Dole: Pardon Typified Ford Presidency

Bob Dole says Gerald Ford was a man of his convictions, even when they flew in the face of advice he was getting, and was able to be, to some extent, because Ford hadn't been elected, so didn't owe anything to special interest groups.

Dole, a former Senate majority leader, was then-President Ford's running mate in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the White House.

On The Early Show Monday, Dole told co-anchor Harry Smith Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon on potential Watergate-related charges was typical. Ford's advisers were opposed to it.

"When a president of the United States tells you he makes the decision, that's certainly true in that case," Dole said. "I do think he called (House) Speaker (Tip) O'neill (a Democrat) that morning, and the speaker told him, 'You know, there go your chances for re-election, Mr. President.' Some think he should have waited a while, waited for the indictment, waited to see what the charges were, or at least sort of prepped the American people and members of Congress. But he was so consumed with -- every day, he woke up to the Nixon problem, the Nixon problem, Watergate -- to get anything else done, and the economy was in the tank, and Vietnam had to be sorted out, and he had enough on his plate. He decided to go for it."

Dole portrayed the fact that Ford hadn't been elected (Ford rose to the presidency because he was vice president when Nixon resigned, and he was vice president because he was appointed to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew) as a plus, not the minus it is widely seen as.

"I think that's one of his strengths," Dole insisted. "He didn't owe anybody. He wasn't out on the -- you know, raising money every night or going to this special interest group or that special interest group. Obviously, he had friends from his days in Congress but, you know, he was vice president, then president. And never had a fund-raiser."

And Dole observed that it call came together in what he took from Gerald Ford, the man: "I think, in a couple words, be yourself. I mean, he never changed. He was always Jerry ford. Even though he was president, he was still Jerry Ford."

Smith added that Dole said, "You could trust Jerry Ford. If Jerry Ford told you something, you could take it to the bank, you could bet the ranch on it."

Dole recalled that naming a running mate was almost an afterthought for Ford in '76 "because he had this bitter -- not bitter, but tough battle with Ronald Reagan for the nomination. About midnight or later, they discovered, 'Hey, we need a running mate!' … They had four or five names. Then they went to bed for a couple hours and came back. I remember him calling me and saying, 'Would you like to do this?' And I said, 'I certainly would!' 'Come over to the hotel, and we'll talk about it.'

"One thing he asked me, 'Now, can you check your humor, you know, be a little careful on what you say and where you say it?' I thought, 'I'll do my best, Mr. President!' "

Dole told Smith he was impressed by the large number of just-plain-folks waiting to see Ford lying in state, "not many suits, just good, ordinary good people from all over."