Ford's Improbable Road to the White House

Gerald Ford never sought the highest offices he held — vice president and president. And President Nixon actually wanted John Connally of Texas to be his second vice president.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Gerry Ford never sought to be vice president.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: He never sought to be president. These offices fell to him because of the misdeeds of others. Ford told me once how it started. In October 1973, the House minority leader, Ford, was summoned to the Oval Office. President Nixon got right to the point. Vice President Spiro Agnew was about to resign in disgrace. Nixon had to designate a new vice president. He would have liked to have had Treasury Secretary John Connally, but for quick confirmation he needed someone from Congress. And so he was offering the position to Ford. But Ford had to know that when Nixon completed his second term, he intended to back not the vice president, but Connally as the 1976 Republican standard bearer. Ford said he had no ambition for higher office.

At this early stage of Watergate investigations, Nixon apparently didn't dream that he would not get to complete his presidency or to designate his successor. Nixon said that Ford would be hearing from him soon and that evening the president telephoned to Ford: Gerry, I want you to be my vice president. By the end of July 1974, Nixon was in serious trouble over the Oval Office tapes that he was refusing to release. He summoned his vice president to hear an angry denunciation of Congress and the press. The House Judiciary Committee was well along in its impeachment inquiry. Nixon gave no indication that he might be driven from office.

But on August 1st, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig came to see the vice president in great secrecy, told him that Nixon was in serious shape emotionally and might take some desperate step like pardoning himself. Ford asked about the presidential pardon powers. He was later to insist that there was no pardon for presidency deal. And so the accidental vice president became the accidental president as first Agnew, then Nixon were driven from office. This is Daniel Schorr.

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