In 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson led a landslide victory for his party, securing another term as president and taking 36 seats from Republicans in the House of Representatives. Following the election, members of the Republican delegation looked to select a new Minority Leader. Three members approached Ford to see if he would be willing to serve; after consulting with his family, he agreed. After a closely contested election, Ford was chosen to replace Charles Halleck of Indiana as Minority Leader.
The Republicans had 140 seats in the House compared to the 295 seats held by the Democrats. As a result, the Johnson Administration was able to propose and pass a series of programs termed by President Johnson as the "Great Society". During the first session of the Eighty-ninth Congress alone, the Johnson Administration submitted eighty-seven bills to Congress, and Johnson signed eighty-four, or 96%, arguably the most successful legislative agenda in U.S. Congressional history.
Criticism over the Johnson Administration's handling of the Vietnam War began to grow in 1966, with Ford and Congressional Republicans expressing concern that the United States was not doing what was necessary to win the war. Public sentiment also began to move against Johnson, and the 1966 midterm elections saw a 47-seat swing in favor of the Republicans. This was not sufficient to give Republicans a majority in the House, but the victory did give Ford the opportunity to prevent the passage of further Great Society programs.
Ford's private criticism of the Vietnam war became public following a speech from the floor of the House, in which he questioned whether the White House had a clear plan to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion. The speech angered President Johnson, who accused Ford of playing "too much football without a helmet."
As Minority Leader in the House, Ford appeared in a popular series of televised press conferences with famed Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, in which they proposed Republican alternatives to Johnson's policies. Many in the press jokingly called this "The Ev and Jerry Show". Johnson said at the time, "Jerry Ford is so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."The press, used to sanitizing LBJ's salty language, reported this as "Gerald Ford can't walk and chew gum at the same time."
Ford's role shifted under President Nixon to being an advocate for the White House agenda. Congress passed several of Nixon's proposals, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Another high-profile victory for the Republican minority was the State and Local Fiscal Assistance act. Passed in 1972, the act established a Revenue Sharing program for state and local governments. Ford's leadership was instrumental in shepherding revenue sharing through congress, and culminated in a bipartisan coalition that supported the bill with 223 votes in favor (compared to 185 against).
During the eight years (1965–1973) he served as Minority Leader, Ford won many friends in the House because of his fair leadership and inoffensive personality. An office building in the U.S. Capitol Complex, House Annex 2, was renamed for Gerald Ford as the Ford House Office Building.