The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (2015)
The Chairman of the RNC was expected to strike back at Nixon's enemies without showing any mercy. Bush knew of that expectation, and it worried him. Bush wanted to have options, his options, to carry out the job as he saw fit. Bush told Nixon that he wasn't all that excited about running the RNC, but he would do it nonetheless. Barbara thought the press would say that Bush was being demoted to the RNC after screwing up as Ambassador of the United Nations . . . Bush didn't disagree with his wife's assessment.
On 23 January 1973, Bush took command of the RNC. Bush was loyal to Nixon, but not blindly so; Bush declined to allow the RNC to become a Nixon tool to attack his enemies. When Bush found out about Nixon's secret taping system, he decided that duty required that he remain at the RNC. But the revelation of the 18.5 minute gap was too much for Bush, telling Barbara that this "job is no fun at all". Yet Bush remained publicly loyal to Nixon during the Spring/Summer of 1974, but cautious support was all the more Bush was willing to offer.
On 31 July 1974, Bush met with Chief of Staff Alexander Haig in the West Wing. Bush told Haig if Nixon was thinking about resigning the Presidency, the time was now with the mid-term elections coming in November. As the Chairman of the RNC, Bush was thinking about the party's fortunes, not Nixon's.
After Nixon resigned as President, Bush contacted Ford about the vacant Vice-Presidency. On 11 August 1974, Bush and Ford met for 31 minutes in the Oval Office to discuss the matter, while James Baker III was working behind the scenes to increase Bush's chances. After Ford asked for Bush's bona fides as Vice-President, he mentioned Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller as possible choices, but Bush was cool to both men for Vice-President, in that neither was moderate (Goldwater was very conservative, while Rockefeller was the leader of the liberal wing of the Republican Party). To Ford, the choice for VP came down to Bush, Rockefeller, or Donald Rumsfeld.
On 18 August 1974, Bush's chances for VP took a hit when media outlets started to speculate that Nixon had used "dirty money" to help Bush win the Senate race in Texas in 1970. Bush would be cleared, but during the toxic emotional atmosphere after Watergate, Bush was out of the running for VP. Bush met with President Ford (after Rockefeller had been chosen) to discuss how Bush could serve the new administration.
Bush suggested Secretary of Commerce, but Ford was lukewarm to the idea. Bush mentioned two diplomatic posts, Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain), or U.S. Envoy to China. Bush told Ford that he was very interested in foreign affairs, even telling Ford that his goal was to be Secretary of State by 1980. Their meeting on 22 August 1974 ended without any decision being made about Bush's future role in the Ford administration.
In Bush's mind, he had risked everything for the Republican Party, and his reward was being passed over for VP and other high-profile positions, and his integrity had been anonymously attacked in the media. To make matters worse, Bush didn't even have Ford's confidence that he could be Chief of Staff. (Ford chose Rumsfeld for the job) So, given his run of bad luck, why not broaden his foreign policy knowledge/image and be seen as a rising statesman instead of a professional partisan politician. Bush came to understand the political reality . . . at that point-in-time, he needed to be the U.S. Envoy in China. Kissinger told Bush that in China, there would be substantive work from time-to-time, but mostly, Bush would be "bored beyond belief". Bush was more than happy to take that chance given his experiences as Chairman of the RNC during the end of the Watergate Scandal.