The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity
Nancy Gibbs, Michael Duffy
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The New York Times bestselling history of the private relationships among the last thirteen presidents—the partnerships, private deals, rescue missions, and rivalries of those select men who served as commander in chief.
The Presidents Club, established at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, is a complicated place: its members are bound forever by the experience of the Oval Office and yet are eternal rivals for history’s favor. Among their secrets: How Jack Kennedy tried to blame Ike for the Bay of Pigs. How Ike quietly helped Reagan win his first race in 1966. How Richard Nixon conspired with Lyndon Johnson to get elected and then betrayed him. How Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter turned a deep enmity into an alliance. The unspoken pact between a father and son named Bush. And the roots of the rivalry between Clinton and Barack Obama.
Time magazine editors and presidential historians Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy offer a new and revealing lens on the American presidency, exploring the club as a hidden instrument of power that has changed the course of history.
insiders who had waited since 1968 for the boss to win the nomination. Reagan, furthermore, had some doubts about Bush’s judgment. “He thought George Bush was a wimp,” Lyn Nofziger said later, “and he was still mad at Howard Baker for opposing him on the Panama Canal.” Finally, Ford was a former president; his experience and credentials could go a long way toward mollifying voters who worried about Reagan’s inexperience in Washington. While Carter was floundering at home and overseas, deep doubts
unlikely in Nixon’s case. “He used to call all the time,” recalled Scowcroft. “It was his way of unburdening himself. Sometimes it would be to find out what was going on. Sometimes he wanted to assuage his ego. But it was always helpful. He knew it would get to Bush and he didn’t always want to bother him.” Nixon knew Bush’s strengths and weaknesses and wasn’t shy about listing them. Bush, he told reporters, was steady, not flashy—but not a big risk taker, either. “He is highly intelligent. He is
taxes, greater participation in government programs by churches and other faith-based groups, and tougher educational standards in the public schools. If his father had run as a kinder and gentler successor to Ronald Reagan, the son would instead run as Reagan. At the heart of the son’s strategy was a belief that the first Bush’s presidency had failed because the father didn’t properly manage intra-party politics and, as a result, had failed to win a second term. Bush and his top strategist,
together as young congressmen in 1949 and 1950. Against his instinct, Nixon tapped Ford as his vice president in 1973; Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974. (Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library) Reagan and Nixon, pictured here with HEW Secretary Elliot Richardson in 1971, were rivals for the 1968 GOP nomination. As president, Reagan welcomed Nixon’s help and advice—until Nixon found his arms-control policies naïve. (Associated Press) Ford and Carter were bitter foes from the end of their race in
damn mess.” Still, the contingency planning for an actual ground war was already under way. No sooner had Johnson secured his blowout victory that fall than he was forced to make a decision. “I’m perfectly willing and anxious to admit,” he said, prophetically, to the House Republican leader, Gerald Ford, “just like I know you would be if you wound up here in the morning by fate, like I did! . . . that I don’t know all the answers.” This was not yet America’s war; fewer than five hundred U.S.