George H.W. Bush Serves as US Vice President
As Vice President, Bush generally took on a low-profile while recognizing the constitutional limits of the office; he avoided decision-making or criticizing Reagan in any way.
As had become customary, he and his wife moved into the Vice President's residence at Number One Observatory Circle, about two miles from the White House. The Bushes attended a large number of public and ceremonial events in their positions, including many state funerals, which became a common joke for comedians. Mrs. Bush found the funerals largely beneficial, saying, "George met with many current or future heads of state at the funerals he attended, enabling him to forge personal relationships that were important to President Reagan." As the President of the Senate, Bush stayed in contact with members of Congress, and kept the president informed on occurrences on Capitol Hill.
On March 30, 1981, early into the administration, Reagan was shot and seriously wounded in Washington, D.C. Bush, second in command by the presidential line of succession, was in Dallas, Texas, and flew back to Washington immediately. Reagan's cabinet convened in the White House Situation Room, where they discussed various issues, including the availability of the Nuclear Football. When Bush's plane landed, his aides advised him to proceed directly to the White House by helicopter, as an image of the government still functioning despite the attack. Bush rejected the idea, responding, "Only the President lands on the South Lawn". This made a positive impression on Reagan, who recovered and returned to work within two weeks. From then on, the two men would have regular Thursday lunches in the Oval Office.
Bush was assigned by Reagan to chair two special task forces, on deregulation and international drug smuggling. The deregulation task force reviewed hundreds of rules, making specific recommendations on which ones to amend or revise, in order to curb the size of the federal government. The drug smuggling task force coordinated federal efforts to reduce the quantity of drugs entering the US. Both were popular issues with conservatives, and Bush, largely a moderate, began courting them through his work.
Reagan and Bush ran for reelection in 1984. The Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, made history by choosing a woman as his running mate, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro. She and Bush squared off in a single televised Vice Presidential debate. Serving as a contrast to the Ivy-League educated Bush, Ferraro represented a "blue-collar" district in Queens, New York; this, coupled with her popularity among female journalists, left Bush at a disadvantage. However, the Reagan-Bush ticket won in a landslide against the Mondale-Ferraro ticket.
Early into his second term as Vice President, Bush and his aides were planning a run for the presidency in 1988. By the end of 1985, a committee had been established and over two million dollars raised for Bush. Bush became the first Vice President to become Acting President when, on July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon. Bush served as Acting President for approximately eight hours.
The administration was shaken by a scandal in 1986, when it was revealed that administration officials had secretly arranged weapon sales to Iran, and had used the proceeds to fund the anticommunist Contras in Nicaragua, a direct violation of the law. When the Iran-Contra Affair, as it became known, broke to the media, Bush, like Reagan, stated that he had been "out of the loop" and unaware of the diversion of funds,although this was later questioned. Public opinion polls taken at the time indicated that the public questioned Bush's explanation of being an "innocent bystander" while the trades were occurring; this led to the notion that he was a "wimp". However, his fury during an interview with CBS's Dan Rather largely put the "wimp" issue to rest.
As Vice President, Bush officially opened the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan chose George Bush to be his running mate. On January 20, 1981, Bush was sworn in for the first of two terms as vice president. In that office, Bush coordinated administration efforts to combat international terrorism and wage the international war on drugs. Vice President Bush also piloted a task force on regulatory relief, aimed at reducing government size and increasing American competitiveness. In 1988, George H.W. Bush became his party's nominee and the American people's choice to be the 41st President of the United States.
As vice president, Bush worked hard to win the trust of Reagan's advisers in the administration by proving his loyalty and devotion to the President. Reagan loyalists were suspicious of Bush's New England upbringing and his upper-class background, which stood in stark contrast with Reagan's humble beginnings and his ability to connect with the average American. They also suspected that Bush was too moderate and not a true devotee of Reagan's conservatism. However, Reagan and Bush seemed to grow genuinely fond of each other during their two terms in office. They met for lunch on a weekly basis and enjoyed each other's company, although according to some reports the Bushes resented the fact that they were never invited as guests to the President's private quarters.
Bush chaired a number of task forces for the administration, including one on regulatory reform and one on drugs and drug smuggling. He traveled widely as vice president and frequently represented the administration in international affairs, making many contacts that would become useful when he became President. The vice president was often involved in the administration's foreign policy discussions and occasionally influenced its decisions.
However, his ties to the administration's foreign policy almost damaged his career irreversibly. In November 1986, the Iran-Contra affair broke. The scandal involved the administration selling arms to Iran to free hostages held by a terrorist organization in Lebanon and then using some of the money from the arms sales to buy weapons for the Contras, a rebel group fighting against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Selling arms to Iran violated U.S. policy, and buying weapons for the Contras was against the law. A number of officials in Reagan's administration resigned over the scandal. Bush was hit hard by speculation of his involvement in the whole affair. Did he knowingly support the plan? Or was he "out of the loop" as he claimed? Although questions still remain about the Iran-Contra affair, most sources believe that Bush was neither involved in crafting the policy nor knowledgeable about its implementation.