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An Inside View of the White House : Politics: Fired aides weeping. Nancy Reagan maneuvering. Ex-press secretary Marlin Fitzwater tells, well, maybe not all, but a lot in his new book.

August 11, 1995|JACK NELSON | TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON — Former President Gerald R. Ford tried to persuade then-President George Bush to dump Dan Quayle from the Republican ticket during the 1992 campaign the way Ford dropped Nelson Rockefeller in 1976, according to a soon-to-be-published book by former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

The book, laced with inside stories of White House political intrigue, quotes Bush as telling Ford that, although a lot of people were talking about it, "I could never get away with taking Quayle off the ticket."

At the time, some right-wing Republicans were clamoring for Bush to replace Vice President Quayle with Jack Kemp. But Bush said he could never accept Kemp, then the HUD secretary, saying: "Can you imagine how out of control he would be?"

Fitzwater's behind-the-scenes account of White House operations during the Bush and Ronald Reagan presidencies is exceptionally candid, especially for one who served as chief spokesman for both Presidents. The book describes some of Reagan's private talks with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and tells of First Lady Nancy Reagan intimidating White House staff members and engineering the firing of Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan.

American and Soviet officials looked on incredulously, Fitzwater reports, when Reagan, in summit talks with Gorbachev, suddenly began talking about a 1,200-pound man who got stuck in the door of a bathroom, a story he had picked up from People magazine.

The book, "Call the Briefing!" discloses that three hard-bitten White House chiefs of staff--Regan, John Sununu and Samuel Skinner--all reacted emotionally and cried when informed that they had been fired.

Fitzwater paints unflattering pictures of both former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. He accuses them of holding Reagan up to "ridicule" during the Iran-Contra scandal to protect their own reputations.

And Shultz--"Mr. Potatohead" to his many critics in the Administration--would threaten to quit "at the drop of a hat" any time his authority was questioned, according to the book, which has a publication date of Nov. 1.

Fitzwater, referring to Ford's advice that Bush should dump Quayle, wrote that Ford had said he dropped Rockefeller, his vice president, "after Rocky came to me in the Oval office and said: 'You can't get the nomination without the right wing, so I'll take myself out.' "

Bush replied that he thought Ford had "ticketed" an aide, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to urge Rockefeller to resign, but Ford said: "No, Rockefeller came to me."

"Even after 15 years and in conversation with another President, President Ford played the game," Fitzwater wrote. "He would not admit that he had given advance approval for his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, to urge Rockefeller to withdraw. He had."

Although Ford was easily nominated after replacing Rockefeller with Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), some analysts held the view that the senator was a drag on the ticket and a factor in Ford's defeat by Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia.

Fitzwater also describes Reagan's "sincere innocence" in enthusiastically discussing how his Strategic Defense Initiative--or "Star Wars"--could result in development of a shield that could protect against any incoming missile and that could be shared with other countries to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

But Reagan's "dogged determination" about pursuing the project, he wrote, "scared the Russians to death" and helped persuade them to agree to nuclear-arms-reduction treaties.

"At their first summit in Geneva, Reagan took Gorbachev aside and told him, 'You will never win an all-out arms race with us because we will outspend you.' Gorbachev never forgot those words."

When Gorbachev would begin to cite the details of a treaty, Fitzwater writes, Reagan knew he could not stay in the conversation and often, "without embarrassment or hesitation, he simply launched into a philosophical defense of America and its intentions" or related interesting anecdotes.

At the Washington summit in December, 1987, Reagan suddenly interjected: "There have been four wars in my lifetime and we've never taken an inch in any of them."

Gorbachev replied: "People in Moscow ask if I'm afraid of you. They ask if I will genuflect to you."

Fitzwater writes that Reagan "dipped his head to the side, a sort of 'aw shucks' recognition of any praise coming his way, smiled and said, 'With regard to your genuflecting, if you ever try, I'll stomp on your foot.' It was vintage Reagan humor . . . the one-line response that found its humor in the slightly outrageous . . . in this case of one superpower leader stomping on the foot of another."

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