updated 12/27/2006 6:52:42 PM ET 2006-12-27T23:52:42

Guests: James Cannon, Cliff May, John Dingell, Tom Brokaw, David Hume Kennerly, Joe Trippi, Cliff May

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States.  During his time in office, the American people came to know President Ford as a man of complete integrity who led our country with common sense and kind instincts.  Americans will always admire Gerald Ford‘s unflinching performance of duty and the honorable conduct of his administration, and the great rectitude of the man himself. 

May God bless Gerald Ford. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN, HOST:  Welcome to today‘s program.  We‘re going to spend the next hour discussing the life and the legacy of President Gerald R. Ford, who died last night at 93 years of age. 

President Ford‘s friends and colleagues will be here, along with our panel:

president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May, and MSNBC contributor and “Boston Herald” columnist Mike Barnicle. 

But first, the anchor of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” Brian Williams, reflects on the only man in American history to be both president and vice president without ever being elected to either.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERALD FORD, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” (voice over):  His presidency began with a national sigh of relief at the end of Watergate.  It ended with a painful loss to Jimmy Carter.  Gerald R. Ford, whose top ambition in politics was to someday be speaker of the House, ended up seeing and making his share of presidential history. 

He was born Leslie King in Omaha, Nebraska, and was renamed Gerald Ford when his divorced mother moved to Michigan and remarried.  He was athletic as a boy, a standout football player, and won a scholarship to the University of Michigan during the depression. 

He was handsome enough to get hired as a model.  He went to Yale Law School, then joined the Navy in World War II, serving aboard the USS Monterrey in the Pacific. 

Ford came home to Michigan, married a dancer named Betty Bloomer, and got into politics.  Elected to the House in 1948, the first of 13 terms.  Steady, dependable and hard-working, he rose through the ranks. 

FORD:  I think the shock is still with...

WILLIAMS:  In 1963, Ford was named to the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  He was its last surviving member.

He became House minority leader in 1965 with the support of renegade younger Republicans, including an Illinois congressman named Donald Rumsfeld. 

DONALD RUMSFELD ®, FMR. ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN:  Gerald Ford...

WILLIAMS:  Ford was not all that close to President Lyndon Johnson, who once cracked that Ford used to play football without a helmet. 

Things were betterer under President Nixon, but with House Republicans still in the minority, the speaker‘s job remained out of reach and Ford actually considered retirement. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I will have nothing more to say.

WILLIAMS:  Then in 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace, and Richard Nixon had just the man to replace him. 

RICHARD M. NIXON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan.

(APPLAUSE)

WILLIAMS:  Ford resigned the House seat he had held for a quarter century and became vice president of the United States. 

FORD:  I‘m a Ford, not a Lincoln. 

WILLIAMS:  Ford held that job for just eight months, as Richard Nixon‘s presidency was consumed by Watergate. 

NIXON:  Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.  Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at that hour in this office. 

FORD:  Our Constitution works.

WILLIAMS:  Among the new president‘s top aides, old friend Donald Rumsfeld, who in turn brought in a young deputy named Dick Cheney.  Moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller was Ford‘s choice for vice president. 

After the trauma of Watergate, Gerry Ford was welcomed as a regular guy.  Imagine a former Beatle in Richard Nixon‘s Oval Office.  The nation was even happy to see that Ford made his own breakfast.  But much of that goodwill evaporated with this stunning announcement...

FORD:  ... a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon. 

WILLIAMS:  The pardon cost Ford politically, but he defended it for the rest of his life. 

FORD:  I made the right decision. 

WILLIAMS:  In foreign policy, Ford followed the Nixon model, managing a Cold War balance of power with the Soviet Union and with communist China, where the elder George Bush served as Ford‘s envoy.  Ford later named Bush director of the CIA. 

America‘s long involvement in Vietnam ended on Gerald Ford‘s watch with a communist victory in April, 1975, a defeat symbolized by this unforgettable image, evacuees desperate to board a U.S. chopper out of Saigon. 

FORD:  That was a sad, sad day. 

WILLIAMS:  At home, Ford struggled with the economy.  His slogan, “Whip inflation now,” and those “win” buttons became the butt of jokes.  And at times, Ford did, too.  A few unfortunate stumble gave the former star athlete the image of a klutz, famously reinforced by Chevy Chase on “Saturday Night Live.” 

CHEVY CHASE, ACTOR:  I hope you pardon me. 

WILLIAMS:  Ford was good-natured about it, but privately he never liked it. 

Life turned very serious when Ford survived not one, but two assassination attempts, both in September of 1975.  He was shaken up but unhurt. 

The following year, Ford barely survived a political change from the right, fending off Ronald Reagan to win the GOP nomination.  With Bob Dole as his running mate, Gerald Ford wanted badly to be elected president in his own right.  But in this debate with opponent Jimmy Carter, just weeks before the election, Ford made a costly mistake.

FORD:  There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. 

WILLIAMS:  Ford lost to Carter, but in later years, the two men became close friends.  It was always said Gerry Ford was not a man who made enemies. 

President Ford, just two and a half years, and a former president for decades.  Gerald R. Ford, when we last spoke, was secure in the belief that he had made a difference. 

(on camera):  Sum it up for me.  How has it been when you look back on your place in American history?

FORD:  When historians 50 years from now objectively write about the Ford administration, I hope they will say that the President Ford healed the wounds of Watergate, ended the tragedy of the war in Vietnam, and restored public confidence in the White House itself. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  James Cannon—James Cannon, President Ford‘s assistant for domestic affairs from 1974 to 1977 and author of “Time and Chance: Gerald Ford‘s Appointment With History.”

Jim, thanks for coming over.

JAMES CANNON, PRESIDENT FORD‘S DOMESTIC AFFAIRS ASSISTANT:  Thank you, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  We shared about three and a half months...

CANNON:  Is that right?

BUCHANAN:  About three months in the White House before chief of staff Rumsfeld told me it was time to go very quickly. 

Tell me, did Gerald Ford figure he was Richard Nixon‘s first choice for president—or vice president of the United States? 

CANNON:  No.  No.  He knew he was not his first choice.  He knew that others were being considered. 

In fact, he knew that Connally was the first choice.  And in fact, When Nixon said, “Now, Gerry, I‘m going to make you the vice president, but first I want you to know that my candidate for ‘76 is not you, it‘s going to be John Connally.” 

BUCHANAN:  What did Ford say to him? 

CANNON:  He said, “It‘s OK with me.  I didn‘t want to run anymore anyway.” 

BUCHANAN:  Well, he came in, and we saw the toasted muffin, as we called it.  The toasted English muffin‘s phase of the Ford presidency ended exactly one month after he took office that Sunday morning, when he said Richard Nixon is going to get a full, free pardon. 

When you talked to—and you were Nelson Rockefeller‘s top man when you came into the White House—Vice President Rockefeller.  Did Ford ever indicate that he had regrets about the pardon? 

CANNON:  None.  Absolutely not.

I talked with him, I don‘t know, 20 times, I suppose...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CANNON:  ... over the years in working on the book, and we went over every aspect of the pardon.  I talked to everybody involved with it, except Nixon, who wouldn‘t talk to me about it.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CANNON:  And—but there was no question in my mind that there was no better way to do it. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, in my last day when I left, he invited me in for the good-bye session.

CANNON:  Right?

BUCHANAN:  And I told him, “I know they‘re pounding you very badly, Mr.  President, on this, but I think history is going to judge you did the right thing.”  And I think it will, but he was torn to pieces by this. 

CANNON:  Literally.

BUCHANAN:  I mean, he went from 70 percent in the polls to the 30s in a matter of 72 hours. 

CANNON:  I don‘t think there‘s a responsible publication in America that has supported his decision. 

BUCHANAN:  I wonder how they look back on that now?

CANNON:  They have changed. 

BUCHANAN:  Because I think everybody believes now lancing the boil, getting it done and over with, behind him, and the country moving on and him moving on...

CANNON:  He had more foresight about it than the rest of the country.  He saw that it had to be done.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CANNON:  There was just no question.  In the national interest it had to be done.  Not in Nixon‘s interest.  Not out of mercy, but out of the national interest this had to be wiped off the front pages of...

BUCHANAN:  I know Jerry terHorst, the press secretary we worked with, took a walk on that one.

CANNON:  Well, he did.  And that was—that made it doubly unfortunate because...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CANNON:  ... he resigned as a matter of principle, and that made it worse.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Look, he got hit then, you could say, from the establishment and the left.  He was hammered for the pardon. 

CANNON:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Most of the Republicans said he did the right thing, but they were a clear majority—minority.  So then along comes ‘75.  You are working for Nelson Rockefeller, the great (INAUDIBLE) of the American right, and Ronald Reagan, late 1975, comes from the right and challenges Ford for the nomination.

Did Ford feel that was, if you will, almost an upstart thing to do when he was president of the United States? 

CANNON:  He was puzzled. 

BUCHANAN:  He was puzzled? 

CANNON:  He thought it was a violation of the 11th Commandment. 

BUCHANAN:  Violation?  They were stomping all over it. 

CANNON:  That‘s right.  But he thought—he didn‘t think—he didn‘t believe it at first. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  He didn‘t think Reagan would run against him?

CANNON:  He didn‘t think Reagan would run until—until later on it became obvious that Reagan was already running.  And so Ford got a very late start. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CANNON:  In fact, about May of ‘75, I thought, you were getting such a late start.  I spoke to Rumsfeld.  I said, look, we are going to lose this.  And...

BUCHANAN:  You thought it would be a challenge from Reagan.

CANNON:  I said it‘s going to be a challenge from Reagan.  So he said we‘ll talk to the president.  I did, and he said, “Well, I figure if I‘ve done a good job, the party will nominate me and the country will elect me.”

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Did you tell him that wasn‘t the way it works? 

CANNON:  I told him, “That‘s not the way it works, Mr. President.”  And he said, well, he‘d think about it.

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me ask you, the think for which you‘re remembered—I mean, it was a very eventful presidency—the fall of Cambodia and Vietnam, the Holocaust there, the pardon of Nixon.  An awful lot happened in those years—the Helsinki Conference and Rockefeller. 

One final thing.  Did he feel bitter that the conservatives had basically helped to drive Rockefeller off the ticket? 

CANNON:  I don‘t think he felt bitter about it.  I think he felt resigned about it and he felt he had made a mistake.  He said this is the biggest political mistake of his life, and he said it was the most cowardly act of his life to dump Rockefeller off the ticket. 

BUCHANAN:  Very moving.

Jim Cannon, thanks very much for coming over, old friend.  We‘ll see you.

CANNON:  Thank you, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Still ahead, Gerald Ford assumed the presidency of a nation divided and bitter over a president and a war.  How do those times compare with these times?

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  An unpopular war, an administration isolated.  The Bush presidency of 2006 sure sounds like the Ford presidency of 1975.  But is the comparison valid? 

President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May, is with us, as is MSNBC contributor and “Boston Herald” columnist Mike Barnicle.

Mike, let me start with you.  You go back.  You‘re a contemporary of mine. 

Ford‘s was an enormously eventful presidency.  Not only the pardon of Nixon, but bringing Rockefeller into the vice presidency; the crushing defeat of ‘74; Cambodia and Vietnam fall in April ‘75; the Holocaust in Cambodia.  You‘ve got Helsinki, the Reagan challenge, the convention out there, dumping of Rockefeller. 

This is eventful.  How do you—I mean, it looks—it sounds to me like Gerald Ford was a president, sort of this decent, solid, non-ideological man, dropped as leader into the middle of this—this really snake pit of ideological and political wars. 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC COLUMNIST:  Well, I think, Pat, you just sort of nailed it when you said a non-ideological man. 

Despite everything, the turmoil of the brief time that Gerald Ford was president, domestically, off of the pardon, and in the wake of Watergate, internationally with the collapse of South Vietnam and the inflammation of Cambodia, all of those things, Gerald Ford had one thing going for him that does not happen today, certainly not happening in this White House, in that some of his best friends were men and women on the other side of the aisle.  One of Gerald Ford‘s best friends happened to be Tip O‘Neill.

Gerry Ford was minority leader of the House, Tip O‘Neill was majority leader of the House of Representatives, soon to become speaker of the House of Representatives.  And I can recall Tip telling me that shortly after Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, Tip and Milly O‘Neill went out to dinner with Gerald and Betty Ford as president of the United States in the White House, and Tip told me that at that dinner, Gerry Ford leaned across the table and said, “Tip, do you have any idea of what assuming this job is going to mean for my pension?”

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  And, you know, he was an ordinary guy who could—who could—who could reach ordinary people, and he had—he had people on the other side of the aisle who helped him keep this country going.  That doesn‘t happen today. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

Let me—let me tell you a little story, Cliff.  I was—I was in the White House, I came back from Canada the day of the pardon, and I flew back in, and the next morning—the Nixon people had all been through 18 months of shelling in Watergate, and the Nixon-Ford people were sort of together.  And we came into the Roosevelt Room for the morning meeting, and the Ford people were shell shocked.

They were being hammered, left, right and center.  And, of course, this was all familiar to us after Saturday night massacres.

I remember Tom Corologas (ph), the legislative guy, walking in, getting his cup of coffee, and yelling, “Hey, you Ford people, welcome to the NFL!”

(LAUGHTER)

So—but I do think what Mike is saying—look, this is a—Gerald Ford is a regular, a good partisan Republican with Democratic friends, who fights the fight and goes out to dinner.  And they‘re out at Burning Tree with Tip playing golf.  And he‘s in this vortex of ideological political struggle and tremendous bitterness over a war that‘s losing, and he seems to have kept his center, and he was sort of the center of gravity for the country.

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES:  I think that‘s true.  And I think Mike is right.

You can be partisan without being ideological.  People think it‘s the same thing.  It‘s not.  And it‘s certainly—what was not the same in those days, people forget there was a time when you had liberal Republicans, Nelson Rockefeller.  You had conservative Democrats. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MAY:  Now, that‘s less true today, I think, than it used to be in the past.  But somebody could be a good partisan but not ideological, and so agree with—across the aisle on many issues.

Gerald Ford had a lot of things that he had to clean up when he got into office that were not his fault, but they were his problem.  And actually, I think that‘s also a parallel you have today.  I think a lot of what President Bush is trying to do is clean up problems that developed long before he was president.

BUCHANAN:  OK.  We‘re going to be back again with more with Mike and Cliff.

Coming up, one decision for which Gerald Ford will forever be remembered is the pardon of Richard Nixon.  But the Ford presidency was about much more than that.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Before he was president, before he was vice president, Gerald R.  Ford was a member of the House for 24 years, representing Grand Rapids, Michigan.  So what was it like to work alongside Congressman Ford in the halls of Congress?

Here now is someone who knows firsthand, Michigan congressman John Dingell, who I would imagine is just about the—one of the few who are in the House still who were contemporaries of Gerald Ford.

Is that right?

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN:  That is right.  I think, Pat, there are three of us, although there may be some more...

BUCHANAN:  Right?

DINGELL:  ... who served with Gerry when he was in the House.  Now, there are still a bunch of us around who served with him when he was president or vice president. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, I use to caddy for Charlie Halleck and Les Arends out at the Burning Tree Country Club before Gerald Ford knocked them off in the great coup.

What was Gerald Ford like as a congressman? 

DINGELL:  He was a gentleman, very decent man, very principled.  He was—he was obviously a comer and was so accepted by his colleagues. 

You referred to the great coup, which was quite an event.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

DINGELL:  Charlie Halleck sort of established that he was not the man who could lead the Republicans out of the wilderness, so they—Gerry Ford and a group of younger members got in and ran a coup and they took over, and Gerry was there.

Gerry was a good family man.  He was well liked, he was a guy who could work with Democrats or Republicans. 

BUCHANAN:  Something I want to get to now.

He went through a period, let‘s call it the Truman-McCarthy era, and in the late LBJ-Nixon era, which were some of the most violent, divisive eras in this country, I think almost more so than now, he did not seem to have been -- or get himself, if you will, poisoned by any of those battles, did he? 

DINGELL:  No.  He was—Gerry very much constituent service-oriented, and he was also on the Appropriations Committee, which serves—it‘s kind of like a nunnery.

BUCHANAN:  Right?

DINGELL:  You know, the guys did their business and didn‘t do much else. 

And so he never got into any of those—any of those tussles.

In the case of the later events, Johnson, and that sort of thing, he was—by that time, he‘d arrived at a stature where he played golf with Tip O‘Neill...

BUCHANAN:  Right?

DINGELL:  ... and—you know, he was...

(CROSSTALK)

DINGELL:  ... one of the guys.  And it was a good time, too.

BUCHANAN:  It was a good time.  Let me—and it was a tough time, too. 

Let me ask you, though, what do you—I mean, if you—if you had to sum up in a few words Gerald Ford as a congressman and as a president, how would you do it? 

DINGELL:  A decent man. 

BUCHANAN:  A good president? 

DINGELL:  I would give him very high marks as a good president. 

I worked with him on energy.  His word was good.  He delegated to his people the responsibility to work on legislative matters and he backed them up. 

BUCHANAN:  Did he do the right thing in pardoning Nixon? 

DINGELL:  Yes.  I didn‘t think so at the time, but I do now.   

BUCHANAN:  Nobody thought so at the time, almost.  He did...

DINGELL:  No, it probably was one of the several things that questioned the presidency.

BUCHANAN:  That, and the mistake in the debate when he had made a 30-point comeback, the thing about polling.  You know, that he didn‘t correct him for a couple of days.

So...

DINGELL:  He was.  Yes.  And I don‘t know why he didn‘t do that.  And I‘ve never heard an explanation.

BUCHANAN:  It seemed like almost a stubbornness.  You k now, I‘m not going to—and I think it was a mistake.  He should have come forward obviously and spoke or something and gotten it behind him, because he gained about 27 out of 30 points, and he was coming—he was coming home. 

DINGELL:  We—we—I was—I was a young member at this time, and we worked like nobody‘s business in Michigan.  We made him come home and spend an awful lot of time working there instead of campaigning. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you probably helped beat him there, Congressman. 

DINGELL:  Huh?

BUCHANAN:  You probably helped beat him.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Thank you very much, Congressman.

Coming up, how could an all-American football player who graduated at the top third of his class in Yale Law School be ribbed as a klutz?  President Ford was. 

Back with a look at Gerald Ford as he was known then after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

BUCHANAN:  Where there‘s a president, there‘s a presidential photographer, just a snapshot away.  Joining me now on the phone is President Ford‘s official photographer, on of the best, David Hume Kennerly. 

DAVID HUME KENNERLY, PRESIDENT FORD‘S PHOTOGRAPHER:  Pat, I could have done it for you. 

BUCHANAN:  How are you doing, David.  I heard you this morning. 

KENNERLY:  I‘m on my way to Rancho Mirage, sitting in a donut shop somewhere near Realpo (ph), I guess, on my way over to visit with the Fords and to start covering the events of the next few days. 

BUCHANAN:  right, you driving over there right now?

KENNERLY:  I am. 

BUCHANAN:  David, I guess I saw you this morning on MSNBC after the president passed away.  You‘ve been following this closely.  I guess you knew it was coming? 

KENNERLY:  Well, but we didn‘t—his health has been declining, but the good news is mentally he was really acute right up until the end.  I mean, Don Rumsfeld and his wife went to see him about three or four weeks ago.  And, you know, he was frail but he was able to carry on a good conversation.  He was really pleased by them showing up to say hello.   

BUCHANAN:  You know David, you‘re not only a presidential photographer, you did a great deal of work in Vietnam, didn‘t you? 

KENNERLY:  That‘s right.  I was in Vietnam for 2 ½ years. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I know, I think I‘ve seen your book and it‘s got an awful lot of photos from there.  I want to ask you, I know you did the famous photo, it was after the marines recaptured the Mayaguez (ph), that merchant ship that the Cambodian communists had grabbed.  And you had a famous photograph, I hope we‘ve got it and can show it, of Rumsfeld and president and the senior staff there, all exalted.  Can you tell us—

KENNERLY:  That was the moment that they found out that the USS Mayaguez had been—the crew had been released, and it was really through the actions of President Ford that he secured their freedom and that was the moment, that‘s one of those rare instances where being in the right place at the right time with the camera produced a really historic photograph. 

BUCHANAN:  Oh yes, I think that was one of the most famous photographs of the whole Ford era.  Let me ask you, as I say, you were in Vietnam for all that period, 2 ½ years.  You‘re very close to those guys.  President Ford had supported the war.  He went up to Congress, I think, April 10th, and said please give them some aid, because they‘re going down, and two congressmen walked out on him and they said no.  Was the president bitter about how the Congress, in effect, many of whom had voted us into war, cut off the Vietnamese and the Cambodians the way they did?   

KENNERLY:  He was not happy about that.  I think he felt he tried everything that he could to do, you know, to sure up the South Vietnamese government at the end, but, no matter what, I think it was a lost cause at that point, but it was a reasonable request in his mind, and that was not a happy occasion for him, and then having to pull the plug on Vietnam and getting the last Americans out of there was another part of it.  And there‘s another picture, I don‘t know you‘ve got it there, where he is surrounded by his Security Council guys, in the Roosevelt room, under one of your heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, and nobody is saying anything.  There was nothing more to say.  He had just ordered the final evacuation of U.S.  citizens and what military were left from Saigon. 

BUCHANAN:  I was just talking to John Dingle, sort of a final question for me, David, was the president pretty upset—I mean, he got hammered from the establishment and from the left for the pardon, just hammered, drove him down 40 points, and in 1975 late, the conservatives in the Republican party challenge him, led by Ronald Reagan, and almost take the nomination away from him.  Did he feel some sense of betrayal, or that these guys should have been with me?  And did he feel bitter about—talk to you about what Dingle said—It wasn‘t Dingle, I guess it was Jim Cannon said, about having to dump Nelson Rockefeller? 

KENNERLY:  I know for a fact that he said the one thing, if he had to do it over again, he would not have had Rockefeller step off the ticket.  I think that was so out of character for him, not to stand by his guns, and I think it was almost embarrassing for him, and it ultimately may have ended up with him losing that nomination to Ronald Reagan, but I think he would have felt better about it, because he‘s a man that‘s always stood by his friends. 

BUCHANAN:  David, as are you.  Thank you very much and good luck in California out there, when you see the family. 

KENNERLY:  So it will be Buchanan in 2012.  Or what he have to look forward to?

BUCHANAN:  2008 David.  I need a photographer. 

KENNERLY:  We‘ll put donations right in there. 

BUCHANAN:  I know you gave a lot last time.  OK, you take it easy.  Joining our panel now, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May, MSNBC‘s contributor and “Boston Herald” columnist Mike Barnicle, and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, arriving here late.  Joe, we‘re going to let you get first shot.  You‘re on the other side of the aisle, and  you‘re a very young man.  You had to be very, very young when Gerald Ford—not even a young man almost.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I was 20 in 1976, and 18 --

BUCHANAN:  Well, you were on the other side.  You were very young. 

What is your take on the legacy of Gerald R. Ford?

TRIPPI:  The right guy at the right time.  I think it would be hard for me to imagine who else would have been the right vice president to be sitting there and handle the tension in the country, and the frustration in the country, and the failing of the Nixon presidency, with the way he did and then to get hammered. 

BUCHANAN:  From all sides.

TRIPPI:  From all sides.  I mean, he got hammered on the pardon, and then, as you pointed out, Reagan challenges him for the nomination. 

BUCHANAN:  Kind of forced him to dump his vice president. 

TRIPPI:  But, you know, he always handled it just exactly with the right tone, and then, you know, me made Chevy Chase‘s career, I think, as a comedian.  I mean, that was really the first time that you started seeing comedians start to make of a president, I think too.  Again, I think in the wake of Watergate it became OK to do that. 

BARNICLE:  Let me get Mike Barnicle in here.  You know, Mike, if you take a look at where we were, say in August of 1974, and where we were when Jimmy Carter was inaugurated in January, 1977, the storm had passed.  And he had taken all this stuff upon himself.  He was not a savage partisan on one side, or the other, or an ideological partisan.  And yet, he had taken the real beating, if you will, for all the rest of us, to get it out of our systems? 

BARNICLE:  There‘s no doubt that he took a pounding, Pat.  And I don‘t think there‘s any doubt whatsoever now, even all this time later, and I don‘t think there was that much of a doubt among people at that time, despite the polls, that Gerald Ford took the heat off this country by pardoning Richard Nixon.  I know you love the guy, Pat, Nixon, but, you know, I think most people, when they thought about it, wanted Dick Nixon to just go home to California and walk the beach, and just, you know, stay out of the headlines. 

Gerry Ford new at that time—we were still in Vietnam, and the

prospect of a president of the United States being deposed, and perhaps put

on trial, criminally, federal trial, it would have been just too much for

this country.  The other thing about Gerry Ford, Pat, and when John Dingle

I don‘t think anybody could say it better, that Gerry Ford was a decent man.  My first—the first time I met Gerry Ford, I couldn‘t get a job.  I was running an elevator in the Capitol building in 1966 and you learn a lot about people when you‘re just a lonely elevator operator, and he was an extraordinarily nice guy.  Not just to me, but to the help, to the capital police officers, to everybody.  Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand. was an arrogant jerk then and he still is now. 

BUCHANAN:  Throw you off the elevator or something?  Say, I‘ll drive it myself, Rumsfeld. 

BARNICLE:  I told him to get off. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, you want a quick comment? 

TRIPPI:  I think this is the first presidency where the cameras followed you everywhere.  Any mistake you made became emblematic.  Kennedy didn‘t have—

BUCHANAN:  It‘s amazing because here‘s a guy who was a terrific athlete. 

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES:  He was a terrific athlete.  I spent a lot of years—I was a newspaper editor out in Colorado.  He had a place in Beaver Creek, next to Vail.  He used to ski.  I tried very hard to go skiing with him.  Never succeeded.  He said his knees eventually wore out.  He was a great athlete, but it became something that politicians learned later, that one foible, one slip of the tongue or of foot and that‘s it. 

BUCHANAN:  He went down more than one set of stairs, and on the ski slopes in the gulf, I mean, hitting the ball, banging people in the head.  His limousine got crashed by some college kid, remember that up there in Connecticut, Mike.  Some college kid drove into the intersection. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Some guys are snake bit, come on. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, we‘re going to take a break here.  Coming up, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney served as White House chief of staff, but it may have been another appointment that cemented Ford‘s place in history.  Stay tuned to find out who that public servant was. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Brent Scowcroft served as President Gerald Ford‘s national security adviser.  NBC‘s Tom Brokaw talked to Scowcroft this spring about some of the foreign policy crisis confronted by the new and unexpected president. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Here you had a new president who had arrived by accident, as the country is in great turmoil.  We are in a pitched Cold War with the Russian. 

BRENT SCOWCROFT, PRESIDENT FORD‘S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  The first thing we wanted to do was have him sit down with all the NATO ambassadors and say nothing has changed, be calm, be relaxed.  Then we wanted him to sit with the Chinese, with Soviets and say, really nothing has changed.  I‘m in charge, and don‘t forget it.

BROKAW:  What were the qualities that he brought to that role? 

SCOWCROFT:  A, kind of a rock like steadiness.  No flamboyance, no nervousness, no hyper activity and so on, just solid as a rock.  He would discuss, he would talk and try to understand it better, and then he would make a decision.  But he was deeply troubled, especially by Vietnam, and in the last days of Vietnam, when it was clear that we had to withdraw, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said pull the forces out.  It‘s hopeless.  And he refused and he kept those forces in while we were evacuate the Vietnamese who had fought with us, and solely on his own neck, he just stood up there by himself, and took that burden on him to save the lives of a bunch of our allies. 

BROKAW:  That‘s the definition of moral authority. 

SCOWCROFT:  Real heroism, and almost nobody knows that story, but it is one of the classics of American history to me.  I still can‘t—as you can see, I get emotional.  Who would have known or who would have cared had another 20,000 Vietnamese disappeared into the communists jungles or killed?  He would have. 

BROKAW:  Here is Gerry Ford, who has spent most of his political career on the rubber chicken circuit, representing the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Suddenly he has Beruit, Cyprus, Vietnam, SALT.  That‘s a heap of a load for any man. 

SCOWCROFT:  Huge, huge, unbelievable. 

BROKAW:  And yet, he never lost his equilibrium. 

SCOWCROFT:  Never wavered, never collapsed, never dissolved in anxiety or tears or anything, but just kept on doggedly facing one crisis after another. 

BROKAW:  How do you think history will remember this man?

SCOWCROFT:  As the man who brought peace back internally to the United States.  When I think back of the day he assumed office, this country was really in psychological turmoil, I mean, deep with hatred, bitterness, fear, resentment.  All of those things swirling around us.  1976 was all gone.  He had restored this country. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  Joining us again, our panel, President of the foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May, MSNBC contributor and “Boston Herald” columnist Mike Barnicle, and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.  I almost made a mistake there on your name, Mike.  I said it was communist, rather than columnist.   

BARNICLE:  You‘ve thought that in the past, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  It takes me back to the 1970‘s, Mike.  Let me ask you this, Mike, look, Gerald ford had to preside over what was a horrendous disaster and tragedy in southeast Asia, the loss of Vietnam, reeducation camps, vote people, holocaust in Cambodia.  Then he practices detente with the Soviet Union, the Helsinki agreement, SALT accords, and he‘s hammered from the right and he loses basically—almost lost his nomination because he was perceived as a Kissingerian (ph) detentist.  Do you think though, was his foreign policy a success?

BARNICLE:  I think his foreign policy was a success.  I mean, he presided over the end of Vietnam.  It was a strategic way to end that war, but he had just come into the presidency, he had assumed the presidency under the most difficult of circumstances.  He came in just loaded with common sense, with an ability to listen.  He clearly was a compassionate guy.  He clearly never left Grand Rapids, in the best sense of that, I mean.  In fact, the end of his presidency, if you look back at it now, he gave us the gift of our own country.  He gave us our country back. 

You know, Joe was in high school, you know, Cliff, I don‘t know, maybe you were in college, I‘m trying to guess at your age, but I‘ve been watching the TV shows all day, and news caster after news caster is saying I can remember that.  I was in college, I was in high school, but that was a particularly turbulent time in this country, and there was some question about the future of this republic at that time.  Gerald Ford gave us back our country. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, Cliff.

MAY:  I think all that is right.  I think an interesting part of this, and Joe mentioned this off the air, he had a fight with the right, but not just Republicans on the right.  Obviously Ronald Reagan and people following him were critical.  But so were the Scoop Jackson at that time, who though that soft was, if you want to call him that, who thought that soft—

BUCHANAN:  You were in high school at 20-years-old, Trippi? 

TRIPPI:  No, I was in college at the end there.  It‘s hard to imagine him being—someone like him being in office today. 

BUCHANAN:  We have got to go.  Coming up final thoughts for today on an accidental leader of the free world, President Gerald R. Ford.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  OK, back with some final thoughts from our panel.  Let me start with you, Joe Trippi, and let‘s talk about three people, very much associated with Gerald R. Ford, John Paul Stevens, only Supreme Court nominee he had, Rumsfeld and Cheney, who Gerald Ford really elevated.  I mean, he was the one that really raised up Cheney.  Rumsfeld was in Nixon‘s administration.  Quick story, John Paul Stevens, when Ford nominated him, he got through 97-3, and he had that White House briefing for a number of columnists, and I was there.  And he said that‘s the kind of Supreme Court appointee I will appoint if I get re-elected.  And I went out and called my friend in Reagan‘s campaign and said we‘ve got to go.  I mean really, because I felt—you know, the Supreme Court was what the conservative revolution was all about.  But talk about any one of those three. 

TRIPPI:  I want to say one thing.  That was what‘s interesting about Gerald Ford.  He was a very nonpartisan Republican, in a lot of ways, and it‘s something that you don‘t see in our politics anymore. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, he was non-ideological. 

TRIPPI:  Right, there was no ideology to him.  And, the other thing that was interesting, I do remember this, is you wanted him to succeed.  Even people like you, who were out there deciding you wanted to stop him, you still wanted him to succeed in his foreign policy and what he was trying to do, because he was still president of the United States.  You don‘t see that anymore really either, since Clinton and Bush. 

(CROSS TALK)

TRIPPI:  He really engendered that kind of support from people, even if you were on the opposing side. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  I don‘t know anybody that didn‘t think this was a decent, good guy, doing his best. 

MAY:  It was also the end of a period when we had a respect for the office of the presidency, that I think we lost.  Maybe Nixon is part of the reason for that.  Can you not remember when there were films about a president, fictional president, you wouldn‘t see the face.  You would only see the back of the chair, because there was such respect for the office.  We have lost that respect for the office over the years, I think. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you‘ve gotten people—we‘ve gotten too close to them.  And this is one of the reasons, that camera right there.  Mike, Mike Barnicle? 

BARNICLE:  Well Pat, you know, we used to say growing up, and think growing up, that anybody could grow up to be president of the United States, and Gerald Ford, the way he assumed the presidency, anybody did become president of the United States, and guess what?  Once in office, he wasn‘t just anybody.  He was a terrific president. 

BUCHANAN:  Well I‘ve got to agree.  I mean, I think historians really

you know, we hear about greats and near greats and all the rest of it. 

I think everybody is going to say this was a decent man and a good president, a solid president.  Somebody, you said, right man at the right time for America.  He came in when the situation was in a horrible mess.  He took enormous beating left, right, center.  And when he left, the country was more united, frankly, when Carter first came in.  Of course, we redivided again pretty rapidly. 

MAY:  Not only wasn‘t he overly ideological, he wasn‘t overly political.  He didn‘t calculate everything five ways from Sunday.  He wasn‘t too clever by half.  Maybe if he had been more clever by half, maybe he could have still won a second term in an election, maybe not, but I think he did what he wanted to do. 

TRIPPI:  I think he accepted that when he pardoned Nixon, that he was giving up his chance—

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  First time I met him, I was with Nixon in the 1966, and we traveling on the 1966 campaign.  We went out to a place called Calvin College, it must be out in Grand Rapids.  Nixon got up and spoke and Governor Romnee (ph), who was a future candidate I was looking at, got up and spoke.  And Gerald Ford got up and spoke.  It was one of these very positive, Republican gatherings in a very good year.  And everything you learned about the guy since then was he was a nice man, even though he had to let me go. 

MAY:  He was also a good ex-president.  I think that should be said.  Because when you‘re out of office, you also are a public figure.  You also have an influence.  I think he conducted himself always as an ex-president in an exemplary fashion.  When he lived out in Colorado, again, where I was a newspaper editor, everybody liked him.  He was never a big celebrity in the community.  He was ex-President Gerald Ford. 

BUCHANAN:  Final thoughts for the senior statesman, Mr. Barnicle? 

BARNICLE:  Well, I saw him laugh outloud as loud a laughter as I‘ve ever heard from anyone, when he and Tip O‘Neill and I happened to be there, playing golf out near his home in California, a pro-am tournament.  And Tip put an old golf ball on the thing, and couldn‘t hit it.  Told he didn‘t want to the ball in the water, and Trevino said, but a new ball down.  And Tip took a practice swing, and Trevino then said to him, well Tip, get the old ball out and put that down.  Gerry Ford started laughing so hard at that, I can still hear him laughing. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, thanks very much Mike, thanks very much fellows. 

That‘s it for now.  “HARDBALL” starts right now. 

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