Matt Towery

Either way, it was clear that Reagan was appalled at the impact of the Ford interview, in which the former president hinted strongly at his willingness to run with Reagan. Suddenly the convention was abuzz with excitement. Delegates waved seemingly homemade "Reagan-Ford" signs on national television.

Allen claims Reagan was upset over demands by Ford advisers that Henry Kissinger be guaranteed the role of secretary of state and Alan Greenspan, treasury secretary. Allen writes that he was with Reagan as he expressed horror over a "co-presidency" with anyone, but especially Ford. He initially recoiled at the prospect of selecting Bush as his running mate, whom he had been campaigning against just months earlier and had labeled a Republican "liberal."

Meese insists Bush had already been selected, but that the Ford interview forced Reagan to make a surprise trip to the convention hall that night to announce Bush as his running mate. Meese said Reagan did so to avoid delegates becoming disappointed over Ford not being on the ticket should that expectation continue past that night.

My best guess, knowing how this party has traditionally operated, is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I don't doubt Meese when he says there was already an orderly process of evaluating potential VP candidates underway, and that Bush was toward the top. But I also believe Allen when he says Bush wasn't initially Reagan's first choice and that the Ford interview forced him to make a swift and perhaps different decision.

Either way, the story illustrates that Gerald Ford, from his service as a Republican member of the Warren Commission to his healing manner in the wake of Watergate, was a far more powerful force than most observers ever recognized.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery