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The Phone Call from Reagan to Bush That Changed the ‘Arc of History’

Historian Craig Shirley shares the details of a key agreement

Presidential historian and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley shared memories and insights on the intersection of two great American presidents’ lives on “The Laura Ingraham Show” on Monday morning, as the country mourns the passing of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush.

Bush died at his home in Houston at the age of 94 on Friday night.

Shirley described the Reagan Revolution era in Washington the 1980s as the “halcyon days,” and noted that Bush and many other excited foot soldiers were “along for the ride.”

The humble patriot’s lengthy list of vocational successes — president, two-term vice president, ambassador, Navy pilot, businessman — accompanies his personal legacy as a friend, husband, and father and grandfather.

Reagan and Bush had a “rocky” relationship in the 1970s, explained Shirley — the author of a number of noted books on Ronald Reagan and a regular op-ed contributor to LifeZette — and he mentioned their marked cultural and ideological differences.

Ultimately, Bush served as vice president for the Gipper for two terms.

Reagan’s age — then 69 — was a front-and-center issue in the 1980 election. To spotlight Reagan’s age, Bush was “constantly jogging” and working out; his youth and vigor were regularly captured on camera. The implicit message was, “Let’s see Reagan do that.” The strategy was a significant source of ongoing animosity between Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, Shirley recalled.

If not for Reagan, ironically enough, “there would not have been Bush 41 and no Bush 43,” said Shirley, echoing the comments of former Secretary of State Jim Baker on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Baker told host George Stephanopoulos of Reagan’s call to then-Ambassador Bush asking him to join the ticket as vice president. “Had that not happened, I really am convinced there would never have been a Bush 41 presidency. And if that hadn’t happened, there probably would never have been a Bush 43 president,”

That offer, Shirley explained with more context, required Bush to support Reagan’s platform across the board, which meant supporting two planks — pro-life and tax cuts — with which Bush had disagreed during the primaries.

“Reagan was on his way to the nomination,” added Shirley. “Bush is down and out. Everybody thinks Reagan is going to pick Gerald Ford and come up with some sort of unique co-presidency thing, which is probably violates the Constitution anyway.”

“Reagan does [ultimately choose Bush], at the very last minute — now Reagan didn’t want to take George Bush, and Mrs. Reagan really didn’t want to take George Bush — but they’d run out of options,” said Shirley.

“At the 11th hour, on Wednesday night of the Detroit convention, he reluctantly calls George Bush — Ambassador Bush — and asks him to join the ticket.”

“As Baker says, had Reagan not called Bush that evening, there would be no Bush 41 presidency and probably never a Bush 43 presidency … Just one little phone call changes the arc of history,” added Shirley, noting that Richard Schweiker, a second-term Pennsylvania Republican senator, would have been a more logical choice as a running mate.

Shirley likened President Trump, though “inelegant,” as a reasonable fit for Reaganites who favor a conservative populist strain in the Republican Party — as opposed to the Bushes, who better represented the Establishment.

The liberal media, now praising Bush in his death, Shirley and Ingraham said, may be largely motivated by the opportunity it presents to criticize President Trump — and by extension, President Reagan.

“Wikipedia historians,” said Ingraham, in describing the fact-challenged media figures whose paper-thin opining pales in comparison to the insights of those who were actually there and lived the experience. Shirley embraced the phrase.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” was among those butchering history in the interest of bashing Trump — but he made something of an ironic error or oversight in the process.

“George H.W. Bush was skewered by the media throughout most of his political life. He understood that the press wasn’t the enemy of the people … What a remarkable difference between 1988 and 2018,” Scarborough said in a sound bite played on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”

Related: George Herbert Walker Bush, Rest in Peace

“In 1988, a Bush campaign-produced bumper sticker said ‘Annoy the media: Vote for Bush,’” said Shirley.

“[Bush] often said, ‘The media was against me,’” Shirley added.

“Don’t tell me that Bush was all lovey-dovey with the national media, because he wasn’t,” said Shirley flatly.

“The media and the Left love Republicans who end up at some point losing or Republicans who end up hitting other Republicans who are more conservative than they are,” said Ingraham.

“Or a Republican who has passed away,” Shirley added.

“Then they can reinvent them, and nobody’s going to object.”

Mainstream media’s coverage of the death of President George H.W. Bush certainly seems to be following lockstep in that pattern.

And check out this video:

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.