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Ford and Reagan -- hardly bosom buddies

October 30, 2007 |  6:28 am

Since sex sells, it's no surprise that much of the initial buzz over Tom DeFrank's new book, "Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford," has focused on the 38th president's diagnosis of the 42nd president as the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded.

"He's sick," Jerry Ford said of Bill Clinton. "I'm convinced that Clinton has a sexual addiction. He needs to get help."

The New York Daily News (DeFrank's own newspaper; he's the longtime D.C. bureau chief) spotlighted the Clinton angle in a Sunday story. And it got lots of attention Monday on various cable news shows.

The book -- today is its official publication date -- is chock-full of other intriguing material, however, including a fascinating chapter on what DeFrank terms the "uncharacteristic bitterness" that Ford felt toward California's own Ronald Reagan.

To Ford's "dying day" (which was last Dec. 23), he "blamed Reagan for his 1976 loss to Jimmy Carter," DeFrank writes. It was bad enough that Reagan launched a bid to deny him the Republican presidential nomination -- an effort he pursued all the way to the national convention. But even worse, after Ford prevailed, Reagan (in Ford's view) barely went through the motions of helping the GOP ticket in the general election.

For Ford, the consummate party man, that was unpardonable. And he was thoroughly convinced that with help from Reagan, he would have edged out Carter in their close contest.

In general, Ford didn't think much of Reagan. He "neither liked nor respected the former Hollywood actor," according to the book. "He considered Reagan a superficial, disengaged, intellectually lazy showman who didn’t do his homework and clung to a naive, unrealistic and essentially dangerous world view."

DeFrank also reveals that Ford continued to harbor White House ambitions after that race. Indeed, DeFrank writes that during one of their conversations, the ex-president surprised him ...

"with his riff on how Reagan, who'd been plotting his own candidacy since losing to Ford in 1976, should have stepped aside for him" in the 1980 campaign.

Said Ford: “I knew I could beat Jimmy Carter; I wasn’t sure Ronald Reagan could. I would have liked to run if I could have run without a bitter Reagan-Ford pre-convention battle. But for Ronald Reagan and me to get into another head-to-head confrontation, I was not prepared to do that.”

Writes DeFrank: "Curiously, Ford said he never considered sending an emissary to Reagan feeling him out about stepping aside; he was convinced, according to several former aides, that Reagan was so hellbent on running that broaching the subject was a colossal waste of time.

"So in Ford’s version of reality, he refused to do to Reagan in 1980 what Reagan had done to him in 1976, with such disastrous effects for the Republican Party and Ford personally."

One other tidbit. For many years, neither Ford nor his wife, Betty, "could abide Nancy (Reagan) -- especially after they found out that she sometimes mocked Jerry Ford as 'the unelected president.' "

That attitude softened, DeFrank reports, after the disclosure that Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's disease "changed everything by interjecting a humanitarian imperative into the relationship."

-- Don Frederick

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