Reagan and Ford Considered a Co-Presidency in 1980

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Most people thought the 1980 Republican National Convention would be a bit of a snoozer. Presumptive presidential nominee Ronald Reagan had nearly pulled off the improbable feat of snatching the 1976 nomination from the incumbent, Gerald Ford, four years earlier, and he had ripped through the competition throughout the primaries this time around. How did the convention end up becoming one of the most interesting places in the space-time continuum, then? There was still one bit of lingering suspense when the GOP headed to Detroit for the convention: who would be Reagan's running mate?

Reagan's camp had an offbeat choice to fill out the ticket: former President Ford.

By having Ford run for the vice-presidency, the Republicans could trot out a "dream ticket" against Jimmy Carter. Ford's midwestern roots would provide some geographic balance for a Californian like Reagan, and Ford obviously had tons of Washington experience, something Reagan lacked.

The plan quickly hit a snag, though. Ford was apparently amenable to the idea of jumping back into the political ring, but he wasn't going to just roll over and be Reagan's second-in-command. Ford allegedly agreed to run, but only if he would be given such vastly expanded power as vice president that he and Reagan would form a team of de facto "co-presidents."

The idea didn't sit well with Reagan's advisers, but Ford had a pretty strong team to make his case. Ford's representatives in these negotiations included Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan, and Dick Cheney, who had been Ford's White House Chief of Staff. Ford's team allegedly wanted a heavy say on foreign policy matters; rumors later emerged that Kissinger would have become Secretary of State in the co-presidents' cabinets. As one might imagine, Reagan and his team weren't too keen on giving up their foreign policy powers. (The same problems supposedly derailed talks of a deal for John McCain to run as John Kerry's vice-presidential candidate in 2004.)

On the Wednesday afternoon of the convention, Ford sat down for an interview with Walter Cronkite, and by the end of the recording, the whole nation had received signs that the "dream ticket" might be coming together. Excitement built throughout the convention's halls, and the deal seemed imminent.

According to both Reagan and Ford's camps, though, by the time the country got the news, the idea was already all but dead. Reagan had realized that getting Ford on the ticket probably wasn't worth giving up so much autonomy, and Ford had concluded that such an arrangement probably wouldn't work anyway.

In the end, of course, the Reagan camp chose George H.W. Bush to fill out the ticket. The choice was a sensible one, particularly since Bush had run a (distant) second to Reagan in the primaries. Like Ford, Bush would help give the ticket geographic balance and provide valuable experience in the federal government. Unlike Ford, he wouldn't want to become a co-president. Still, for a few hours in 1980, it looked like we might have ended up with a team of presidents, which has to be one of the most fascinating "What if?" scenarios in American political history.

What Happens to Leftover Campaign Funds When a Candidate Drops Out?

After nearly one year of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Kamala Harris has officially bowed out of the 2020 election. She's not the only would-be president to call it quits so far. So what happens to all the leftover campaign funds when a candidate drops out?

One thing's for sure: Upset candidates can't console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht and sailing off to recuperate. The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can't do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest directive is that they can't pocket it for personal use.

Here's what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again. However, those regulations don't apply to the relatively new super PACs (Political Action Committees); this is only the third election where they have played a role, and there are currently no rules to stipulate what happens to that money beyond that it cannot go to fund another federal candidate. Much of that money tends to be returned to its original donors, used to wrap up the failed campaign, or donated to back a state-level candidate. The goal, however, is always to spend all of that money.

Running a campaign is an expensive proposition—Barack Obama spent nearly $750 million on his 2008 White House bid, and in 2012 he spent $985 million on reelection while challenger Mitt Romney spent $992 million—and insufficient cash is often a reason campaigns go belly up.

As for winning (or sometimes losing) politicians, they'll often put their leftover funds toward their next race. If they choose not to run, they have to abide by the same FEC rules. Wonder why this law is in effect? Until 1993, U.S. Representatives who took office before January 8, 1980, were allowed to keep any leftover campaign cash when they retired, but a study showed that a third of Congress kept and spent millions in campaign donations on personal items like clothing, jewelry, artwork, personal travel, and dry cleaning. Embarrassed, Congress passed a law negating this custom for the House; the Senate already had provisions in place so this wouldn't happen.

In reality though, officials can usually find a way to make that cash still work for them (and state laws differ from federal ones). After Chris Christie won reelection as New Jersey's governor in 2014, his campaign was granted permission to use some of its remaining war chest to cover the legal fees Christie incurred during the Bridgegate scandal. And this was well before he dropped $26.7 million on his failed 2016 presidential bid.

An earlier version of this article originally ran in 2012.

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