and I open a bottom drawer and there’s about twenty thousand dollars worth of unpaid bills sitting in it. I can’t remember who we put in as chairman.
It’s weird, but what I did, basically, is – Bill Roberts had left the company in ’73 – he had diabetes, he had health problems, he had IRS problems, he was sick of politicians and he left and started some other operation. It wasn’t a political operation. It was something in health care. At the time when he left, I bought him out. I said, “Bill, you’re going to be back somewhere because you don’t know anything but politics. That’s all you know – that’s all we know. We couldn’t make a living if it wasn’t for politics.” “Oh, rahrahrah…” So I kept getting word from people that Bill was getting bored with what he was trying to do. So I called him up on day and said, “How’d you like to go to Florida and do the Ford thing for us?”
He was on the next plane, right? So I told the White House I was bringing Roberts in, they thought that was good. But I said, “But I’ve got to warn you, Bill loves to throw money at problems,” which he always did. I said, “We’re going to spend a lot of dough.” He went down and he put it together great, did all the right things and we did very well in Florida. We had a good carryover in Illinois, but that was a more natural state.
Smith: Was Social Security an issue in that campaign?
Spencer: They tried to make it one, but it wasn’t really an issue. We had some Democrat congressmen up in the peninsula area who were really helpful to us. Of course, as I remember, they got a Veterans Administration hospital, too, somewhere along the line. We pulled the plug on all that stuff, we did everything.
Smith: The Rose Garden strategy was more than standing in the Rose Garden. It was clearly exploiting, to the fullest, the advantages of the incumbency.
Spencer: It was the primary concern: what have we got, what can you deliver, Earl Butz out there in Iowa? What can we deliver to Iowa?
Smith: The last story of the day, because I remember hearing from several folks that the Queen’s visit came a month before the convention, And it’s a good thing she didn’t see the guest list because apparently it was larded with undecided delegates and their families who wanted something tangible from the Ford White House. And I guess there were some delegates who kept changing their minds and you had to keep…does that ring a bell?
Spencer: That’s true. We larded that and we larded White House dinners. When the president of Italy was there, you saw every Italian-American in Jersey there, I guarantee you. Yeah we used the power of incumbency. My thesis has always been, you deal your strength, and I was his strength. Yeah, Mississippi was the biggest example. Clarke Reed was – I don’t know how many times we bought him – and he’d come unglued and we’d buy him back.
Smith: What did you buy him with?
Spencer: Oh, I don’t remember what we did with Clarke Reed. Cheney had not really been in politics – he was a policy guy – he never ran for anything, he’d never been involved in a campaign. And he was sniffing around, getting in and out, so we assigned him Clarke Reed. “You are responsible for Clarke Reed. You’ve got the power to give him the house, right, where you sit? You’re in charge.” So I never asked, really. If I was told, I forgot.
Smith: There is a wonderful story – one day right about then some crazed individual tried to climb over the White House fence, and was shot. The story goes, Cheney was in the room, this was related, and the Secret Service agent says, “Shit, I hope it wasn’t an uncommitted delegate.”
Spencer: Well, I’d say, I hope it wasn’t Jack climbing out. There were others. The other thing I never understood from the Reagan standpoint in that campaign was, I was nervous going into Kansas City. We had like an 84 vote delegate lead, I thought – somewhere around a hundred. We had a lot of delegates who loved Ronald Reagan. They were for us for practical reasons, but their hearts were with Ronald Reagan.
So I thought they would start a fight on floor about some policy thing – some ideological issue that we couldn’t measure up to correctly, and stampede that joint. That’s what bothered me the whole time. That’s why I said to my people when they went out to the platform committee, which started a week before, I says, “Whatever they want, give it to them.” Everything. So I get called and they say, Jesus, they want to do this – I say, “Give it to them!”
I get summoned over to the White House about five o’clock one night. I walk in and old Henry Kissinger – (in German accent) “He’s a giving away my whole foreign policy,” he’s pointing and yelling at me. I listen to Henry. Ford is listening to Henry, and he looks at me. I said, “He’s right, I’m giving it away. But if you want to be the nominee, we got to give it away.” End of conversation. Ford was practical. Henry was mad at me, but who cares.
Smith: That’s perfect! On that note we’ll end for the day.
Smith: Golf and the president.
Spencer: He loved the game, he really did. He was pretty good. In the period of time I knew him, really knew him, in ’76 on, I’d say his handicap ranged from about a low of twelve or thirteen to a high eighteen or twenty. It was not fun playing with him when he was president because he’d be out at Burning Tree, and he always had to have a bet and he always had to keep score. He’d hit a ball over to the trees at Burning Tree, the Secret Service would be walking along the tree line with their big guns, and you’d see him hit it out, he’d go down the fairway, all of a sudden his ball would come flying out of the wood. The Secret Service would throw the ball out. So I’d climb all over the Secret Service guy and he’d just smile at me. The message was, “You’re not President. Presidents get advantages and they get a break.”
Smith: Did his game deteriorate after he left the office?
Spencer: No. The older you get, your game deteriorates, all of us. In terms of when he left office, he played a lot more golf, frankly. He probably got a little better and then maintained it. His knees were his problem. I could remember over at Morningside we used to play a lot and he’d get into a trap and he couldn’t get out of the trap. He’d stand there until you put a club in there and he could grab hold of and pull himself out with. So we used to make him stand in the trap – his son Steve and I. I remember we used to do that to him. He loved the game, he worked hard at it. If anything, I would say he got too much counsel. Because of [his] position in life he played with all the great pros. They all had to give him a lesson, but the greatest one I ever saw was Craig Statler.
For some reason, Ford picked me as his partner in this tournament one year. He always wanted to win his own tournament, naturally. He was competitive. He and I had been playing out here in the desert prior to that quite a bit and I was playing better than my handicap at the time. I was playing pretty well. He noticed that. So when Barrett and he put the pairings together, he picked me as his amateur partner because he figured I could pick up some holes for him. We drew Craig Statler as our pro. We played two days. We were on the Vail golf course and Ford had a terrible putting problem. He had what is called the yips and he developed them early.
So he went to the long putter and he still had the yips with the long putter. Craig had watched him on two or three holes and finally he went over to the president and he gave him a little putting lesson as we were moving along. “Swing it back, just through the ball, back and through the ball, Mr. President.” I was sitting in the cart watching all this and we get to the next hole and I was sitting in the cart. Craig gives him another little lesson, almost verbally before he putts. He comes over and sits down next to me in the cart and he turns away and he says, “I can’t watch this.” He enjoyed the game; he was pretty good at it.
Smith: Would he get angry with himself?
Spencer: Yes. He would get angry with himself. Disgusted is a good word.
Smith: Language would reflect that fact?
Spencer: Yes. But he also used it as a vehicle to get his frustrations out. I remember one time he called me, we were in DC and it was a Sunday. Seven o’clock in the morning I get a phone call – he says, “We’re going to play golf at Burning Tree.” Ughhhh. I had to go tearing around and meet him outside the gate at the White House and get in the car and go out there. He was somber, which was not like him in terms of going to play golf. We got on the golf course, we were on about the third hold and he started in. He was really upset about the leaks.
The leaks, which is a perennial problem with anybody, but it was starting to get to him. The more he talked, the madder he got. To the point where he was banging the club on the cart and I’m beginning to think, does he think I’m the leak? Am I out here to be…? Finally I said, “Mr. President, do you think I’m the leak?” He said, “No, no, no,” and he just went on and on and on. But two hours later, he’d got it out of his system. You could tell he felt better. I kept telling him, this is not your problem, this is a historic problem of any White House. There are things you can do to solve the problem, but it is still going to happen.
Smith: For someone who valued loyalty as much as he did, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, intellectually I know this is the way it’s always been.” But then to be in the middle of it…was that White House – you’ve seen White Houses – any more, for lack of a better word, cutthroat than others?
Spencer: No, I don’t think so. The leak problem, the cutthroat problem, whatever you want to call it, is the end product of the way the West Wing is structured, basically. Now in his case, he had Nixon people and he had his people, and he was trying to meld the two together. That creates a division. In other words, there are press loyalties developed by all these people. Nixon’s people had some press loyalties, Ford’s people were developing them. So there was that.
The Reagan White House was more stark. You had two camps. You had the Meese camp and you had the Baker camp. Created by the man, himself. I can distinctly remember the same story with Mr. Reagan. I’m at the residence for dinner one night – the three of us, Nancy, he and I, and he’s mad about the leaks. He’s going through the same song and dance. First I said to him, “You created it.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Your troika. They are all down there vying for power, they’re all trying to one up the other side. The press are having a hay day – it’s readymade for them.
There is a solution. He says, “What’s that?” I said, “When you walk down to the office at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, you stick your head in the press room and say, ‘I want everybody in here to know that everybody in the White House is on the record. There are no off-the-record conversations.”
“Good idea, good idea.” And I knew that this is what would happen, he doesn’t stop, he goes to his Oval Office and in comes Baker and Deaver, probably, and he says, “Oh Stu had a great idea last night,” and he lays it out and they go ballistic, right? So later on I asked what happened. He says, “Well I told the boys what you said, they didn’t agree with you.” I said, “Yeah, because they’re the problem!” He just looks at me, “Okay.”
They all have leaks, they all have problems. These new things coming out at the Nixon Library – about the tapes – and you can see how tough they were on leakers. They were brutal, you leak, you got your taxes checked. They’ve all faced it.
Smith: Was that the roughest White House you’ve known.
Spencer: Yeah, within my lifetime. Oh yeah – that was out of bounds.
Smith: Ultimately, I assume it reflects the temperament, the character, the outlook and the methods of the man in the Oval Office, doesn’t it?
Spencer: In my judgment, it always does, yes, correct. Dick Nixon was paranoid and it’s reflected in what the people did around him. I knew Haldeman when he was a young advertising executive and he wasn’t of that demeanor at that time. He developed that. He identified with his principle and couldn’t break the cord and became one of the bunch.
Smith: We were talking about the primaries, but before the primaries you had the dumping of the vice president and the whole shuffle in the Cabinet. Schlesinger went, was replaced with Rumsfeld, Rockefeller was dumped. Had there been talk of that as a distinct possibility leading up to its actually happening? Was it something that was in the air around the West Wing or in the campaign?
Spencer: I wasn’t there. I didn’t come until September, but I realized after I got there, I asked questions because I bridged the gap. I knew Nelson well, I’d worked for him. I liked him. I thought he brought a great deal to the Ford White House politically. The basic story in conversation I got was they had a southern strategy and they had brought Bo in and Bo and others had started to immediately talk about “we have to get rid of Rockefeller.” That was the beginning of it.
Smith: Is that something that would have been developed outside the White House, or inside the White House? It’s hard to imagine something like that taking root in isolation from whoever in the White House was looking out for the president’s political interests.
Spencer: No, it couldn’t have been in isolation. It would have originated there and then outsiders brought in. In the Ford White House a lot of outsiders had input. He had friends. He had his Congressional friends. He had lobbyist friends all over town. Power brokers all over town. He sought and got a lot of outside input, more so than any other presidents I knew.
Smith: Would you say that’s a good thing on balance?
Spencer: Yeah, if the person is a stable, balanced person, yeah. A lot of people cringe at the idea of a lobbyist – a major lobbyist like Bill White was then – and was a good friend of the President’s. I was talking to Bill about something, but Bill was a sensible, reasonable, balanced guy that understood that town totally. I think it was a plus that he reached out all the time and talked to other people. That’s a cocoon, boy. You could lose your perspective. He still had that middle western perspective.
Smith: Do you think the family helped?
Spencer: Sure. He spent a lot of time talking about his family. He had young kids for his age when he was in the White House. Two of them, three of them were at an age where, let’s face it, if you have kids like I have, they were a pain in the ass. Right? His sons and my son were about the same age. He and I had some of the same problems and I’ve seen him, when I’m in the Oval Office with him, keep Henry Kissinger waiting outside for fifteen minutes to talk about Jack – something Jack’s doing. And I’d say, “Well, I know what you’re talking about. My Steve’s doing it, too.”
Smith: Jack Marsh told us a wonderful story. The day before he goes out to Chicago to the VFW to announce the Vietnam Amnesty Program, which again, is characteristic – anyone else would put it in a press release on a Friday afternoon and be done with it. Ford goes out to this hostile audience to make this speech. Anyway, day before he leaves Jack comes in and says, “I’ve got some bad news for you.” He [Ford] says, “What’s that?” He says, “Steve never registered for the draft on his eighteenth birthday.” And the president looked like he’d been gob smacked, just, “Oh, no. What more?” Well, amazingly, they got the head of the draft in, they got Steve, they did all the paperwork that day, the press never found out. But it would have been a quite a story.
Spencer: But, you know, three kids, teenagers, the one son was down at Wake Forest, and he was a preacher or whatever it is, a chaplain, and I never really knew him. But these other three kids were at that worst stage in their lifetime, as far as a parent is concerned, and he’s sitting in the White House. That was a load he never talked about, and people never really talked about. But I could see it every now and then in his eyes and his body language. Betty’s addiction problem was a tough row and he handled it, but it was tough.
Smith: Were you aware of it? Were people aware of it at the time?
Spencer: If you were around there, you had to be aware of it.
Smith: We’re talking about in the White House?
Spencer: Yeah, oh yeah. I was aware of it. As presidential wives go, she really didn’t show up very often anywhere. But he had to carry that burden and I don’t think at that time he really had an understanding of addiction, either. I know I didn’t and I went through that with a lot of my family and friends after that, too. I’ve had a lot of them in Betty Ford’s over here, and I don’t think any of us understood it when we first saw it. I think he was that way when he was in the White House.
She was charming and she was all that, but there were times she was floating. She floated. I brought her over to the headquarters one day for all the to-fors, and volunteers and paid people, a lot of them from Michigan, and I was standing in the door of my office and I had some of the Michigan people greet her that were working there. I saw her walk through the door and start moving, and I says, man, she’s floating. She was alright, but if you knew, you watched her, she was floating though the place. Today Betty wouldn’t even remember being there. I went over and asked her, I said, “Do you kind of remember that,” and she said, “I don’t remember that.”
Smith: She became an issue in some ways. There was the famous Sixty Minutes interview. The sense I have was that the initial reaction in the White House was, “Oh my God, what has she done?’ Particularly with this looming conservative challenge and so on. But that over time, there was this second wave of reaction – a lot of it from women, but also a lot of it, post Vietnam and Watergate, all of a sudden she came across as authentic, candid, maybe to a fault. But in that climate, that was a very appealing quality. In fact, I think she said things in that interview I don’t think Hillary Clinton could have said twenty-five years later.
Spencer: That’s true. There were mixed reactions within the framework of the White House, I think at that time. It didn’t bother me. I thought it was a plus, but there were others very concerned about it. I always maintained, you’ve got to be who you are and most political figures and activists don’t recognize the fact that the public is a lot smarter than they think they are and they can sense things and smell things. She came across as sincere. Even if you disagreed with her position on Susan, okay, well, the lady is being honest. That quality of honesty in coming out carried the day for her, I think.
Smith: Didn’t she add a little bit of sex appeal to the Ford White House?
Spencer: Oh sure.
Smith: It was a pretty vanilla place.
Spencer: Yeah, she did. It was very much different than most Republican women would talk at that point in time.
Smith: You probably saw some of the mail. I’ve seen some of the letters…my favorite was from Maria von Trapp, of Sound of Music fame, who wrote to the president and said, “If you want to get re-elected, you have to tell your wife to shut up.”
Spencer: Well, the breast cancer thing was a plus, I think. The longer it went and the longer time has passed, the bigger the pluses become of the awareness she made of that. This all happened afterwards, but …why I think she is beloved today, is the way she handled her addiction, upfront, went through the process, then turned around and got Leonard Firestone and these guys with money to back her and put that Betty Ford Center together which has helped thousands of people every year.
Smith: In terms of actually addressing how ordinary people live their lives. In particularly in terms of coming to grips openly with the addiction issue, or breast cancer, or whatever, she’s made as much impact as a lot of presidents.
Spencer: Oh, definitely. And the Fords themselves were probably two of the most open people in the White House and out that I’ve ever dealt with. The Rockefeller family, very measured in terms of what they talked about. The Reagan family has probably got more exposure, but they don’t talk about it. Whatever their problems are internally with their children, etc., you never hear them say anything publicly about it. And they had their problems.
Smith: Would it be the culture? You forget, in the mid 70s the culture wars are beginning to take shape. It was somewhere in the press that, unlike other presidents, the Ford shared a bedroom and they shared a bed. And there were concerned Americans who wrote the White House to protest.
Spencer: I can believe it.
Smith: Did the kids enjoy campaigning?
Spencer: Ford kids?
Spencer: Jack did. Susan had other thoughts on her mind. Steve was out west, I never saw him much. Jack showed up in my office with a written campaign plan. Jack had his own ideas and was another problem I had to deal with. He’d bring one of his bright young buddies with him. I’d give him jobs and assignments. He showed an interest in that way, but Jack had a very short attention span in terms of – it was one of those situations when you knew it would be gone in a week. You wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Steve didn’t seem to want any part of it. Susan was just a teenage gal, interested in what she was doing and dating and all that stuff. Jack showed a real interest. Later on, after Ford came out here to the Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, he called me up one day. I was over at Newport Beach, then, before I came out in the desert. He said, “Jack thinks he wants to run for something.” I said, “Okay, we’ll talk about it.” I think I came out here and he and I talked about it first, and then Jack and he and I talked about it. I kind of delineated…you have an opportunity because your name is Ford. Other than that, you have no basis for doing it. The president understood that, Jack didn’t of course. The president really wanted this to happen, believe me.
He wanted this to happen. I said, “Okay, we’ll do a trial run here. We’ll leak some stuff, I’ll put some stuff together. We’ll try to raise a little money.” I made Ford drive all the way from here to Corona del Mar at the beach to a person’s house to talk to some people so I could put $10,000 in the bank to start the ball rolling for Jack. He was there and he produced. We did a few other things and the president would show up and Jack wouldn’t. Shall I put it that way? It became evident to me that Jack liked the glamour of it, but he didn’t want to get in and do the hard work. That was not Ford-like, because Ford was the reverse. He would do the hard work to get to the end.
Finally, I think the president recognized that Jack really wasn’t built to do it. I think it was a statewide lower office that, to me, with that name, if you ran a hard, tough campaign was achievable. But the candidate himself has to be hungry and Jack wasn’t hungry.
Smith: Let’s get back into the primaries and the convention in ’76. After he was dumped, did you ever have a conversation with Rockefeller about anything – about his role in the administration or the ’76 campaign or just generally him blowing off steam?
Spencer: I met with Nelson about damn near every Friday night during the campaign. If I was in town, and I wasn’t in town a lot, but it had to have been fifteen or twenty times during that period of time, I would go over to his office in the EOB and sit with him at five o’clock, at the end of the day. The staff would leave and I would fill him in. He’d give me counsel, he’d give me advice, he’d bitch and whine about something that was happening to him. He’d ask me for counsel, we had a very good relationship. I thought he was a plus. He was a plus to me.
The specific act of him being dumped, I asked him one night in this conversation. I said, “Do you want to tell me what really happened?” The answer was, “No.” And that was the end of it, and if you knew Nelson, you’d know that that was, “I’m not going to talk about it.” So I never heard his version. I heard versions from his staff and from the other side, but he never commented. He was the good soldier. I remember at the convention Ford went through this agonizing process of picking a VP running mate. It was agonizing because, when I look back in retrospect, he pretty much made up his mind what he was going to do, but we went through six hours…
Smith: You mean before the convention?
Spencer: At the convention. Sitting in the room, Nelson’s there, Bryce Harlow’s there, Laird’s there, Marsh was probably there. Cheney was there. They’re probably ten or twelve of us. All the names were put on the table and they all were evaluated. Closed meeting. Incidentally, there never were any leaks from it, which I was always proud of, considering some of the people who were there.
Smith: Like Mel Laird?
Spencer: You know what I mean.
Smith: Is he the champion leaker?
Spencer: He was very good at it. Then we’d adjourn and we’d go back and some of them would go on until like one o’clock in the morning. And we’d go on to our room, and then at three o’clock we’d get a phone call, and we’d get up and we’d stagger back. I remember I’m staggering down the hall, because Bryce Harlow was in a room right by mine, and he and I came out the doors at the same time. And we’re staggering down the hallway to go to this and I turn to Bryce, I said, “Bryce, you have any idea what he’s going to do?” Bryce says, “None whatsoever.” So I says, “Okay.” So we go back in and then we go back through the whole process again. But Nelson was there at every meeting, Nelson was a contributor. It got to look like what was an absolute stalemate. People are grinding on each other.
Smith: By the way, was Anne Armstrong seriously considered?
Spencer: No. I was going to get to that. Only by me. I see a stalemate and animosity developing, people had their favorite candidate. Ruckelshaus – there were people pushing Ruckelshaus. Teeter was there. He was pushing Ruckelshaus. At the stalemate point I says, “Mr. President, what are we screwing around for? Why don’t we just go with Nelson again?” The first guy that pops up is Nelson, “No, no, no,” and goes into his – of course, nobody there wanted Nelson to go again – “I don’t think.” Everyone else shut up. So Nelson bowed himself out very beautifully. Then I said, “Why don’t we take a hard look at Annie Armstrong?” Again, there’s a big blaaaaa – silence in the room. I give my pitch. My pitch is, “Hey, we’re thirty-two points behind today. What have you got to lose? Let’s swing for the fences.”
Smith: Do you think Walter Mondale had that same conversation a few years later?
Spencer: Yeah, I think so. That thing never got off the ground.
Smith: Howard Baker was supposedly a leading contender?
Spencer: Howard was a leading contender. What it really got down to, when you analyze it, and Howard was a leading contender, was I kept reminding him – you’ve got a problem in the farm states – we’re losing today – we’re losing Republican territory. That’s really what Dole’s strength was, and it was a good decision for that reason. Dole was given an assignment, he delivered. He’s taken a lot of heat for some reason, but he did everything he was asked to do and he delivered. All the states we were worried about, we got them. I attribute it to Bob Dole. It was the correct choice. He was flippant and things like that. He got in trouble at one debate, but who cares about a VP debate in the long haul? People don’t understand that. I’m surprised Biden didn’t get in bigger trouble than he did, because he’s flippant, too.
Smith: Was part of Baker’s appeal the thought that he could poach on the south? Was it a geographical…
Spencer: It was that in part, and part of it because his role in Watergate. He was the good guy Republican in Watergate. What’s the great statement he made when he was on that committee, he made a statement about…
Smith: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
Spencer: Yeah, that’s correct. That was a nice little theme.
Smith: I heard, over the years, that the reason he didn’t get it was because of concern about Mrs. Baker’s drinking problem.
Spencer: Joy, yeah. Joy, yes, that’s correct. I knew Howard well, and I love Howard and that was a burden he carried too as a public official for a long time. But, ironically, she was Everett Dirksen’s daughter, and Everett had the same problem, but Everett knew how to handle it. He was a functional alcoholic is what he basically was.
Spencer: He gave a speech one night, biggest fundraiser, I forget what they call it – the Republican Party puts on in Washington every year – they still have it. It had to be prior to ’68 because Nelson Rockefeller had a table, Ronald Reagan had a table, all the heavyweights of the party were there. Everett was the main speaker. I was told by somebody, it might have been Howard, somebody said there was a reception in the Presidential Suite beforehand and – Dirksen had star power – I was assigned to keep track of Everett that night – makes sure he gets down there at the right time, the whole thing.
So I’m up in the room and everybody is having a belt or a drink, and Everett has – I wasn’t paying much attention, he always understood what the ground rules were. And he comes over to me because I’m in charge of him, he knows that, and he says, “On the podium, under the podium, a glass of (I can’t remember, either gin or vodka) I want it there where they put the water glass.” I said, “Yes, sir.” I get down there and I put one underneath there and we go down and all the preliminary speakers – I’m sitting there at the table in the front row – and I’m saying, “God I hope they don’t want a drink of water,” to myself, I hope they don’t do it – and none of them did.
And then Everett gets up there and he got a tremendous ovation after he was introduced, and it went on and on and on, and Nixon is over here and Reagan is over here. And as soon as the ovation finally dies down – I mean it was four or five minutes and while the ovation is going on he was ________________, and I’m going, “Holy Toledo.” And it’s over with and he leans over into the mic with that gruff voice of his and he says, “I accept the nomination.” I mean, it was classy. And then it was five more minutes and the Reagan table and Nixon table are kind of like, “What?” And then he proceeded to give a spellbinding oration, which he did and knocked off the whole glass.
I almost kept the glass as a memento – I was going to take it home and put it in my case – the Everett Dirksen glass. The point is, Everett had a drinking problem, too. It is a genetic thing, I’ve had it in my family. My father, real father was a falling down drunk Irishman, and the gene skipped me, thank God, but it caught others in my family.
Smith: You bring it up – did people drink a lot more in those days – in the political culture?
Spencer: Oh, yes. I started noticing that in the late ‘80s. The young people that you would bring in the campaigns – the guys and gals out of colleges that would migrate to Washington from all across the country – they were into wine, they were into pot, they were into that stuff. But their predecessors, my generation, we were into hard booze. We drank whiskey, we drank bourbon, we drank scotch, we drank gin, and of course everybody smoked. The kids were starting to get away from smoking, too. So, yeah, drinking was an ingrained part of the political culture.
Smith: Did it fuel some of the more eloquent oratory?
Spencer: Some it did. There were people like me – there were certain jobs in campaign where I would only hire a non-drinker.
Smith: Really? There was that story, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, I think Ehrlichman is the source – before the ’68 campaign when Nixon’s about to run, he wants to hire Ehrlichman and Ehrlichman has watched Nixon in action and says at some point, he’d be interested in doing it, but not unless Nixon can guarantee that he’ll control his drinking. Now that may be self-serving on Ehrlichman’s part, but it’s a….
Spencer: Well, no, that’s a problem. Probably the closest I ever got to Dick Nixon was when he was out of office between ‘60 and ’68. He would work with our law firm – he started a law firm in LA called Adams, Duque, and Hazeltine and went to New York with the Rose firm, but he still came back and forth. Many of the times when he came to California, he’d call me up and say, “Come on over to the hotel, I want to talk.” Because he wanted to talk politics. Well, we’d sit there and drink and talk politics. He couldn’t handle it. He really got paranoid when he got three drinks in him. There are things I’m not even going to discuss that were said, but they were the result of drinking. He could not handle drink. So, if Ehrlichman said that, there’s fact, there’s reason to believe him.
Smith: Did he resent Eisenhower?
Spencer: Yes. He resented everybody. There was the paranoia there. Why would a guy have Butterfield go through the White House and take down every ex-president’s picture? That happened.
Spencer: Yeah. That’s resentment. I say that he was a Jekyll-Hyde guy. He was one of the better political thinkers of our time. He was one of the best tacticians of our time. In these conversations I would have with him, I mean he used to talk about timing, peaking, I mean there were things I hadn’t thought about that I thought about later. So, he had all that. I said to his face on occasion, “I don’t know why you’re a candidate. You ought to be a manager.”
1968 I get a phone call from him, a year out from the election maybe, he says, “I want you and Bill to run my campaign.” He’d gone through a group already and canned them. I think Haldeman had come. Haldeman had come over to see me, too, and he was with J Walter Thompson, I think, and basically, he made an offer to buy our firm – to bring it in. Bill, my partner and I talked about it. It was evident to us that they wanted to buy us now and then use us later. It was all part of Nixon’s concept. We said no. If the price had been right, we’d have said yes, naturally. But we said no.
So he called and he asked if we’d run his campaign. I said, well, we’ve got to think about this. “Well, I’m going to South America on a trip, when I get back we’ll talk about it.” So Bill and I talked it over and there were two factors involved, because we eventually said no to him. First one was, we knew that Nixon ran his own campaigns – we knew him.
Smith: Was that the problem with the ’60 campaign, for example – that he really ran it himself?
Spencer: Yeah, it was. The other thing was that we knew that our governor, Ronald Reagan, had stars in his eyes. It was ’68. And we had to do business in California, and his staff had already been giving us enough trouble on the business level, so we said no. So Nixon calls when he gets back and we go through the song and dance, and the first excuse I used was the Reagan excuse. But incidentally, that’s information Nixon wanted. That told him that this guy is serious. He was that way. But then, at the end, I said, “Besides that Dick, you run your own damn campaigns.” And he chuckles on the other end of the phone. “Yeah, you’ve got a point.” He ended up by saying, “Okay, but I want you to do something in the campaign.” I said, “Fine, wonderful. You’ll have your team put together, everything will be going great.”
So that was the end of it. Then after the convention I got a call from Bob Finch. He says, “What do you want to do in the campaign?” I says, “You got the team.” He says, “Nixon said to call you and ask you what you want.” I said, “Okay, pay us some money, we’ll do nothing.” Finch says, “No, you’ve got to do something.” So I became in charge of all the California fundraising guys – to help all the Nixon, Taft, Shrieker, and all those guys who were helping him to raise money. They paid me seven thousand dollars a month or something because Nixon was the political figure that kept his word.
Spencer: He didn’t have to. We didn’t expect it. I was shocked when Finch called. In fact, Finch was shocked. So anyway…I can’t say he had a drinking problem, he was just a guy that couldn’t handle liquor.
Smith: Did you spend much time around Nixon after his presidency?
Spencer: Yeah, not much. The first person, I’ve got the handwritten note some place in my office at home. After the Ford campaign, I came home either the end of November or the first of December. I called Nixon up in San Clemente and I says, “I want to come out and talk.” “Come on.” So I go down there. Three hours. I wanted his critique, because I respected his political, tactical judgment. This is all in light of me blasting him in February of that year for going to China, but I understood what he was doing, he understood what I was doing.
Smith: Is that the mark of a pro – that it was just business?
Spencer: Yeah, that sort of thing was business. He always considered me one of his because I grew up in his organization doing all the menial jobs – learning the business, so to speak, from Murray Chotiner and all those guys who were around him and were good. We went through three hours of critique. When we got through that he started being the political animal that he was. He started asking questions like, “What’s Bob Finch’s future?” or saying, “Let’s talk about the next governorship in California,” and he says to me at that time, “I think Pete Wilson will be one of the better candidates down the road.” Well Pete Wilson ended up being governor of the state of California.
Smith: And in fact, was one of Nixon’s candidates for ’96. I’ll tell you my story. At Pat Nixon’s funeral there were four eulogists. Improbably, one of them was Pete Wilson, who had been an advance man in the earlier campaigns, and one was Bob Dole. Nixon never did an uncalculated thing in his life. At Nixon’s funeral there were four eulogists. One of them was Pete Wilson, one was Bob Dole. I wrote Dole’s eulogy and to my dying day, I’ll be absolutely convinced Nixon knew, first of all, that Dole wouldn’t be able to get through that speech without breaking down – and that would be the best thing that could happen to Bob Dole. He was using his own funeral as a showcase for his political heirs for ’96.
Spencer: Yeah. That sounds like him. Because those were some of his favorite people. Now Finch, he was always fun, he was like a son to him.
Smith: What happened to Finch?
Spencer: Because of the decisions he made of leaving the lieutenant governorship and going to HEW – he got into trouble at HEW – you talk about the drinking thing, Bob had sort of the same problem that Nixon did. He didn’t drink, but when he did he was gone. I went back to Washington when he was at HEW. He brought Jack Veneman, who was a shrewd, smart, California legislator as his deputy. Jack did the best he could, I know, to protect him. His secretary was Doris Jones who had been Pat Hillings, my congressman’s secretary and worked for Nixon in the VP spot, I think. An old pro gal, a protégé of Rose Woods. I’d go Finch, Doris would call and say, “You’ve got to talk to Bob,” so I knew there was a problem. So I showed up. It was a Saturday morning. When I walk in I notice there is a desk out front and Bob Mardian is sitting at it. I don’t know if you know the name Bob Mardian.
Smith: I know he had a Watergate connection.
Spencer: Yeah, but he was a Mitchell guy – from Phoenix. _______________ originated in California, went over there. I never trusted Bob Mardian. He had his own agenda and in my political mind, I see Mardy in there, I know he’s not a Finch guy. I go into the office and I say, “Bob, what the hell is he doing out there?” Bob tells me and I say, “Get rid of him!” “What do you mean?” I said, “He’s a spy.”
That White House had the old crowd and the new crowd. The old crowd was Chotiner and Dent and Finch and the new crowd was Mitchell and Haldeman, and he had to make a decision on the side you were on. So Bob and I went down to lunch at the waterfront, there on the Potomac, one of those restaurants. Now here’s a guy that didn’t drink, really. We sit down and the girl comes over, she says, “You care for a drink?” Bob says, “Yeah, I’ll have a martini.” I kind of looked at him and I said to myself, “Okay, Bob is going to have one. I’ll have a martini.” I mean, we had four and Bob and I were grrrrrr, but the job was eating him up. He knew what I was saying about Mardian, but he wouldn’t admit to it. Plus he was in a job that a Republican can’t survive at. It was eating him up – it took a lot out of him.
When he came home he dinked around in politics, and did a lot of things. But you notice, none of the old crowd got trapped in Watergate? Nixon’s old crowd – Herb Klein, he didn’t get caught – they had to have inklings of what was going on and they sure as hell stayed away from it, but they were very loyal to the guy.
Smith: Let me ask you, the loyalty to Nixon. What was it in Richard Nixon that would inspire the kind of loyalty of a Rosemary Woods, and I’m sure others, people of character who apparently loved the guy? Was it the Dr. Hyde side of the Jekyll-Hyde, or what was it?
Spencer: Oh, I think that was part of it, and I can speak for myself to a degree. It was the recognition that he really was a talented guy in some ways, which might be, say, the Hyde side of him. But the other side could have very easily been, he was our vehicle to power. A selfish thing on their part and my part, in that, here we’ve got this young guy from California, my congressional district, and they all were starting to get connected with him back in those days. And then he’s elevated to the VP slot – he runs in ’46 and in ’52, in six years he’s VP?
At that point in time he’s thinking president, everybody thinking presidency around him and he’s our vehicle, he’s their vehicle. Any political animal that is interested in the process is always looking for vehicles. And we had one, and he was close to all of us because we’d been around him. He was different than Eisenhower, who really is the guy who got me interested in the process – his candidacy. I was excited about him like these young people were about Obama this time. I was that excited – we had that excitement about Eisenhower.
Smith: But in Eisenhower’s case, wasn’t it almost because he was above politics, in a way?
Spencer: Oh, yeah, and because he saved us in World War II. I registered in ’46, I voted for Harry Truman, I was a registered Democrat. I was going to East LA Junior College, which is in the middle of the barrio, very liberal college, and Cal State, which is a very liberal college, where we had on campus, five Communist Party organizers, quietly. We were all veterans. We’d all been in the service, most of us guys. Even the liberal guys had been in the service.
We took care of those guys. The faculty didn’t have to do it, we found ways as they made their moves for power within the student organizations. We’d take them out and take care of them. It was a great learning experience. That is where I came from. I was exposed to the liberal point of view, and also living in a household where my parents were Republicans, I was exposed to both points of view. But Eisenhower captured my imagination. That was where it started. Those are the things. And he knew how to take care of people. He took care of Finch – Finch got legal business. He took care of me in ’68. So all those things add up to the fact that would give people reasons to stay loyal to them. I think the loyalty of the old group, as I call it – you could sit down with Herb Klein, who’s in his nineties in San Diego right now, and he’d still be very loyal to Nixon.
Smith: How would they explain away Watergate?
Spencer: I don’t think they would. They would basically say, be disappointed – a mistake – blame it on the guys who replaced them. Which they could do legitimately. But even as they were being shoved out, I think a lot of them lost their lust for Nixon. But they were loyal and kept their mouths shut. A few of them sort of crossed the line. Ziegler was brought in by Klein and those guys and he went over to Haldeman. A couple of others, I don’t know who they were. The John Deans were never around – I don’t know where they came from.
Smith: By the way, I only heard Gerald Ford disparage two people. And the worst thing he could say about someone was, “He’s a bad man.”
Smith: And the two people; one was John Dean, and the other was Gordon Liddy.
Spencer: Yeah. I’ve heard those speeches from him. Afterward when he was here in this office, in the last few years – that last time I saw him was about June or July of that year he passed away, which was two or three months before. He was on a walker and needed help and was over here at the residence. But prior to that, I spent a lot of time here just talking. He’d call me up and say, “Talk,” and we’d come over and we’d talk. And so I heard him say a lot of things. Have you read the DeFrank book? Of course, you have. Those are the things we were talking about. His pictures, his friends, his protégés, he was really upset with some of the things that were going on. I’d say to him, “Are you going to go public?” You know me – are you going to go public? He said, “No,” which was typical.
Smith: Now we’re talking about the current – the Bush presidency?
Spencer: Yeah, he was unhappy with Iraq. He was very unhappy with the deficit spending. He was in orbit! But yet, here were his guys, Rummy and Cheney, and a lot of people.
Smith: And Paul O’Neill must have been a particularly difficult case because of the circumstances under which he was forced out.
Spencer: Yeah. I’d hear about all that stuff and I never said anything. I’ve got to keep his confidence. DeFrank used to come out here to the desert twice a year to see the President. He had an affection for the President. They had affection for each other. Every time then, DeFrank would call me and he and I would go out to dinner. He wouldn’t tell me what they were talking about. I said, “What did you guys talk about?” Grrrrr. So I sort of figured it out, because he kept coming regularly. Finally, one day, much prior, DeFrank told me on the phone, “I got to get out there and talk to him when his health was really bad.” Sort of the final chapter. I remember saying to DeFrank, “Well, it probably will be more candid than the others at this point in time.” It was. I didn’t realize there was a book being written.
Smith: That was my next question. Do you think Ford thought there might be a book being written?
Spencer: Sure he did. I think Ford knew it, I think Ford wanted it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he said to DeFrank exactly what he says, “Write it when I’m gone.” I think that is probably a direct quote, because it was building up in him. He was the type of person that he was not going to pull the rug out from his protégés, but it bothered him. It really bothered him in terms of the country, the future and all of that. He wanted to be on the record, and that way he could be on the record without having any bother. Sure he knew it.
Smith: Let me go back to ’76. We’ve talked about New Hampshire, we talked about Florida, and then of course he won Illinois. Then you ran into North Carolina. What happened? Did you underestimate the Panama Canal Treaties for example as a hot button?
Spencer: I don’t think we underestimated it, but we also knew it was a tremendous problem, politically. What we ran into was, now we’re in Reagan’s strength. His strength was stronger than we thought. Jesse Helms did a fabulous job of organizing his state. We made some mistakes in message when we were there. My attitude was, we got away with our life in New Hampshire and Florida. We could have lost those states. So we were ahead of the game, and North Carolina proved to me that we were going to do nothing in the south. That was going to be Reagan’s stronghold, and so we had to adjust our plan and our strategies to the point of, how do we handle the Midwest states, how do we handle the farm states, how do we handle the west?
At that point in time, I would say it was apparent to me that we could start defining what our strengths were and what his strengths were. And we could start dealing to our strength, which is what I like to do. It was a wakeup call to Ford and the White House. It wasn’t that much of a wakeup call to me, because I knew it was coming. We got tromped. Probably the biggest single mistake I ever made in politics was Texas in that primary. Texas was a state where you had a large delegate, you had these congressional districts delegates, you had delegates in a lot of different divisions. It wasn’t a winner take all. I will admit that I was given some polling data that had to be erroneous as I look back on it at the time. But that is immaterial. I still made the decision. I put $800,000 into that primary state. Didn’t get one delegate! Now I used to go to sleep at night thinking about that before it happened, say well, I’ve got to pick up congressional district, I’ve got to be able to get some here, and I’d go through the whole thing through my mind again. We didn’t win one. I should have written Texas off. I shouldn’t have spent $800,000 there.
Smith: Was fundraising a problem?
Spencer: No. It was early, but not later. There is no excuse for an incumbent president not to be able to raise money. David Packard was our first finance chairman and David was one of the sweetest guys I know. He was also chairman for me in the Flourney campaign years later, but David was a donor, not a raiser. He couldn’t ask for money. So it was a problem. We kind of moved him aside and brought in Max Fisher and Les Packer(?), I think, and they didn’t have any problem raising money.
But the great David Packard story, was the Florida Flourney governor’s race. He was my finance chairman, it was right after Watergate. I called David up one day and said, “David, I need $100,000 for TV by (this is Monday) next Thursday. Raise the dough.” On Wednesday, I wouldn’t get a call from nothing, I’d get a check for $100,000. He’d give it! He’d rather give $100,000 than raise $100,000! I just thought, man, I can’t believe this. But he was sweet, he was really sweet.
No, we didn’t have a fundraising problem. Reagan didn’t have any fundraising problems. Then of course, the general election was the first publicly financed presidential campaign and that was twenty-one million dollars. Look what they are spending now, but that was twenty-one million dollars and the ground rules were different. They’ve changed the law since then. The first law that they passed in publicly funding the presidential race created a situation where it discouraged volunteers.
Here’s the reason: if you went out in this state of California and opened a Ford headquarters, it was charged against my budget back in Washington. I had two headquarters in California, that’s all. One north and one south. I had better ways of spending money than put in a bunch of headquarters. That discourages volunteerism, that discourages involvement. Well they changed the law – it’s a play on words. It’s a party-building activity, they can spend it. Now they misinterpret it – the lawyers got hold of it and party-building activity can include TV expenditures and internet expenditures. They get around it. But it was a publicly financed campaign, and I think it was a prime example, historically. Historians who look at it, you could say the law of diminishing returns applies to political money. We had to, both sides, we had to figure out what was important and what wasn’t important and go accordingly. I think 70% of our budget was in media.
Smith: Were you surprised when Reagan announced Dick Schweiker as his candidate for vice president?
Spencer: Yes, I was surprised and chuckled – I was happy. I was very happy. It was so phony. Our guy in there was Drew Lewis in Pennsylvania. We knew Drew Lewis had a handle on it and that Schweiker couldn’t take it away from him, so we were happy.
Smith: Did they actually think that maybe they could put Lewis himself?
Spencer: Oh, they tried to flip everybody. Yeah, they tried Drew, but Drew was pretty a stable guy and, I don’t know what their thinking was. They did a lot of things that I couldn’t figure out what their thinking was, to be honest with you.
Smith: What are John Sears’ strengths and weaknesses as a campaign manager/strategist? And are those two different roles?
Spencer: What, strategist and manager? Well, they can be two different roles. I think John is not a manager. If any strength, it’s strategy. He didn’t like the details. Most campaigns I’ve seen John in, he’s hired people to take care of the details. He thinks academically strategy-wise. All you guys, historians, talking heads on TV that I listen to, I say, how many campaigns has that guy been in? That sort of stuff. I see a lot of analysts of little political background who have been in two campaigns. John had talent, John made friends with a lot of media and if you’re in that business of manager, it sort of gets back to the point – somewhere about ’76, somewhere in the mid-‘70s, the media decided the process was more important than the ideas on issues.
All of us thought that being on the cover of magazines, I saw People Magazine and God, I couldn’t believe what was going on. John had made – he had to have been a good source for a lot of writers because they try to cultivate you when you’re in that role. They always treated him kindly. I think John strategically is a thinker, would be an academic thinker and there is nothing wrong with that. I was a street guy. I know some people used to say to me, “You’re a Republican manager, but you think like a Democrat.” I says, “It’s a plus.” So he wasn’t an organizer. And that’s hard to judge when people have that. I saw it happen.
When he took over the Reagan thing in early ‘80 or ’79, or something, I was at a governors’ conference in the Carolinas and I was, of course, out of the Reagan act totally. I think Charlie Black was with him then, I’m not sure, but somewhere John says, “Let’s talk about Reagan tonight.” Okay. So we had dinner and we drank. I pontificated. I said, “I’m going to tell what you’ve got to do, John.” He listened. I says, “The first thing you’ve got to do is, you’ve got to get rid of that palace guard around him, or they are going to get you.” He’d already started at that point, I think. He’d dumped one person, it might have been Lyn, I can’t remember. But I said, “Let me tell you something, now. You’ve got to decide on which one you’re going to keep. Some body that when Reagan gets up in the morning, he sees a friendly face.” He didn’t take my counsel. He got them all. And then they got him later, right? That really bothered me, because that was good counsel and it was so, for someone who knew the situation as well as I did. If he’d kept Deaver, he’d never have had any problem. Not that Deaver could contribute that much politically, but he could have been the bridge, which he needed.
Smith: To the candidate as well as the candidate’s wife?
Spencer: Yeah, correct. Certainly. Hey, you can’t say Reagan without saying Nancy. It was the Ron and Nancy Show, and without her he’d never achieved what he achieved. Sure, she was a very big part of the picture. There’ve been other situations like that. When you’re in the management role you just have to recognize it. John never handled her very well, either. You got to sit and look her in the eye and back her down. She has no problem with you giving it to her, she’ll give it right back to you. If she sees fear, you’re dead. You’re dead!
Smith: My experience, which obviously is miniscule compared to yours, but we had a very good relationship when I was out there. It deteriorated when she found out I was going to Ford. I discovered on several occasions, sort of the flip side of what you said is, most people were so afraid of her, but if you could make her laugh, that showed you weren’t afraid.
I’ll never forget one night, it was a Friday night, cold, we were waiting out there for a forty-car motorcade bearing King Hussein, up to the Library for an award ceremony. She was a little miffed. It was late. She had the whole thing, the mink coat. So I just looked at her and I said, “Well, what becomes a legend most?” She sort of looked at me, and then she giggled. It was that moment when I realized that she was surrounded by people who were terrified of her, very few of whom related naturally, and she liked to laugh. I felt like I’d passed the test.
Spencer: You did. Two instances. One: in ’65, three months into the exploratory group, we used to meet two times a week at the house for hours talking. She was always there. He was in his chair. She was over on the ottoman thing, sitting there. Bill and I, one day we got through a three hour session, we’re going to the door and Nancy grabs me and pulls me aside. She looked at me and she said, “You know, I never want to play poker with you and Bill.” I looked at her and I said, “Why?” She said, “I can’t tell what you guys are thinking.” She’s sitting on that thing for three hours watching our body language, trying to figure us out. It was not premeditated.
Smith: But that also suggests a very active mind. To be blunt, she was a lot smarter than I think people credited her. And she was put in an impossible role of being his son of a bitch.
Spencer: Yup, but she enjoyed it. One time, when Rollins was chairman of the campaign in ’84 and the whole process of how Rollins got there is hysterical because they were trying to shut him out of the White House and we had a meeting. _________, me and Deaver and Baker, and talking about who it should be. I’m pushing Charlie Black and they’re pushing Rollins. Finally I realized why. They don’t want him running the White House. He’s a leak, he’s this, he’s all that. Finally we made a deal and I agreed to it.
In reality, we had hundreds of meetings that he wasn’t even in because he couldn’t handle it, or we couldn’t trust him. But one day, here he’s got the title of chairman of the campaign, and he doesn’t even know the Reagans. So I says, “I’m going to take you up to the residency and you’re going to meet Nancy and we’re going to talk, okay?” I call Nancy and I say, “Rollins and I are coming up.” She didn’t like Rollins. “Your chairman,” I told her. Grrrrr. So, we get up there, he sits on the couch. If you were ever at the residence, there was a couch along this window and the wing chairs out here – Nancy’s sitting in her chair here. Put him here. I’m sitting over here because I want to see all the faces.
Going up the little elevator, he’s got sweats coming off his face. I says, “Cool it man, cool it. If she smells fear, if she smells it, you’re going to get chewed up.” So, I wasn’t very much help. He sits there and he stumbles around, I look at her, she looks at me, and I think, “Here she goes.” She started bearing in on him. The guy was a basket case when he walked out of that residency. She was having fun, is what she was doing.
One thing about that woman, she really liked her parents, her stepfather Loyal. I never really knew Loyal. My only knowledge of Loyal was AMA was one of my clients and he was not very beloved in the AMA, that doctor thing that I didn’t pay much attention to that. But her mother, I just love Edie. I have never heard Nancy swear. Never. Might hear her say damn, something like that. Her mother was a stevedore, absolute lady after my own heart. I loved the lady. I could never figure out Nancy, never – I swear a lot and I notice my 54 year old daughter swearing a lot now – I don’t know where she’s heard it, you know? But Nancy, I never heard her swear.
Yet Edie, she always called him Ronnie – during that early stage when I saw her someplace she says, “I’m going to give you some names of some guys who will be giving money to Ronnie.” I said, “Fine.” She gives it to me. Five names. If you went to Wall Street, Forbes Magazine, they’d be big. So I call them up and I go through the song and dance and I get a check for a thousand, I get a fifteen hundred. She calls me up a couple of weeks later and said, “How you doing on the list?” I said, “Pretty good,” and she says, “Well, how much? Richard Norton – how much did he give?” I tell her, “Fifteen hundred.” “Well, that cheap son of a bitch.” I go through the list and blue, the room is blue! “I’ll take over!” I says, “Be my guest.” I get checks for ten grand, I get checks for fifteen grand. The same list! She was a beauty. I loved her.
Smith: Let me ask you about the convention.
Smith: In ’76. Going in, how confident were you?
Spencer: I was confident if we could avoid an ideological issue on the floor, an emotional issue.
Smith: And the rules change about forcing Ford to name a vice president. That didn’t qualify as an ideological issue?
Spencer: No, see that’s what makes me question the prior question you asked. And that is, if I was in the Reagan role at that point in time, where Sears and these guys were, I would have found an emotional issue to stampede the convention. I would have created one somehow. And when they came up with that procedural thing, I went, oh boy, that’s wonderful.
Smith: But, presumably they had tried – on the platform with détente – and you basically rolled over.
Spencer: That’s why we rolled over, because that would be their platform to do it. What’s the matter with going outside the realm of the convention and going public and attacking Henry Kissinger and raising an issue – they never even tried that on us.
Smith: Also, before I forget, because there was a period right around the Texas fiasco where I think Reagan actually took the lead in delegates, or at least it was a tossup. It was right about that time that Rockefeller basically delivered New York and Pennsylvania. Is that true?
Spencer: That’s true.
Smith: That is the ultimate good soldier.
Spencer: He was the good soldier. He delivered.
Smith: Do you know if Rumsfeld was at the convention? I tell you why I ask; Bill Seidman told me the story, and Bill is a straight-shooter.
Spencer: He’s a good guy.
Smith: He is a good guy. He was fond of Nelson. He told me, this is what Rockefeller told him, now who knows whether he was blowing smoke or what, but he said, at the time – right after delivering New York and Pennsylvania – he had the weekly luncheon with the president, and he said basically there was only one thing he wanted, and that was for Rumsfeld not to be at the convention. And that if Rumsfeld were at the convention, he couldn’t vouch for the loyalty of some delegates in New York and Pennsylvania. The reason being, at that point Rockefeller convinced himself that a) Rumsfeld was responsible for him being dumped, and b) Rumsfeld wanted to be on the ticket with Ford. Accurate or not, that’s where Rockefeller’s mind was at that point. I was told by someone, that Rumsfeld in fact was not at the convention. That he chose to have some elective surgery performed or something. But I’m wondering whether any of that rings a bell – whether it sounds plausible.
Spencer: Yeah, I don’t remember Rumsfeld being there. I don’t remember Rumsfeld being in a meeting of the vice presidential choice, which naturally he probably would have been. So I think you may be right. In terms of whether he wanted to be VP or not, I think that was a possibility. But I also know that when Nelson got into a conspiracy theory, he really got into it – I mean he got into it. So I don’t know about that. One Friday night he says to me, we’re talking about Nixon, and he says, “Well that trip to China and he and Pat brought back $200,000 worth of ivory and goodies and stuff like that,” and I says, “What the hell do you know about it?” “Oh, I’ve got my sources,” so I don’t know if that was true or not. He believed it.
Smith: Well, I can top that. He believed – Jack Stiles, who died in an auto accident?
Smith: Nelson Rockefeller went to his grave believing that it was not an accident.
Spencer: Why? Stiles had no problems there. If Stiles had any problems, it would be with me.
Smith: He thought there was a conspiracy including Rumsfeld to defeat Ford in ’76.
Spencer: Oh, well….
Smith: It goes to the conspiracy mindset.
Spencer: Jack was at the top of a hill on an icy night, he drank too damn much and he couldn’t stop his car at the bottom and wrapped it around a tree. I knew Jack and he was a good guy. But he wasn’t important in the future of the whole thing. Rummy was principle in dumping him, yes. Whether Rummy wanted to be VP or not, it’s a possibility.
Smith: Remember, because at the same time, George Bush was deep-sixed at the CIA and it was thought to be the end of his political career, and who was it that Ford had looked at, but Bush and Rumsfeld….
Spencer: No, it could be fact, but Nelson might have carried it too far, is all I’m saying.
Smith: I’m also told that Rumsfeld was very good, he never left his fingerprints.
Spencer: Oh, that’s true. He was good at it. He was a very ambitious young guy and had some smarts. Had personality problems in my judgment for a politician. After he got out of office, he was on the board of RAND or something, and I used to get RAND’s annual report every year. I couldn’t understand it. Why does he keep sending me this junk for? Then there was a point in time where he – which year was it – ’96 or ’92 –
Smith: He was interested in ’88.
Spencer: Was it ’88?
Smith: ’88 – he was interested in running.
Spencer: Yeah, because I got the phone call from Cheney and he said that Rummy was interested in running and he was going to talk to me. Cheney wasn’t too happy with the idea in ’88. As close as they are and their loyalties and all that, he understands Don’s weaknesses. Yeah, that was ’88. I never did hear from him, thank God. I don’t think I ever talked to him about it. But the [‘76] convention was tenuous at all times, the whole thing was tenuous, it was an eighteen month struggle.
Smith: Is it safe to say that Reagan enjoyed the [delegates’] emotional intensity? Where there is emotional intensity, it tended to be on Reagan’s side, whereas Ford had the organization, if you will?
Spencer: Sure, he enjoyed it. He thrived on it. It was part of his life, being center stage.
Smith: What was the story with Clarke Reed in Mississippi.
Spencer: I don’t know. Oh, God it was so convoluted.
Smith: Wasn’t Mississippi crucial?
Spencer: Oh, yeah. Well, it was crucial from the standpoint that it was so symbolic if we broke it. Not that the actual numbers were that important as it was the fact that we broke the pattern. We promised them something, I don’t even remember what the hell it was, to be honest with you. Some of these other guys you’re going to interview can probably tell you.
Smith: He has a reputation of being purchasable.
Spencer: Yeah, he was! Oh, yeah. And we bought him. What we paid, I don’t know. Because as I said yesterday, I think we sort of gave Dick the job of taking care of him. But boy he was hard to keep bought. You had to whip him around a little.
Smith: Were there moments in that convention when you thought this might be slipping away?
Spencer: No. I never had that feeling. Once we got by the platform, we knew what the platform was, we had a lot of people out there on top of delegates. Every delegate was assigned to somebody, and they were to keep in touch with them on like an hourly basis, so that we could get any feedback. I saw no attempt by the other side to start a ground wave of discontent. But I saw people crying as they were voting for Ford on the floor. I did.
Smith: His acceptance speech, which everyone said at the time was the best speech he’d ever given, in retrospect tends to be overshadowed by Reagan’s appearance. Apparently he had practiced, which also tells you that he knew he had to practice. You could level with him about his shortcomings as a speaker.
Spencer: Yes. The funniest thing that happened there, though, was after that. He picked Dole and he had an office set up in the Crown Plaza Hotel. Cheney and I appeared at seven or eight in the morning, right after the vice presidential thing was through. Everything was through. He brought Dole, his nominee, to the meeting, and he’s behind the desk. I’m here, Cheney, and Dole’s over here, and everybody’s out of gas but them. We worked harder than they worked. We really do.
So, anyway, we start talking about down the road in the future and this was not unusual. Cheney, Spencer, Ford got into a hell of an argument about something. We went after each other – all of us. And poor Dole, he’s sitting over there and isn’t saying a word. I looked over at him once and he had this funny look on his face. He had to be saying, “What am I getting into?” Then finally it got back to – he and Dole had made a decision, his first appearance out of the convention was going to be in Kansas – at that burg town.
Smith: Russell, Kansas.
Spencer: Russell, Kansas, and Dick and I said, “Hey, our advance guys have been strung out for six weeks, they’re tired, they’re beat up.” I kept saying, “The first event has got to be gangbusters, and we can’t guarantee you nothing in Russell, Kansas.” And Bob’s guaranteeing this and all that. So, the two principles make a decision – the two peons are arguing with him about it. Ford got so mad he jumped from the desk and walked out that door and walked up and down the hallway.
I look at Dick and Dick looks at me, and Dole is just sitting there like this…and I get up and I go out the door. He’s going up and down and I say to Ford, “What’s your problem?” He says, “I’m the President of the United States. You guys aren’t the President of the United States. I’m going to make some decisions.” I says, “Anything you want.” I totally capitulated. I says, “If you want it, fine. But we ain’t going to guarantee you anything.” Okay, well, we did it. Poor advance guys.
Then I flew from there to Washington, Dick went with him to Russell. I didn’t go to Russell. Dick says the planes coming in Benton(?). It goes like this, he looked up, there are cars for fifty miles in every direction. Ford leans over, past Dick and says, “Hey, you guys, see what happened?” I’m back in DC doing something, getting ready for the general and Dick called me and said, “God, you’re not going to believe it.” But that was so funny. I often thought – I never asked Bob after that – what he was thinking. He had to be going, “Oh my God.”
Smith: You had a strategy session out in Vail, didn’t you?
Spencer: Yeah, in Vail. We had a strategy session to talk about everything, look at polling data.
Smith: John Connolly was on the periphery in some way, wasn’t he? What was his role supposed to be?
Spencer: I don’t know.
Smith: Deliver Texas?
Spencer: I don’t know. John was a great giver of advice. He was a great inside pol. I have this theory that there’s outside pols and inside pols, and he was one of them. But the big question there was picking a chairman because the Rogers Morton’s problem had come about, and there were several – I think John’s name was one of the potential names for chairman. But Cheney and I privately really thought that Baker could be the guy. We knew it was a risk, but I’d worked with him now for five or six months and he grew in the job, he was ambitious.
He had a real problem. I called him in Houston, he wasn’t in Vail with us. I said, “We’re talking about making you chairman. What’s your reaction?” He was a protégé of Rogers’. Rogers just got dumped. He says, “I can’t do that to Rogers.” I said, “I’ll take care of Rogers,” because I knew Rogers well. I said, “In the end Rogers will appreciate it.”
Well, Rogers’ wife called Jimmy and gave him hell. The world doesn’t know that. Jimmy doesn’t like problems, he doesn’t mind big problems, sort of like Reagan – he hates little problems – but also he undoubtedly had to see this as a great opportunity for his future. And he agreed to it. Rogers was great. He handled it well.
Smith: Before I forget, I want to ask you, in that acceptance speech, the President took everyone by surprise by challenging Jimmy Carter to debates. What was the origin of that idea?
Spencer: The origin of just about everything was we were thirty-one points down coming out of that convention. What could we do? You’ve always got to try to be on the offensive – how to get control of the agenda, so to speak, and the challenge was controlling the agenda. We were going to debate Mr. Carter, and not let them challenge us, or let third parties do it. Let’s be out front and do it. That was the origin of the whole thing. He did well at every debate except Frisco, and in some ways he didn’t do bad there, his stubbornness came forth.
Smith: Tell us about – real time. Where were you, who were you with, what happened?
Spencer: We were in this auditorium thing, I can’t remember. It’s a museum or something up there. He’s staying at a residence not too far away. We’d had a lot of rehearsals. They had a stage and it had wings off of it. I guess Carter must have had people in one wing and we were in the other wing. I’m sitting there and we’ve got TV sets so we can see the whole thing or we can go over there and look out and watch them in person. I always loved to watch them on the tube because that’s what the public was seeing and that’s where the judgment is going to be. So I’m sitting next to Brent Scowcroft and I’m listening to the whole debate and he’s going along, I think, doing fine. He gets to the question of Poland being dominated by Communist Russia, and Eastern Europe and Reagan gives him his answer. No registration in my head.
Smith: Carter gives him, you mean, Carter gives him his answer.
Spencer: No Ford gives his answer, yeah. And then the questioner, the guy who asks him the question, comes back and gives him a chance to clean it up. But the first time, to me, no problem. Then he goes back to clean it up and he goes through it and it’s still no problem. Brent’s right here, kind of a quiet guy. He says, “You’ve got a problem.” I said, “What do you mean, I’ve got a problem?” He’s says, “The Russians have got x number divisions in Poland.” I said, “So? How many in divisions, Brent?” He says, “Oh, 240,000 or something.” I said, “Holy Toledo, we’ve got a problem!” Like that! I guess I realized that I knew what his intent was, psychologically, emotionally, that they were not dominated people, but he wasn’t swift enough to pick it up and say, this is what I mean.
Smith: He’d been to Poland, and he’d seen these huge crowds, cheering him. If he had simply described that experience, it would have been a plus.
Spencer: That’s right. So what happened was, we left there and we knew already there was going to be a press flap. Cheney and I headed back to the residence. I walk in the door, I hear (in German accent) “Mr. President, you were wonderful tonight. Wonderful tonight.” You know what I’m talking about. Then walks in the hack, Spencer, and the staff, and they were saying, “You were shitty, we’ve got to straighten this one out.” He listens to his secretary of state, Henry. He’s not going to listen to these two guys. We pound on him. He gets mad. When he got mad the red started here and went straight up. You could see it. Henry was no help. There was a press conference held, which he was not at, which I forced Brent to go to, I think, and some other people. They staggered around the podium just getting onslaughted. It became the issue.
Smith: It played into the storyline that this is a nice guy, well meaning, but not on top of his job. That was the storyline, the narrative.
Spencer: It was obvious that it was on Cheney’s mind and on my mind and at breakfast we started in on them again. He brushed us off. He had all the overnights at the meeting – you could see what was happening, but he brushed us off. We got on a plane, we’re flying to LA. I really was concerned about the problem. I go back and talk to him alone. Piss him off, come back. Cheney goes back, talks to him alone; nothing.
Smith: Why was he so ‘W’?
Spencer: I don’t know, except his chief foreign policy adviser was saying he did a wonderful job. That’s the only thing I can think of. So, I said, “Okay, one more shot. We’ll go back together.” I think Dick and I went back together. I think the end result was, when we both walked out of there, we thought we were going to get fired. We really did. We’re over Santa Barbara in Air Force One and we thought we were going to canned, because his great last line was, “What do you want me to do, apologize?” and I said, “Yeah.” I made him mad. Well, we got a statement written finally, between there and wherever we were staying. He was going to speak at Verdugo Days in Glendale, which is an annual celebration, Spanish-type thing. We released that statement before he gave his speech in Glendale, but it was after the curve and it was meaningless. Some papers probably never even printed it. It wasn’t referred to. But the local knowledge you have to have in politics came out at that Verdugo thing, because I’m walking around the back of the auditorium where the press guys were and, Ford being a guy from Michigan, he’s going through his speech and he says, “It’s wonderful to be here today at Vertigo Days.” Well, Verdugo, it’s like La Joy-a, instead of La Hoy-a – and I hear it and I go ‘oof’ like this. Well, enough of the press room, at least they didn’t catch. They were as bad as him. It was a piece.
Smith: How important do you think that was? The conventional wisdom is, that it stopped your momentum dead.
Spencer: Yeah, it did. The only thing that did. We had momentum, it stopped our momentum for a while. It was important in that aspect, because we needed to keep that momentum, because the race ended up close. You can never say you won or lost usually on any given thing, but it’s contributing factors and that was a contributing factor, that’s all.
Smith: What about at the very end, the last weekend. There was the Lou Harris poll that showed you’d actually taken a one point lead. I don’t know what your own polls were showing, but there were some economic numbers that were released that at least suggested a pause in the recovery that you were out trumpeting. I’ve always thought that the combination at the very end, when people were confronted with the prospect, “Hey, he might really win, we might have another four years,” and then the sort of uncertainty stoked by the economic issue, at the very end, those came into play.
Spencer: Oh, they did. But you go out to any precinct in Ohio and you have a marginal voter who is trying to make his mind up in the last week of the campaign, and one of them will say, “Well, I’m going to go with Carter because of the Polish thing. I’m going to go with Carter because of the economy.” They’ll all have their different reasons. But I think the economy was more important than the Polish thing for the simple reason that historically, in this country, people have more confidence in a Democrat dealing with the economy than a Republican. They have more confidence in Republicans dealing with foreign affairs than they do Democrats. That has been a given and it was definitely a given in those days. So, when you get a little dipper in the economy and you’re a Republican, you’ve got a little bit of problems that you wouldn’t have if you were a Democrat. So, yeah, I think it was a factor. The hangover from Watergate was a factor. What post-election showed was that six percent of the Republicans didn’t vote for Ford because of Watergate. That’s pretty bad of those that voted. He was running in a tough time.
Smith: Could Reagan have made the difference?
Spencer: I don’t think so. No.
Smith: Do you think Ford thought he could have?
Spencer: He never felt that Reagan campaigned for him. And he’s right. That negotiation was awful. Of course I was excluded from it, by choice. But Deaver and Cheney, I guess did it.
Smith: What did it entail?
Spencer: I gave Cheney a laundry list. This is what I want from the son of a bitch. Right? Cheney was pretty good at that stuff, and he goes down there and got six appearances and bye-bye. But the thing that irritated me the most was that the premise, they kept saying, “Well, he’s going to be all over the country – he’s going to talk about the platform.” I said to Cheney, “Tell them to go to hell.” I said, “We don’t want him on the platform! We have ___________ on the platform.” But that was their out.
Smith: Do you think they were already looking at 1980?
Spencer: Sure. They had to be. It’s that nature of the beast. The Reaganau, I’ll call them for different reasons, think that if he could have won in ’76, he could not have beat Jimmy Carter in ’76 and I said to him, I would say to him later, “The luckiest thing that ever happened to you is you didn’t win the primary nomination because you’d have got your tail handed to you.” The logic is very simple.
Smith: Did he believe you?
Spencer: I think he might have. I think Nancy did. But he was a perennial optimist about everything. But it became very evident to me early on that the south was going to go for Jimmy Carter because he was their boy. And they wanted him. They wanted to prove a point. Now they proved their point, but they created a great opening for Reagan because they were so disappointed in Jimmy Carter after four years that they loved Ronald Reagan. So, how’s he going to win in ’76 when he can’t hold up the south and we’re in these industrial states, some of them Rockefeller-type states. Reagan couldn’t have carried those states. He couldn’t have carried Michigan, he couldn’t have carried those states.
Smith: And another interesting thing, people forget now, of course, but it was Jimmy Carter who brought the born-again’s into the political arena. Was that ever an issue in the campaign – the Fords were Episcopalians; they were more button-down in their religious views.
Spencer: Externally, no. Internally, it was a battle. I saw it. The religious right was very quiet about it then – they were working it. I saw it and I was trying to counter it. I was lining up preachers and Catholic priests and I had a mass mailing nationwide to a list – one of Catholics that I got from a priest out of Chicago, and an Evangelical list I sent out. I was going after them, too, in a lot of different ways, quietly. Nobody knew what the hell I was doing. Even Baker didn’t know what I was doing. I had Nofziger do a piece for me and put it out. So, yeah, I recognized what was there, they never identified with Ford because of what he was. They had a better argument than we had to get to those people. But, you’re right, Jimmy Carter…Ham Jordan and those guys did a very good campaign. They did a great, good job. I was impressed, particularly with their primary operation. Jimmy’s 11% in the national polls in February, and they got the nomination – I mean they did a good job. They don’t get credit for what they did in my mind by political historians.
Smith: I’ve heard people say, just recently – Mark Shields, who you wouldn’t expect to hear this from, Mark Shields said the best campaign he’s ever seen, was Ford’s campaign in the fall of ’76. He talks about MacDougall and the media, in particular. Tell us about that whole aspect of it.
Spencer: I either read or heard Mark say that, but, it was a good campaign. It was a tight campaign considering…some of the best campaigns I ever ran, and I’ll get to that, I lost. I think the effort that Bill and I made for Nelson Rockefeller in California was one of the best campaigns we ever ran. We got beat, but we were at 27% in the polls when we started. You’ve got to figure those things. MacDougall was an ad guy out of Boston, I think. He was brought in by Deardourff and Bailey. Deardourff came out of the Rockefeller organization. I don’t know where Bailey came out of, but he was basically a re-writer type, and I had confidence in them. Because I did, I think the president did. There were other people in the White House that didn’t. But that was my problem. They brought MacDougall in to write a lot of stuff. He was a wild man, he was a crazy Boston Irish pol. I think he contributed greatly. I think their work was outstanding.
Smith: “I’m feeling good about America.”
Spencer: Yeah, I thought it was very good. The only thing I’d say about MacDougall is, he wrote a book afterwards. I hate people that write books. People that make notes and memos while you’re working, and then they write the book. He wrote this book and I went through the roof. He got the word that I was going to kill him and so he calls me up and he’s all apologetic. He was nice, he was a smart guy, but I have a standard and that’s few, but I have some standards, and that was one of them. I don’t like people going out and writing books. Stories – outsiders – that’s fine, that’s their job. But insiders, he had no business writing books. But he did and nobody bought it, naturally, I’m sure, but insiders. In Mark’s experiences, he was very close in that campaign in terms of coverage. Democrat, really at heart, but it seemed to impress him.
Smith: Where were the debates inside the campaign about the strategy. Or was it, once the debate was decided, you basically all stuck to it – a strategy?
Spencer: There was some debate about the Rose Garden strategy. There was some about that. There were debates about schedules.
Smith: And was the south still thought to be in play?
Spencer: Some people still thought it was, but I didn’t, and I wouldn’t put it in play. See, the joys of my position in those things is that I’m going home. I don’t have to stay and fight the battle in the West Wing. So, I say it like I feel, because I don’t have to worry about that. There was a constant struggle over the speeches. He had a very poor speechwriting shop, headed by Bob Hartmann. His speeches were not good. We finally got to the point where every speech that was going to be given ahead, they were started a week out, we would be at speechwriter meetings. Then an initial meeting with the principle, the President, and then go back and finalize it. So, after a series of what we considered politically bad speeches, I went to Cheney and I say, “I’m going to start bootlegging speeches in here.” There were a lot of good speechwriters back then, I mean, I’d come to Richard Norton and I’d say, “I want you to do a speech on this and that.” Bailey was a good speechwriter – Doug. Well, Mr. Hartmann didn’t like that logic, so what happened was, Cheney and I made a decision. One of us would be at all the speechwriters meetings to make sure that it wasn’t too bad, at least.
There comes a speech for the Future Blue Birds or Future Housewives of America Convention in South Carolina, I think it was. My turn in the stool. I go to the meeting. It is CRAP! I sit there and I don’t say a word. I don’t say a word – but I say to myself, “I’m going to let him give this and I think I’ll win a point.”
So he does, he goes down and he gives this speech. I’m in the back of the room again, walking around, the press guys are all there. Anti-feminists, terrible speech, you little girls, blah, blah, you grow up to be good kitchen help – I mean, Goddamn it was awful. The press were going like, “What the hell’s he talking about?” I’m going (shrugs). Well, by the time we got back to the White House, first thing, Cheney looked at me, “Where were you in the meetings?” I says, “I was there.” He said, “What did you do?” I said, “Nothing.” He says, “Why?” I says, “I want to bring in outside help.” He says, “I think you’re going to get it.” And we start bootlegging speeches in. That’s how far I had to go to break the hold of the shop. Ohhhh – that was a big, contentious thing, I was not very popular over there. To this day I’m probably not very popular.
Smith: What do you remember about election night?
Spencer: I don’t remember much. I started drinking. Nothing I could do.
Smith: On election morning, did you think he had a chance?
Spencer: Yeah, I thought it would be a close race. I didn’t feel really confident like I did in the other campaigns, but I thought we were in the game and by that point I am, believe it or not, so relaxed. One time in California I went on election day morning and took my annual physical from my doctor of a hundred years, and my blood pressure was normal and everything. His name was Stokesberry and he says, “I can’t believe you.” I says, “Hey, man, you don’t understand, I’m relieved that it’s over. I don’t care what happens today.” And that’s basically always been my attitude. I’m just so glad it’s over with. That’s the night I was in the headquarters, I was drinking, I don’t know what happened. I didn’t go over to the White House.
Smith: How did Pearl Bailey and Joe Garagiola become spokesmen?
Spencer: Pearl became very close to Betty somehow. Joe, I saw Joe last spring at spring training and we talked.
Smith: How old is Joe?
Spencer: He’s my age, we’re the same age, 81-82. Just wrote another book. Two things, we had the Italian prime minister came for a White House dinner, I think it was the prime minister, or whatever they call them. And I made sure they put an Italiano list together. As Sinatra used to say to me “A Wop list.” The Wop list and Joe was on it and Yogi was on it and Paterno was on it.
Well that was the first meeting and Joe was a very glib guy, and so later I convinced Ford because good friends of mine were running the Philadelphia Phillies. Dallas Green and Paul Owens, and Carpenter was a DuPont – owned the club. They were all good friends of mine and I used to spend a lot of time with them. They had the All Star game in Philly that year and I convinced the President that we’d all fly up for the All Star game. It was good politics, but it was also doing my friends.
I put on the plane Joe, Jim Murray, the old sports writer, there were a couple of other sports figures, and Joe was the entertainer for the President and they became good buddies and all that. In fact, Joe told me a funny story this spring when I saw him. He says, “Do you remember when we arrived?” What I’d done, I put Joe in the car with the President and they arrived in the front of the stadium and Bowie Kuhn, the commission of baseball, was standing there. The door opens and out walks Joe Garagiola and Joe says, “You should have seen the face of Bowie Kuhn. What’s that bum doing here?” And then the President gets out. But that’s how they got there and I think he was there at the White House that night, wasn’t he?
Smith: He was.
Spencer: They had a lot of their friends. Parma was probably there. Leon was probably there. That was a connection. Pearl Bailey, she was around a lot, but it was through Betty.
Smith: But she was part of the last broadcast?
Spencer: Could have been.
Smith: It was on the plane, actually, on Air Force One. The President spoke and Pearl Bailey spoke and Joe Garagiola spoke.
Spencer: I don’t remember it.
Smith: I don’t want time to run out without asking you about, you mentioned ’80. His consideration of running in ’80. Tell us about that.
Spencer: There was always, by people you might call Ford people, whether he ran or not in 1980 – there was always talk and speculation that he might go seek it. He never really tipped his hand during all these things. Then you get down to, it’s the fall of 1979, I think it’s the early fall, and a lot of his friends in the east are calling him and encouraging him, some asking him, but a lot encouraging him. There was still this animosity toward Reagan, this belief that Reagan wasn’t a heavyweight – that Reagan couldn’t do it. This still persisted in the eastern establishment types. So he was getting those phone calls, people coming out and sitting here and talking to him and telling him, and I had a conversation with him early in that period. What I basically said, there are periods of opportunity, you’ve passed two of them – to get him prepared to do this. So you’ve got to make a decision. I don’t think he’d made a decision yet, otherwise our openings – things that have to get accomplished at this point in time, at this point in time and this point in time.
Smith: In organizational terms.
Spencer: Organizationally, although the whole thing. And Reagan was doing them all. I told him the window of opportunity was going to close, without saying do it or don’t do it. It was, “Hey, these are the facts, Mister.” He listened as I went through all this. So he called a meeting. Held it in his conference room over here, of which, you’ve probably got the list somewhere, I don’t know if you’ve got it.
The eastern crowd was here, Bailey was here, Deardourff was here, I think Jack was here, Marsh and Teeter and Cheney was here, I was here, I think Phil Buchen might have been here. People like that. These in the group really wanted him to run. I mean, they have him a pitch to run. Cheney shared my thoughts at the time. I put a damper in the meeting, I’m sure. I just said, “Hey, we missed too many opportunities to do it.” I was still the only one who said, “Hey, Ronald Reagan’s one tough candidate. He’s one of the best, you’re not running against a patsy. He basically today owns the party. To me, guys, this is not a realistic decision. It could be a suicide mission.” But I said, “It’s his decision to make.” He listens, he always listened and listened and listened and kept his own counsel, but I definitely left the meeting and Cheney and I had stayed overnight at the Racquet Club and then came over here and then he was flying out, I was driving back to Newport.
We left the meeting, we were convinced he wasn’t going to do it. I think it was two days later, 48 hours later, I get a phone call. “We’re going to have another meeting to talk about the presidency.” Barrett calls me. I said, “You’re nuts.” He says, “Yeah, he’s got another meeting. We can’t find Dick. Can you get him?” I says, “I’ll get him.” So I called Dick and he said, “I ain’t coming to another meeting. They know my position.” He was right. “I’m not flying back out there for another meeting.” He was not a Reagan guy at all, he never thought very highly of Reagan, Mr. Cheney didn’t. The second meeting was held. I don’t know what transpired, but I think Betty got in the act. I could smell it. By the time he went home and Betty said, “I ain’t going to do it.” It was pretty much pronouncement at that second meeting that, “I’m not going to do it.”
Smith: She had just come off the intervention, and had a whole new life out here.
Spencer: Oh, yeah. Whole new world. I don’t know what she said to him – she said something and that was the end of that game.
Smith: Did the meeting take place? The second meeting? You attended a second meeting, but the tone was different?
Spencer: Yeah, the tone was different, the crowd was different. That’s when I said Betty got in the act.
Smith: It would have made no sense, would it – for him to run in ’80?
Spencer: No. It only would have made sense if on January 1, ’77, he would have said, “I think I’m going to do it,” and gone out there and started working his butt off. Then it might have worked. But no, he wanted to make the money – you couldn’t have them both.
Smith: They enjoyed their new lives out here.
Spencer: Sure they did.
Smith: You saw them, obviously, a number of times over the years?
Spencer: Here? Oh I saw them all the time. I was close. I moved out here basically right after he got out of office and we played a lot of golf, he was very active and involved all that period of time. He had phone calls from everybody, and he wanted to talk politics. He wanted to talk, and he trusted me. I was a great guy to talk to. We enjoyed each others’ company. We weren’t social. I only went out to dinner with the Fords about twice in my life, when they came out here and she was still drinking and they were disaster nights. We’re all drunk.
Smith: This was before the intervention?
Spencer: Oh yeah, I think Betty worried about me for a while, after she went into the intervention – by some of the things she said. Yeah, I saw him all the time. We played golf, I was sort of the middle person for a lot of people – like press people who wanted to talk to him. Not that they couldn’t call here. Like Brokaw, I’d say, “Okay, we’ll play golf, you and I and the President, and you can talk to him while at lunch.” He loved that. We played golf and then we’d have lunch at Morningside, and Brokaw and the President would sit there and go at whatever they wanted to go at.
Smith: He liked reporters, didn’t he?
Spencer: Yeah. He loved DeFrank, he really did. He liked Jimmy Naughton. When we pulled tricks on people like the DeFrank thing and Peoria, we put the sheep in his room one night. We got so sick and tired of hearing about Texas A&M, his college. Ford was part of the conspiracy. He got in the act. Naw, he liked reporters. I never heard him put off any reporter.
Smith: Who did he dislike?
Spencer: In terms of people?
Spencer: Well, there was a period of time that he disliked Carter. That was the most shocking thing in my life. I’m saying to him, I said, “Who’s your new buddy?” He didn’t like Carter.
Smith: How much of that, I wonder, was grounded in the fact that they both ran against Reagan?
Spencer: Some of it, yeah. And I guess it all came to fruition on that flight to Egypt which they were all three on, as I recall. Reagan is over in his seat.
Smith: No, it was Nixon, Ford, and Carter.
Spencer: Yeah, that’s what kind of – Nixon was playing the independent. They became very close. I never let them forget it. I don’t Barrett let him forget it either. I know a lot of other press people, they’d linger through here and they’d usually call me after or before, and I’d see them. A lot of substantial people. He became very involved in the community here, in the philanthropic things, the church over there up by me on 74, the Episcopal church. Of course Betty’s program here was a big part of the valley.
Smith: He was so proud of what she was doing over there.
Spencer: Right, he was.
Smith: They had their annual alumni event, and there were stories that you’d see him cooking hot dogs and that kind of involvement.
Spencer: He was very happy. There is quite a little social structure here, because there is so much wealth here in the winter season and he was a star attraction for the dinner party – the event.
Smith: And he knew that.
Spencer: Oh, sure he knew it. I used to needle him about it. I used to have fun with him. He’d just laugh and say, “You’re jealous.” “I’m jealous, yeah. I’m jealous about those bums.”
Smith: Did he hold a grudge?
Spencer: Yeah, he could hold a grudge. But there’re degrees of grudges. I could really hold a grudge if I wanted to. He couldn’t hold a grudge like I could. He was softer at it. He believed in people. He was a supreme optimist, he really was. I’ve always said, good candidates have to believe in miracles. He did.
Smith: Did he dwell much on the past? Did he talk about it? Or was it really here and now?
Spencer: He thought of forward. He’d go through a short period of grieving and then go on about his business in the world. He didn’t hold on to things. He felt good about himself. It was evident. He felt confident in who he was.
Smith: He had a pretty extraordinary life.
Spencer: He had an extraordinary life. He didn’t have any hang-ups, he didn’t have any paranoia’s.
Smith: He and Mrs. Ford, together, were increasingly, in some ways, marooned in the Republican Party. They were outspokenly pro-choice, they said nice things about gay rights, at a time when the party was going this way – I don’t know whether he moved to the left, or whether he just stayed where he was and the party moved to the right.
Spencer: Reagan had a great quote that’s apropos to this. He changed his registration in 1960 or ’62, from Democrat to Republican. And his premise at the time went asked was simply, “The party left me, I didn’t leave the party.” Well, that’s exactly what happened to Ford and a lot of other people. I could say it with great comfort today, the party has left me, I haven’t left the party. This is not the party I grew up in or worked in.
Smith: Including Reagan’s party.
Spencer: Yeah – ah, Reagan may have shared some of these social network concepts, but he wasn’t going to talk about it, they were private matters and he wasn’t going to hold it against you if you were on the other side. He and I disagreed on abortion, we disagreed on a lot of things, but, okay, fine. So be it. I’m not going to make a national issue out of it.
Smith: Were you surprised at all by the amount of reaction to Ford’s death. I was wearing two hats, I was with ABC for the first half of the week and then I was with the family. I can tell you, from within the media cocoon, people were surprised, especially as the week went by. And of course, eventually they went to Grand Rapids. There were surprised because this guy had been out of the public eye, and as far as they were concerned, hadn’t really been a player for a long time. And my theory was, there was a whole generation that didn’t remember Watergate, but were being introduced to him for the first time through these old clips. What they saw, compared with what he have today looked pretty good.
Spencer: Yeah, I think that’s true, and they also kept in the limelight, and Betty’s work was a plus for him. But, in some ways, he was still a quantity and he had a fatherly, grandfatherly image that young people can adapt to. The press never hurt him. The press was always good to him. I think the country was looking for something to rally around. Bush was in trouble and here was this grandfatherly guy that had gone through Watergate, tried to straighten it out, and it was something to rally to. I was at the church over here. I did the thing out here. I didn’t go back there. This valley really rallied around him. We’ve still got billboards around here, “Thank you, Gerald Ford.” There up on the damn 10 freeway. There’s one right there today. First time I saw it I thought, “What?”
Smith: I was surprised, when I saw later the numbers of people. I had been part of the group that was planning the funeral and we worked for two years. I said, “Oh you don’t want to have another leg.” They were proposing California. “It’s too much.” But, 57,000 people, overnight, went through that church.
Spencer: The only thing I saw – it ran ten days, didn’t it?
Smith: Six, partly because of January – because of New Year’s Day added a day.
Spencer: All of a sudden I thought, “Jesus, this is going on too long, come on.” But everything was great. I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t surprised at the reaction.
Smith: Do you think he would have been pleased?
Spencer: Oh! Yes. He would be happy, happy, happy.
Smith: Last question: if you were telling someone who had never known him. He’s just a name in a textbook or clipping or something. What do people need to know about Gerald Ford and/or is there something surprising about Ford that most people don’t know?
Spencer: I’d have to say to you, he was a very decent human being, first. Everything he did, he did with integrity. He had a belief system and he lived by his belief system, which is a very positive thing, I think, for a public figure. The thing they don’t know, the thing that I think they never understood was that he had an intellect and he had some brains. He wasn’t the dumbo that fell down the stairs. He was one of the best athletes that ever sat in that chair. He had bad knees. He had smarts. He had intellectual capability. He could analyze. He totally shocked me, and an example of that, he totally shocked me in 1976 when he took the budget and stood up there without a note and went through the whole thing like a diagram. I couldn’t believe it! The guy knew the budget!
Smith: The federal budget.
Spencer: Yeah, the federal budget! He knew where it was coming from, where it was going, what the numbers were. That took some intellect, in my mind. He never got recognition for that side of him. The mis-service that the media did to him, particularly the visual media, was the guy that played ball without the helmet and fell down the stairs. And that became very ingrained in America – there’s no doubt about that. That would be the thing I think I would say to America – that they should really understand this guy had some brains and he had some intellect. Not excessive, but much better than the average. Much better than some other people I’ve known in that job. Let’s put it that way.
Smith: Was television not his friend?
Spencer: Television was not his friend at all. No. He tried to be a politician orator in the William Jennings Bryan sense. If I can yell louder and scream louder and pound enough things louder, I’m going to get my point across. He wasn’t. He was not an electronic candidate.
Smith: Do you think he envied Reagan his gifts?
Spencer: Sure he did. I think everybody in public life envied Reagan. They had to, the guy was so good. Sure, he envied him, but that just was not a good relationship for a lot of reasons. There are relationships in life that get off on the wrong foot, and they’re really not that far apart, but they never change. I have a relationship with Bush, Sr. that way. The situation started twenty years before, but something always happened like, he’s chairman of the party, Watergate’s going on, I’m running a governor’s race here. The White House says to him, I think we’re going to have seven fundraisers around America, the president’s going to be on a big screen, blah blah blah – one of the site’s California, LA.
So I get a call from Bush’s guy and I said, “I don’t want it.” But Bush wants it. I said, “I don’t give a Goddamn what Bush wants, I don’t want it.” So, all hell breaks loose. Finally I end up telling Bush, “Go ahead and have it. The Republican gubernatorial candidate is going to be in Eureka that night.” My premise was simply, every morning I woke up something new was happening in Watergate. I didn’t know what else was going to happen. So what happens a few weeks later? Butterfield comes out and finds the tapes and another shoe dropped. They cancelled the ball, right? But I was defiant of the chairman. Only representing my client, that’s all.
So that started it. Then I’m running the Clements campaign in Texas. I bring Connolly, Tower, Annie Armstrong, and Bush to a hotel – going to have the cameras, I’ve got them scripted, we’re going to shoot commercial spots, endorsement spots of Bill Clements. Connolly and Tower are pros, they click it off. Annie did a good job. George screws the first one up, he screws the second one up. I won’t let him leave the room until he gets it right. I really pissed him off. Really. He’s going out of here grumbling about that son of a bitch Spencer. I heard it! But I had my job to do and I did it. Then he goes to the White House, sort of the same thing. Every time something happened.
Smith: I always said, George Bush, ’41, would have made a great secretary of state in 1949. He really was much more, in some ways, attuned to that sort of establishment appointive position.
Spencer: He was. But I didn’t dislike him. I brokered the Reagan/Bush thing when they made the handoff, ‘cause that was some bad blood there, staff-wise. I did a lot of things for him. I never got any credit.
Smith: One last thing: the Ford vice presidency boomlet in 1980 – where did it start? One senses Kissinger was negotiating, Greenspan was negotiating.
Spencer: It was started by the Ford people. They wanted back into the game. I stayed away from it. The other thing for Bush, and I don’t know what Reagan’s process was, but when I came back aboard before the convention, the Reagan campaign – they brought me in and they asked me to fly back to Detroit with them to the convention. This was the first time he and I had been together in years. He’s very gracious and he started talking about the primary and all that. And he spent twenty minutes really mad at George Bush. Voodoo economics, blah, blah, everything was said about him. I’m not saying anything, I’m listening.
Finally, I said, “Hey, that’s what campaigns are about. You got to forget that stuff, it’s over with.” So we went into another subject and he turned to me and he said, “What do you think about the VP thing?” I said, “Well, politically, it’s obvious to me that you’ve got to pick someone who is perceived as moderate because we’re going to a convention that’s written a platform that’s really right wing. The guy that fits the bill is George Bush.” He said, “You haven’t been listening to me have you?” You’ve been dumping all over George Bush. I said, “I’ve been listening to you, but politically, you’ve got to pick George Bush.” He said, “Whoaaaa.” That’s how he was. Then we got on another subject. We get back there and then all this other crap breaks loose. And I know it’s not going anywhere. It’s just not going anywhere.
Smith: Is it just a great media story?
Spencer: Yeah. Betty would have divorced him. Let’s be honest. I go down in that damn hotel, you could never get down in the elevator, and there’s Baker sitting over there. He’s got his bags and stuff and it’s before the last night the decisions are made and all that. I said, “Where you going Jimmy?” He said, “I’m going back to Houston.” I said, “I’d stick around if I were you.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I’d just stick around if I were you.” Brokaw calls me in my room that night, and see, Rather’s gone with the story. I said, “Brokaw, I’m going to give you a piece of advice. I wouldn’t touch it.” “Well, what do you know?” I said, “I don’t know nothing, but I’m just telling you.”
Today he thanks me for giving him that piece of advice. And it went away. I got a phone call from Reagan, I wouldn’t even go up to the rooms. I wasn’t up there. I’m in my room, I’m hiding, actually, from everybody. He says, “You still feel the same way about the VP thing.” I said, “I haven’t seen a thing happen here that changes my mind.” He says, “Thank you.” Hung up. I’m sure he talked to other people, too. And I’m sure other people were taking my position. I certainly hope so. He made the right decision. They got along great. Bush was in total awe of that man, unbelievable awe. To this day something will happen. I feel sorry for George, Sr. His son’s eight years is such a debacle. I feel sorry for the man. I’m talking to Baker the other day, and I said, “I really feel sorry for George, Sr.” I said, “Why don’t you tell him.” He said, “I don’t think I would. He wouldn’t take it well coming from you.” I said, “You mean he wouldn’t have a sense of humor, huh?”
Smith: Perfect, that’s perfect. That was great.