Bush 41 Considered Putting Clint Eastwood On Ticket In 1988

Newly released audio tapes from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library reveal some of the behind the scenes discussion in the summer of 1988:

George H.W. Bush, trailing Democrat Michael Dukakis in the heat of the 1988 presidential campaign, briefly but seriously considered Hollywood renaissance man Clint Eastwood to be his running mate, a former Bush aide says.

The revelation comes from more than 350 hours of audio interviews with 50 senior officials from the George H.W. Bush administration released today by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and Bush Presidential Library Foundation.  The decade-long oral history project documents the life and times of the 41st presidency.

“When we were way behind. Honestly, [Eastwood] was suggested in not an altogether unserious – Well, he was a mayor. He was a Republican mayor,”  former Bush campaign chairman and Secretary of State James Baker said.

Eastwood served one term as mayor of the conservative ocean side community Carmel, Calif., from 1986-1988.

“Anyway, it was shot down pretty quick. But we were looking at an 18-point deficit,” Baker said, suggesting the campaign was looking for a boost from its VP choice. Bush, who also considered Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind.; Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan.; Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.; and Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., ultimately settled on Quayle.

Quayle was “maybe not the most qualified, but he brings other attributes that are extraordinarily important,” Baker said of his initial reaction to Bush’s choice.

Exactly what Quayle brought to the campaign and the Bush Presidency I don’t understand. It was perhaps the most bizarre Vice-Presidential choice by a major party candidate in my life time, second only perhaps to McCain tapping a certain Governor from Alaska. In retrospect, I would’ve rather have seen Kemp, or Simpson in the spot. Anyone other than Quayle, or Dole (whose relationship with Bush during the 88 campaign was so toxic that one wonders why they would’ve even considered him). Heck maybe the Mayor of Carmel might’ve worked out better.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    I always thought Reagan was the senile one???

  2. James Joyner says:

    I think “considered” is doing a lot of work here. My guess is that there was a brainstorming session and someone tossed out Eastwood, et. al.

    Quayle was a rising star plucked too soon. Apparently, they thought his youth and good looks would help erase the gender gap. Not so much–although Bush won that one in a landslide regardless.

  3. sam says:

    Clint: Whaaaat?

  4. At the end of the day, Quayle’s opponent Lloyd Bentsen elicited the best argument FOR including Quayle on the team. The only thing that I remember about the vice presidential debate was that Quayle was talking about a particular bill (the 1983 Job Training Partnership Act) that he sponsored in the Senate, and Bentsen asked Quayle to reveal who the bill’s co-sponsor was. As it turns out, the co-sponsor was Ted Kennedy. True believers probably keeled over at this point, but the fact that Quayle was able to work in the Senate to get things done certainly impressed me.

    The one event during Quayle’s vice presidency that deserves comment doesn’t have to do with the potatoe or Murphy Brown, but the events during the attempted coup in the Philippines. As John Broder described it (see the http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/weekinreview/05broder.html URL):

    “In 1989, George H. W. Bush was flying to Malta for a meeting with Soviet leaders when Philippine military officers attempted a coup. Mr. Quayle assembled the National Security Council to consider a response. Mr. Cheney, then secretary of defense, refused to attend because the vice president has no place in the military chain of command….

    “Mr. Quayle phoned Mr. Cheney to tell him the president had authorized a plan to send warplanes to the Philippines. Mr. Cheney said he would not scramble the fighters without a direct order from the president. He acted only after Mr. Bush issued the order.”

    This episode could have resulted in a MASSIVE Constitutional crisis, but I still don’t blame Quayle for it. Mondale or Gore could have done the same thing, and Broder argues that Cheney actually did so by the time he became Vice President.

  5. John,

    I’m confused. That anecdote makes Cheney look far better than Quayle.

  6. I’m not sure the choice of Quayle was that inexplicable. Bush’s conservative bona fides weren’t exactly universally accepted (after all he’d been pro-choice in the 70s). Kemp was another northeastern moderate. And Simpson was basically “Bush from Wyoming.” Of the options on the table he seems reasonable enough on paper at least.

    Maybe in retrospect someone like Connie Mack III or Lamar Alexander would have been a better option.

  7. sam says:

    @John E. Bredehoft:

    The only thing that I remember about the vice presidential debate

    You’re kidding, right?

  8. @Chris Lawrence:

    Personally, I liked Pete DuPont. Solid fiscal conservative, good record as Governor, etc.

    Of course, Delaware isn’t exactly an electoral powerhouse and a Bush-DuPont ticket would’ve been the bluest of blue blood tickets.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    The discussion of Carmel, where Eastwood served as mayor, is wrong. Well-to-do, yes; Conservative, not so much. The town has a majority of its voters registered Dem. And the mayor position is non-Partisan. The population is under 4,000, overwhelmingly white. Lots of artsy-types.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    So, let me get this straight:

    Available at the time were the likes of George Deukmejian (CA governor), Dick Thornburgh (AG of the U.S. and former PA governor), James Thompson (Ill. governor), John Danforth (MO U.S. Sen.), Pete Wilson (CA U.S. Sen.), Kit Bond (MO U.S. Sen; former MO governor), Tommy Thompson (WI governor), John Ashcroft (MO governor), Pete DuPont (DE governor) and John Sununu (NH governor). Then they brainstormed . . . Clint Eastwood. They settled on Dan Quayle.

    Honestly, there’s not been a more inept political party in history. It boggles the mind. The fact they’ve won so many elections over the years speaks volumes about how stark raving crazy the Democrat Party has become.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: As Chris Lawrence noted earlier, Bush’s conservative bona fides were in dispute and he needed to bolster his cred with the base. In the end, I don’t think Quayle accomplished that.

    I liked DuPont a lot and he was my first choice for a short time in the early going, although I was backing Bush by the time of the Alabama primaries. Sununu became Chief of Staff, of course, and had his own problems.

  12. Should I point out that Clint Eastwood’s support for gay marriage would make him a nonstarter if he wanted to run for President today?