There are two common views about Ford. First and true, he was one of our dumbest Presidents. Second and falsely, he was humble. In fact, Jerry Ford was never "humble" he was an egotistical, arrogant man. And like most egotists forever blaming others for his failures, and refusing to admit mistakes.
No one prior to 1975 thought of him as Presidential material. He was selected as V-P primarily because no one dislike him or thought of him as a threat. Yet once President, he not only regarded the Presidency as his own, he thought he was entitled to reshape the party in his own image. Ignoring advice, he embarked upon a series of disastrous decisions designed to alienate and enrage the conservative wing of the party. To whit:
- Appointing Rockefeller, the conservatives enemy, as V-P
- Refusing to offer Reagan a significant cabinet post
- Adopting the policy of Detente, firing all its opponents (Like James Schlesinger) and signing the Helsinki accords.
- Snubbing Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the advice of Kissinger
- Refusing to nominate a conservative to the SCOTUS.
- Running a massive budget deficit
- Leaving Vietnam
- Trying to give the Panama Canal away to Panama
- Ignoring social conservatives.
Because of these actions, Reagan who had already run for the nomination in 1968, challenged Ford in 1976. After all, Ford had no right to the Presidency, other than his own sense of entitlement. The result was a draining and completely needless primary fight that went on till August 1976. To cap it off, Ford further alienated conservatives by refusing to offer Reagan the V_P slot, instead going with Bob "where's the outrage" Dole.
Even with all this, Ford could have won had he not insisted in the debates, and for a week afterwards, that "there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe". This gaffe not only alienated anti-communists, but reminded everyone of what a blockhead he was. According to Novak, for a week afterwards, Ford refused his aides entreaties to admit his comment was in error. He only made a public retraction for political reasons.
So in the post presidential interview does Ford admit all these mistakes and take the blame for the loss? Of course not. Who was to blame? Why Ronald Reagan! You see it was "unwise" for Reagan to "Challenge an incumbent President". And why didn't he choose Reagan as V-P? Why, his feelings were hurt during the primary challenge and Reagan wasn't a friend of his! (Right Jerry, who cares about winning, when personal feelings are involved.)
Further shifting the blame, Jerry states he still might have won if only Reagan had campaigned harder for him. Leaving aside the truth of the charge, exactly why Reagan, after being snubbed for V-P twice by Ford, and viciously attacked during the primaries as a "right-wing extremist" should have campaigned harder for him is unclear.
It should also be noted that Rumsfeld and Cheney - those two political and foreign policy geniuses were both Key Ford subordinates. Cheney was Ford Chief of Staff while Rummy replaced Schlesinger at DOD