Ford on Reagan, Carter and politics

When you became President, you said with a little quip, "We're going to get a Ford, not Lincoln." If we get a Reagan we obviously won't get a Ford. How's it going to be different? What kind of government are we going to see with Mr. Reagan in if he's elected?

It'll be significantly different than a Carter administration and it'll be reasonably close administration to what I tried to do while I was President. I know it'll be a better economic policy. The Carter administration has had a disastrous one. Reagan's economic plan is reasonably close to what we tried to do.

No. 1 he's going to reduce the rate of growth of federal spending starting out with a 2 percent cutback the first year, building up to a 7 percent cutback over the three-year period.

He does propose tax reductions that would be phased in over a three-year period. Now I have some reservations about the second and third year -- it's a little premature. But I don't disagree with the concept. . . . And, of course, I know that he'll work more cooperatively with the Federal Reserve Board.

I'd like to pursue that just a little bit more. . . . How is it going to be different from your administration? You've known Reagan a long while, how does he do things that are like you do things, and how does he do things differently?

I've gotten to know Ronald Reagan quite well in the last year. As you get to know people you get to know their thoughts, inclinations, aims, and goals; and I must say in the process I've gotten very impressed with him as a person, and I know more intimately now some of the things that he believes in. When you add up my thoughts and his beliefs as I understand them, they are reasonably parallel.

Will there be, as you see it, probably a big infusion of Ford people into the Reagan administration?

Well, I can only take one area as an indication of that. His new advisory committee on economic policy is headed by one of the people that I strongly approve of and that's George Schultz. But under George he has picked two people from my administration: Alan Greenspan, who I think was one of the outstanding chairman of economic advisers, and Jim Lynn, who was the head of OMB during my administration.

The issue has been raised that Carter is mixing politics and government in this campaign. What is your view?

Let me take one illustration because I think it's the grossest example of misuse of government and that's the politicalization of the Defense Department (under Carter). I've known no administration in my 30 some years of government that has tried to manipulate the Defense Department for purely political purposes.

That's both parties all through your time?

Both Democratic or Republican. I'm ashamed of Harold Brown for releasing highly classified secret material confirming the fact that we have a weapon system so crucial as the Stealth. Now the argument is made that well there were rumors, there were news leaks, etcetera. But for the secretary of defense to get up and confirm that we had such a weapon system is telling the Soviet Union everything. And then for the secretary of defense to say, and I heard him twice on television, that the Stealth program alters -- he used the word in the present tense altersm -- the balance between the Soviet Union and the United States. His own secretary or assistant secretary of defense for research and development, Dr. Perry, said almost at the same time that the Stealth program was in the designm stage, and anybody in the Pentagon who knows anything about the program will tell you that Stealth will not be deployed until 1990. And for Harold Brown for purely partisan political purposes to infer or say by saying present tense altersm I think is really utilizing the Defense Department for purely political purposes.

What was your jugment in those situations when you ran

Let me go back and refresh our memory. (Former Defense Secretary) Don Rumsfeld, and it wasn't easy and I wasn't totally happy about it, announced a number of base closings. Now can you imagine a president running for re-election announcing certain base closings in an election year? Now Don Rumsfeld said it had to be done. And I said, "Don this is not very smart politically." And Don said, "i know it, but if you want me to run the Pentagon right, save money, et cetera, we have to do it." Boy, did we catch flack. . . .

You don't see any base closings under the Carter administration. All you see is the utilization of the Pentagon for political purposes.

I'd like to ask you about your ideas on taxes. Are they full compatible or reasonably compatible now in your mind with the Reagan plan or are there still some basic differences.

Well, the only reservation I have, Budge [Godfrey Sperling], is I think to get us out of the Carter recession -- Carter calls it a recession himself -- is to give or to commit to a 10 percent tax cut in '81. My only reservation is I haven't had an opportunity to thoroughly study the projections in revenue and expenditures in '82 and '83. The concept I agree to. But you know, I think based on my experience, (I want to use) a little more caution until you see what's going to happen.

But there's a basic difference there, isn't there?

No, no.

because you're not agreeing to the commitment if you're saying you want to wait and see.

No, I'm agreeing to the concept that we need a greater tax reduction than just a one-year one. But until I see -- and this is the gut issue -- until I see the impact of the 10 percent tax cut in '81 and I see the success -- now this is the crucial issue -- in reducing the rate of growth of spending. Now supposing you agree to a tax cut in '81, I'm for that, and the President, we'll say Reagan, says I'm going to reduce the rate of growth of federal spending first year 2 percent building up to 7 percent, which is part of his plan, I want to see that reduction in the rate of growth of spending before I say well I'm just doing to take two more tax bites.

You've watched Carter now almost four years as the rest of us have and I've noticed along the way that some things you agreed with him on like Panama Canal, you supported him, China and that sort of thing. Where is the failure?

The failure is fundamentally that he has undercut our projected increases in military strength. You can see the things he did in February and March of '77. The B1, the MX, the 50 percent cut in Navy shipbuilding and the net result is our projected strength for the decade of the '80s has been undercut and the consequences it has a devastating impact on what we can do and what our enemies perceive we can do. The Soviet Union takes a look, their realists, and they say well if he's going to have 75 less navy vessels our flexibility in the Pacific and the Atlantic is considerably enhanced. Or if the Soviets look at his decision to cancel the B1, to slow down the MX, the Soviet Union says our flexibility, our options are increased as a consequence. And therefore they become adventure minded. I happen to believe that as the Soviet Union sees us less capable it encourages the Russians to move in greater force in the Caribbean or Cuba, it encourages the Soviet Union to do more with their Cuban proxies in Africa, it encourages the Soviet Union to do more as they did in Afghanistan. There is a subtle encouragement resulting from a degredation of our projected military strength and that's scary. Because the Carter administration or another administration will have to say this can't go on, this cannot go on.

Why doesn't he see that, what's in his makeup that you see? You've sat in that office.

I don't think he has a broad enough vision, and I honestly think he was stating his philosophy, Hugh, when he spoke at the University of Notre Dame and said, this isn't a precise quote but it's pretty clear, "We should no longer have an inherent fear of the Soviet Union."

He said, "We should not be inordinately fearful of communism."

Now I think that honestly reflects . . . his philosophy. Now he had a little shakeup, he had a recent reversal.

Afghanistan!

But I honestly think what he said at the University of Notre Dame is a true reflection of his feeling, and when you have that feeling you understand why he cut the Defense Department

Well, Mr. President, additionally is there a character flaw in this President? Is there indeed a mean streak? Do you sense any of these things?

Well, I think he's gone beyond the borderline on decency in attacking Ronald Reagan on some areas totally uncalled for, calling Ronald Reagan a racist, totally uncalled for alleging that he's a warmonger. I think that's pure unadulterated political demagoguery.

About the Republican convention and the notion of you as vice-president. You've had time to reflect on that perhaps a little bit. Any regrets that you didn't sign up there?

No, not at all, Hugh. I think we were making an honest bonified effort to find a way to more responsibly use the Vice-President. My observations of other presidents, my own experience as President, convinces me that we ought to make the Vice-President the chief of staff of the White House staff. We ought to do away with the Vice-President's staff and a President's staff. We ought to have a White House staff. And the Vice-President ought to be the chief of staff, of White House staff. It's far better to have an elected official run the White House staff than an appointed official. . . . That's what we were seeking to do. . . . Furthermore, if he is chief of staff and all of the recommendations, policies, options are funneled through him as chief of staff. If something happens to the President, he is the best informed person in the country on what ought to be done or what has been done. What it really is comparable to is how well run corporate organizations are set up. They have a chief executive officer who's comparable to the President, and they have a chief operating officer who could be in this new situation as the Vice-President.

Would this have any Constitutional problem?

I don't think so, no.

It's a personal agreement.

It's a personal arrangement, Budge. I think eventually the Congress and Presidents and Vice-Presidents will have to come to that. It's ridiculous to put in an appointed official who may become President over in EOB [the Executive Office Building next to the White House] and sort of exclude him when he ought to be helping the President -- not making the final decisions, and that's what some people were trying to allege that we were doing. The Presidenet makes the decisions, but doggone it the Vice-President cold be so helpful if he was right in the flow of things on a daily basis.

To clear up one historical footnote on that, there were great reports that when you went to see Reagan at that final meeting that one of the reasons the thing collapsed was that you insisted that Kissinger would have to be secretary of state, that Brock would have to be NSC head, that you'd have to be bring. . . .

There was no quid pro quo.

You didn't say I want these guys in Cabinet posts?

There's no question that I think Henry Kissinger is the best secretary of state we've had in my lifetime, maybe in the history of the country. And I think Ronald Reagan ought to use him in some capacity. But there was never a quid pro quo that if I become vice-president you've got to make Kissinger, etc.

Mr. President, how much are you counseling Ronald Reagan, how often are you in communication with him? Is there a team arrangement here?

I would say we talk to one another every four or five days. It's not on a daily basis because he's busy and so am I.

On the issues, on strategy?

How the campaign's going, what I think he ought to or ought not to do. . . .

Do you think now as you look at his campaign the way he's conducting it as of now that he's on course?

The last 10 days the Reagan campaign has been on course.

Can he do it?

It's been productive. The first week a month ago I thought was not very successful. But the momentum started from that low period and has built up in the last 10 days have been good. He can do it and i think he will.

Thank you so very much, Mr. President.

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