Detroit — As midnight approached, George Herbert Walker Bush waited, emotionally shoring against dejection, on the 19th floor of Detroit's Pontchartrain Hotel, for the final word.
He was expecting his second major defeat in his 2 1/2 years of planning and campaigning for the White House.
As the presidential nomination had slipped from his grasp in the last weeks of the primary campaign, he had hoped his late winning rounds in Michigan and Pennsylvania against Ronald Reagan would show him to be a strong candidate for the vice-presidency.
Now, with his wife Barbara, son Marvin, and campaign manager James Baker, he waited for the definitive word that the Reagan-Ford ticket had been written.
At no point during the day had he received a call from the Reagan camp concerning the Reagan-Ford development. His own staff gave him steady updates of the rumors.
At 7:10 p.m., a little more than an hour before his scheduled 8:21 address to the convention, he had left his hotel across from the Detroit convention center. His impression then was that the deal with Ford was set but not announced.
Waiting in the holding room beneath the podium, he was told the Secret Service was preparing for a joint Ford-Reagan appearance after the nomination roll call.
The program was delayed, he did not speak until 9:30.
"It was a very tough moment" an aide recalls. "He gave the speech with the definite understanding the deal had been struck.
"He didn't cut the speech short. I was amazed how he carried it through."
Back at the hotel, the call finally came from Ronald Reagan at 11:50. But the message was not what he had been steeling himself against.
Yes, he would accept a Reagan ticket berth with as much enthusiasm as the day's draining drama would permit.
Back inside the Joe Louis Arena at 12:15 a.m., Ronald Reagan arrived at the podium. "A number of Republican leaders felt that the proper ticket included the former President of the United States . . .," he said. He added that "we have gone over this and over this." And then he said that Ford believed he could be of more use as the "former President, campaigning his heart out . . . and not as a member of the ticket. . . ."
12:19 a.m.: "I have asked that George Bush . . ."
The puncturing of the Reagan-Ford "dream" balloon at midweek has brought the Republican November effort back to earth, says GOP delegate John Loeb of New York.
It returns the Reagan campaign to the "logic" of a Bush choice -- where many Republicans and neutral observers thought it should be.
The Ford anticlimax, however, has reinforced the image of the campaign as lacking a sure decision-making hand, many believe.
The refurbishing of Bush as vice-presidential nominee began immediately after the Ford debacle. "Bush will be a way of communicating to Northeasterners," says one delegate while walking out of Joe Louis Arena. "Bush speaks the language of New England. Reagan will never be able to communicate there."
Los Angeles Times pollster I. A. Lewis is fairly bullish on Bush as a Reagan running mate:
"Bush came in second in the primaries. He went through the test. We're in effect having a double nomination here -- and Bush won the second half of it. He's the logical candidate."
"Bush, with his 'preppy' ways, is the ideal guy for Reagan, who doesn't go over with Eastern establishment types," Mr. Lewis says. "For many years they've seen Reagan as an extremist. Bush is more attractive to the college-educated."
Bush can also help Reagan counter the independent candidacy of John Anderson, Lewis says, because he is the favorite of Anderson people for vice-president."When Anderson fades, they might look to Bush."
Pollster Burns W. Roper is unimpressed by the Bush selection. He thinks Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee would have made a better choice.
"I don't think Bush is a bad choice," Mr. Roper told the Monitor. "Ford was wholly unrealistic. My first choice is Baker. Baker comes across as more human , warm, compassionate than Reagan. The Republican Party -- and particularly conservative Republicans -- come across as uncaring."
On the Roper "caring" scale, in a poll May 1 comparing Carter and Reagan, Carter beat Reagan 3 to 2 in caring about people. He led Reagan by 3 to 1 in perceived attitudes toward women and blacks. Reagan come across as more pro-business and less pro-labor than Carter.
"Reagan comes across as cold." Lewis says. "He needs a Baker, who might tip a couple of Southern states. If Reagan is elected, he will have even more problems with Congress than Carter and could use Baker's skills."
Mervin Field, director of the California Poll, says the Bush choice "will be the signal going out from Detroit that Reagan is moderating his position."
But as the campaign progresses, Bush's foreign policy experience may loom less significant, with people focusing on his personality more than his resume, Mr. Field says.
"Reagan will get some pluses at first for not running with ideological blinders," Mr. Field says. "But Bush on the stump and on the tube before did not excite the American people. His collapse in New Hampshire was more than the debate incident in Nashua.
"The day after the Iowa caucuses, where Bush won, he went into his momentum speech. He had an opportunity to be presidential and blew it."
Bush does not help Reagan much in California, where Mr. Field says Reagan is not a shoo-in.
"People are saying California is in the bag for Reagan," Mr. Field says. "Last May, in a two-way race, it was Reagan 47 [percent], Carter 40. Carter has fallen through the floor here. He lost the state to Kennedy. He gets poor marks from the California public. But he still trails by only seven points.
"Bush out here was unknown before," Field continues. "Now he's going to be known. But in the past as he's gotten known, it hasn't helped him."
Democratic strategist Michael Barrone also sees the coming exposure for Bush as crucial. "Mondale and Dole in 1976 started out fairly even -- both largely unknown," Mr. Barone says. "But Mondale wore better -- his character during the campaign made him appear more 'presidential,' without character defects."
Also commenting on the Nashua, N.H., debate (when Mr. Bush appeared not to want the other Reagan rivals to join them on the platform), Barone says: "Bush was too rigid when he should have been more flexible."
In a vice-presidential debate, Mondale is apt to seem more articulate. "Bush on the stump is not really what we would expect from a Yalie," says Harvard-man Barone. "He uses code words, single-word sentences -- Courage. Drive. Momentum."