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The Vice Presidency of George H.W. Bush

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

George H.W. Bush was the 41st President of the United States. In this lesson, however, we're going to look at his experiences as the Vice President, and see how those years shaped his career.

Vice President George H. W. Bush

In 1989, George Herbert Walker Bush became the first vice president in 150 years to be elected as the next president. How'd he do it? Before he was vice president, Bush had spent his life building up an extremely impressive political resume. As vice president, he managed his power successfully and carefully. As a result, he became one of few vice presidents to command the Oval Office without needing a sitting president to die first. So, let's jump on into his time as vice president. There's no point in beating around the Bush.

President Reagan and Vice President Bush
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The Election of 1980

By 1980, President Jimmy Carter had lost most of his support and the Democrats were vulnerable. The chance for a Republican president was there, and Bush jumped on it. After serving as a US representative, a UN ambassador, a chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief US liaison office to China, and director of the CIA, he was certainly qualified. Bush campaigned tirelessly and showed early signs of success over the other main contender for the presidential nomination: Ronald Reagan. Reagan's charisma and personality won out over Bush's qualifications, however, and the former actor won the nomination.

Bush and Reagan debate on the campaign trail in 1980
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Now, Reagan had to select a running mate. His first choice was actually former president Gerald Ford. Reagan was enthusiastic about the idea until realizing that Ford essentially wanted to be co-president, not vice president. Without warning or justification to his staff, Reagan called Bush and offered him the position. Bush happily accepted the unexpected news, and turned out to be a valuable asset. He was respected, experienced, and broad-minded. He helped round out Reagan's image, and the two easily won the election.

Bush as Vice President

For someone who had wanted to be president, George Bush took the limited authority of the vice presidency surprisingly well. He did exactly what Reagan asked of him, and never expressed and opinions of dissent. He attended state functions and ceremonies when the President could not, and continued to build up his own political networks. He kept Reagan informed on the goings-on of the Senate, but respected his limited authority as president of the Senate and did not push his opinions too widely there either.

Throughout Bush's vice presidency, he maintained a carefully crafted and nuanced position that kept him constantly involved in executive politics without ever appearing as a threat to the president's power. In fact, when Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, Bush was rushed to the White House. Political aids wanted him to land on the lawn of the White House in a helicopter, to show that executive power was still present, but Bush refused. Only the president landed on the lawn, and he was not the president.

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