In 1969, on the fifth try, President Richard Nixon finally persuaded Donald Rumsfeld to give up his safe North Shore congressional seat to serve as the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. It was a mean job. A legacy of the War on Poverty, the OEO had turned into a target of bitter dissension, clung to by liberals and antipoverty workers, castigated by conservatives. While in Congress, Rumsfeld had voted against funding the agency, but he had been good on civil rights, and once he took over the OEO, he defied expectations and kept it alive, insisting only on streamlining it.
Still, one day a group of enraged community activists stormed the office, forcing Rumsfeld and his aide, Terry Lenzner, to grab a table and barricade the door. Rumsfeld called the police. Another time, more than 40 Howard University law students charged into a meeting that Lenzner was having with private lawyers affiliated with the OEO. The students held Lenzner hostage in the OEO conference room, pledging to keep him until he agreed to send government grants their way. Rumsfeld—a former wrestler who liked to drop to the floor on a whim and show off his one-handed pushups—unsuccessfully tried to bulldoze his aide through the students. Eventually Lenzner gave the intruders an ultimatum: to leave or face legal consequences. Rumsfeld had those who remained arrested, Lenzner recalls.
Pressure from the Right bore down on Rumsfeld, too, much of it focused on Lenzner, who aggressively represented the poor, approving class action suits against corporations and state officials. California governor Ronald Reagan complained, but Rumsfeld turned him aside, as he did a GOP senator who raised a ruckus after discovering that Lenzner was not a registered Republican. To Lenzner—who would go on to work for the Senate committee investigating Watergate and serve the first subpoena on Nixon—his boss at the OEO was “gutsy.” But as Lenzner was to discover, there are limits to Rumsfeld’s loyalty. When Rumsfeld’s boss, Richard Nixon, started pushing to put a leash on Lenzner, Rumsfeld called his aide into his office and fired him.
That three-decade-old series of events tells a lot about the Chicagoan who is George W. Bush’s new Secretary of Defense. At 68, Rumsfeld today is as he was then—tough, pragmatic, ambitious, and confident enough to surround himself with top talent. People who have worked with him—even those who admire him—say “ambitious” is the trump card in that list of character traits, and Donald Rumsfeld’s ambition is far from exhausted. “I don’t think Don has wound down,” says William Rentschler, who ran Nixon’s 1968 campaign in Illinois and calls Rumsfeld “ferocious in pursuing what he wants. I would say he is a very aggressive promoter of his particular ambitions.” The national press corps seems to agree. The New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino recently called him a “bureaucratic black belt.” (Rumsfeld would not comment for this article.)
Rumsfeld’s life story adds up to one of the great Midwestern résumés: wrestling champ at New Trier (class of 1950) and at Princeton (1954), navy pilot, congressman, U.S. ambassador to NATO, chief of staff for Gerald Ford and later Ford’s Secretary of Defense, chief executive officer of Fortune 500 companies, including the Skokie-based G. D. Searle. Throughout, Rumsfeld has been known as a tough operator who lives and works by a collection of rules he has assembled over the decades. Sample: “Prune businesses, products, activities, people. Do it annually.” (The full roster of 154 “Rumsfeld’s Rules” was once posted on the Pentagon’s Web site. Now it can be found here.)
Rumsfeld’s hawkish pronouncements since taking over the Pentagon last January reminded friends that he is a conservative, but he has not given up his taste for smart people who are passionate about ideas. Terry Lenzner, for one, has maintained a friendship with the man who fired him and says that Rumsfeld is “open to different personalities and ideas.” Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce (also New Trier ’50), have collected scores of friends with liberal credentials, a few even worthy of Nixon’s “enemies list”—Hubert Humphrey, Marian Wright Edelman, Ben Bradlee, Sally Quinn, Dan Rather, Newton Minow. In January 1997, Rumsfeld appeared as a witness for Bill Daley at Daley’s confirmation hearing to become Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce. In 1969, Rumsfeld hired Bill Bradley as a summer intern at the OEO at a time when his fellow Princeton graduate was starting his career with the New York Knicks. “He’ll be a Republican before the summer is out,” Rumsfeld predicted—wrongly, as he must have remembered when he wrote a check for $1,000 to Bradley’s recent campaign for the Democratic nomination for President.
Today, Rumsfeld has power, prestige, and—thanks to his forays in the private sector—wealth. But he has never enjoyed the one thing that people suspect he has always wanted most: the Presidency. Rumsfeld explored mounting a Presidential campaign in 1988, but quickly gave up. The Oval Office is probably now beyond his grasp, but perhaps not another White House office, very close by.
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Illustration: James Bennett
Among Don Rumsfeld’s scores of good friends, Vice-President Dick Cheney is one of the closest. Always a rung or two behind Rumsfeld on the Beltway ladder (and eight and a half years younger), Cheney was working for a Republican congressman in 1969 when he sent Rumsfeld a 12-page memo outlining how to overhaul the OEO. Rumsfeld, being Rumsfeld, was impressed rather than threatened and hired him. Later, when Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff, Cheney served as his deputy. Like Rumsfeld, Cheney has served as the White House chief of staff, Secretary of Defense, and a corporate chief executive officer. Indeed, Cheney has called Rumsfeld the model for his life.
That pattern held until last July, when George W. Bush called Cheney and asked him to be his running mate. The mentor had been leapfrogged.
Several times in the past, Rumsfeld had been close to getting the same sort of call. He made Gerald Ford’s short list for possible Vice-Presidents in 1974, but lost out to Nelson Rockefeller. Instead, Ford named Rumsfeld chief of staff, in Ford’s view a more vital role. The self-important Rockefeller had counted on being a co-President with Ford, but Rumsfeld—who considered the new Vice-President a pampered brat lacking convictions—worked to diminish Rockefeller’s influence. In the 1976 election campaign, after Ford dumped Rockefeller (who blamed Rumsfeld), Rumsfeld again won a place on Ford’s short list—but lost out to Bob Dole.
Four years later, Rumsfeld appeared on Ronald Reagan’s short list. His chances looked so good that cameramen staked out his mother’s house in Winnetka in case he was chosen. But Reagan went with George Bush. That had to be a blow. Rumsfeld considered Bush a lightweight—he “has not gone to the wall that often, if ever,” Rumsfeld reportedly said of his rival—and he disliked Bush almost as much as he did Rockefeller. As Ford’s chief of staff, Rumsfeld had maneuvered Bush into the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency because at the time the beleaguered spy agency was considered a poison pill for higher office. Rumsfeld missed the possibility that Bush would build a success at the CIA. When Bush was elected President in 1988, Rumsfeld—who had served as special Middle East envoy for Reagan—was out in the cold. Today, Joyce Rumsfeld acknowledges that her husband and former President Bush “did not always track on all the issues” and that they had “very different approaches to governing and policy.”
But Rumsfeld’s ambition never cooled, and as the 2000 campaign took shape, his old acolyte, Cheney, came to the rescue. Rumsfeld didn’t know W., but Cheney saw to it that Rumsfeld was called in to advise the candidate on defense issues. Later, Cheney made sure the new President broke family tradition by putting a man in his Cabinet who had once failed the Bush family loyalty test. These days, Joyce Rumsfeld says that she and Don count the elder George and Barbara as their good friends. Last summer, during the campaign, the two old antagonists spent time together, and Rumsfeld praised the former President for his discipline and class in staying out of the campaign when his son was attacked. When they saw the Bushes in Washington after the election and the recount, Joyce recalls, they “embraced each other and kissed and hugged.”
But as Rumsfeld settles into the same suite of Pentagon offices that he occupied more than a quarter of a century before, people have wondered why he would want to become the answer to a trivia question: “Who was both the youngest man to serve as Secretary of Defense and the oldest (if he lasts a couple of more years)?” The businessman and philanthropist Martin “Mike” Koldyke says that Cheney talked Rumsfeld into taking the job. “The President is relatively inexperienced,” Koldyke says. “Cheney felt having someone of his experience would be helpful.” A New Trier friend, Edgar “Ned” Jannotta, the chairman of the investment banking firm William Blair & Company, says Rumsfeld did not need much persuading: He was eager to return to public service and to work again with his fellow veterans of the Ford White House, a group that had gathered almost every afternoon in Rumsfeld’s office—Paul O’Neill, now Treasury Secretary; Alan Greenspan; Cheney.
Washington insiders make another point. Dick Cheney is a workaholic survivor of four heart attacks, the most recent during the postelection recount, and even after more complications in March, he is keeping to a killer schedule. Many of those who know Cheney best figure that if worst came to worst, his two words of advice for W. would be “Don Rumsfeld.”
And even if Cheney makes it through this term, he might not run again in 2004—opening another spot for an ambitious Republican. Would Rumsfeld want it? His friends say yes. His wife and sister point out that he is better suited by temperament to be President than Vice-President, but the fact that Bush likes to delegate changes the calculus. As one man who has been close to Rumsfeld since high school says, Cheney and Rumsfeld are running things now anyway, and why shouldn’t Rumsfeld have the title to go with the responsibilities?
For decades, says Joseph Laitin, who has worked in several Administrations and was the Pentagon press spokesman for Rumsfeld’s predecessor in the Ford Administration, Don Rumsfeld has been “dying” to be Vice-President. Were Cheney out of the picture, Laitin says, “Rumsfeld would be Bush’s pick for Vice-President.”
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With strong roots in Chicago—his paternal grandmother worked all her adult life in Marshall Field’s mail-order shoe department—Don Rumsfeld was born here in the summer of 1932. His father, George, started working for Baird & Warner around age 13 and eventually managed the real estate company’s Winnetka office. For most of Don’s childhood, the family lived modestly in a succession of houses in that rich North Shore suburb. Don’s mother, Jeannette, taught school as a substitute and raised Don and his older sister, Joan. Joyce Rumsfeld recalls that Jeannette “worshiped” her son and kept definitive scrapbooks about him.
Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, George Rumsfeld, at 38 too old to be drafted, enlisted in the navy. He had to fight his way in, drinking milk shakes to gain weight. Jeannette packed up the children and followed her husband to North Carolina and Oregon where he was stationed. For a year and a half, they lived in Bremerton, Washington, and near San Diego while George served aboard an aircraft carrier.
Always industrious—“It was never in his nature to just sit around,” recalls his sister, Joan Ramsay—Don found odd jobs to make money. During the family’s first stop in North Carolina, Don, then ten, made a deal with a man who had a cart, a donkey, and watermelons. Don had noticed that the man hawked the melons in a voice so weary that he attracted few customers. In exchange for free melons for every few they sold, Don helped him sell and then, lugging the freebies door to door, he sold most of those as well.
Back in Winnetka, Don, at 145 pounds, wrestled at New Trier, becoming a cocaptain of the team that won the state high school championship. He began honing the discipline that would come to define him, exercising compulsively and eschewing cigarettes, alcohol, and sweets. While he showed little interest in politics, he was always goal oriented, recalls Len Vyskocil, who cocaptained the championship New Trier team. “That accounts for his success throughout his life.”
Joyce Pierson—petite, blond, popular—and Don were class officers their junior year and were expected to attend the junior prom. After hearing that Joyce and her boyfriend, the fullback on the football team, had broken up, the dean of students told Don, “Don’t get a date, because you may have to take Joyce.” They began to date seriously in their senior year. Joyce remembers him as a person who “brought an energy level with him—mature, worldly,” while she describes herself as “very young and naïve.”
Like his classmates Ned Jannotta and Brad Glass, Rumsfeld went to Princeton, where he was a scholarship student. He was the captain of both the wrestling and the 150-pound football teams and became a member of the prestigious Cap and Gown Club. George and Jeannette Rumsfeld drove to New Jersey to attend practically every wrestling meet. “It wasn’t that they were so interested in wrestling,” their daughter recalls. “They were interested in whatever their son was doing.”
At Princeton, Rumsfeld got hooked on politics. Barbara Glass—Brad’s future wife—remembers telling Rumsfeld that she found student politics stupid because students didn’t have any power. “He looked at me and said, ‘Barbara, politics affects every aspect of our lives,’” Glass recalls. Joyce, who went to the University of Colorado and majored in art history, says that Rumsfeld wrote her letters recommending books and articles on political subjects. They were married in December 1954 in the Methodist church in Wilmette, six months after they graduated from college.
Rumsfeld was already in the navy, training in Pensacola, Florida, to be a pilot. It was not a program for the faint of heart. “We lost 15 friends in that training program,” Joyce says. Rumsfeld won a coveted spot as a flight instructor and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Brad Glass was also in Pensacola. Barbara describes the pilots—her husband was not one—as “jazzy, confident, top of the world.” (Later, while living in Washington, Rumsfeld would skydive for fun.) He considered a career in the navy but decided instead to look into politics. In 1957, David Dennison, a Republican congressman from Ohio, wrote to the placement officers at several colleges, including Princeton, looking for an administrative aide. Rumsfeld’s name came back highly recommended, so Don, Joyce, and their firstborn, Valerie, went to Washington. Running for re-election in 1958, Dennison named Rumsfeld his campaign manager and dispatched him to Ohio. Dennison lost to the Democrat by 900 votes, but Rumsfeld, who had considered going to law school or into business, had the bug and found work with another Midwestern Republican congressman, Robert Griffin of Michigan. In 1960, Dennison again took on the same Democrat, with Rumsfeld’s help. They lost that election, too.
The Rumsfelds’ daughter Marcy was born later that year. By 1962, the family had moved back to the North Shore, to a small house in Glenview, and Don was working for an investment banking firm, A. G. Becker. When Rumsfeld heard that the popular Republican congresswoman Marguerite Stitt Church would not seek re-election, he recognized that it might be a long time before the seat was open again. The district—which included Chicago’s 50th Ward, Evanston, Skokie, Niles, and Cook County’s other north and northwest suburbs stretching from the lake to Elgin—was reliably Republican, but the GOP organization had backed state representative Marion E. Burks of Evanston. A stolid 50-year-old with strong ties to the insurance industry, Burks screamed experience when compared with the crewcut Rumsfeld, who was 29 but looked 18. The fight would be in the primary; the general election was a sure thing for whichever Republican won.
The Rumsfelds’ New Trier friends constituted a kind of youth crusade, a “New Trier Mafia,” says Ned Jannotta, who presided as campaign manager. They rang doorbells, hosted coffees, licked envelopes, operated telephone banks. Cap Adams (New Trier ’50), later chairman of Leo Burnett, donated his services to design brochures, buttons, bumper stickers, ads. Other North Shore luminaries helped raise money—Dan Searle, Arthur Nielsen Jr., William Graham (Baxter International), Robert Galvin (Motorola).
Burks probably would have won if the Chicago Sun-Times had not continually reported on a state investigation of his insurance firm. That was the turning point for Rumsfeld, who skillfully exploited Burks’s troubles. Steve Neal, then a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, later wrote that Rumsfeld “never made a public comment about his opponent’s difficulties,” but his “operatives” ensured that Burks “was asked embarrassing questions at each campaign stop.” (The operatives included Jeb Stuart Magruder, who would later go to prison on Watergate-related perjury charges.) Though Jannotta had rated Rumsfeld “a hundred-to-one shot when he started,” he won easily.
Just as his hyperorganized, disciplined manner made him a master campaigner—he made notes, compiled lists, followed through on every detail: “Nobody was left dangling,” says Jannotta—so it made him a master of constituent service. Dan Searle recalls Rumsfeld’s “tremendous appetite for work.”
During that first term, the Rumsfelds lived in a rented house in Maryland and tried to maintain their home in Glenview. With one daughter almost two years old and the other in kindergarten, they lived in Washington from January through Labor Day, then packed a U-Haul and moved back to the house in Glenview until Christmas. On December 26th they would pack a U-Haul and return to Washington. Eventually, they bought what might have been the narrowest house in Georgetown—11 feet wide—and stayed in Washington. For financial reasons and because, Joyce says, they believed in public education, their daughters started in the District’s public schools, among the worst in the nation. Their friend Newton Minow remains im- pressed: “We talk about liberals. They lived their principles out.” Valerie went to public school through sixth grade, then transferred to Sidwell Friends, the upscale private school where the Clintons sent Chelsea.
In Congress, Rumsfeld was a young man in a hurry. In 1965, he and a few other congressmen maneuvered their colleague Gerald Ford into the minority leader’s post, ruffling the feathers of the old guard and their choice, Charles Halleck of Indiana. When Rumsfeld sought a leadership post for himself in 1969, he lost, having rubbed too many of his colleagues the wrong way. “The road to having a significant influence in Congress—more so then than now—required many, many years of seniority,” says Dan Searle. Rumsfeld told Tom Littlewood, then a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Sun-Times, how frustrated he was because the Democrats ran the House with an iron fist and did not pay attention to the minority party.
During his days in Congress, Rumsfeld struck up a close friendship with Allard Lowenstein—another example of Rumsfeld’s eagerness to embrace, up to a point, someone bright from an opposing camp. Rumsfeld and Lowenstein met in the mid-1960s when Rumsfeld was a congressman and Lowenstein was a left-leaning activist and a backer of Robert Kennedy. “He almost lived with us,” recalls Joyce. They debated politics until late into the night, with Lowenstein sometimes sleeping on their sofa. They grew so close that Lowenstein was with the Rumsfelds when their son, Nick, was born in 1967. The following year, Rumsfeld stood beside Lowenstein when he won his House seat from Long Island. Both wrestlers, they frequented the House gym. When Lowenstein ran for re-election in 1970, Rumsfeld—now at the OEO—publicly refuted charges by Lowenstein’s Republican opponent that Lowenstein was a dangerous radical. But then Rumsfeld endorsed that very opponent. He knew that his boss, President Nixon, expected him to. “That’s when you cease to be an independent operator,” Rumsfeld explained. Lowenstein lost and—unlike others who felt betrayed by Rumsfeld—never forgave him. (Lowenstein was murdered in 1980 by a disturbed former disciple.)
Rumsfeld ran the Office of Economic Opportunity until late 1970, when Nixon named him counselor to the President and gave him an office in the White House. Nixon seemed genuinely to like his handsome, confident adviser. The President’s top aides, John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, were less enamored, especially when Rumsfeld refused to accept the top spot at the Republican National Committee. “Eventually the senior staff grew to realize,” Ehrlichman later wrote, “that the ambitious Rumsfeld would decline every assignment that did not enhance his personal goals.”
Rumsfeld had learned how important it was to polish his image and quickly realized that the press could provide the elbow grease. Tom Littlewood, a newcomer to Washington, received typical Rumsfeld treatment when Rumsfeld, then in Congress, called and invited him home for Sunday supper. When Littlewood wrote a “lightly critical” story about Rumsfeld, the congressman called, not to complain but to ask about a book Littlewood had mentioned in the article that espoused a theory of public affairs. With the move to the Nixon White House, Rumsfeld went national, allegedly feeding information to Dan Rather, then a White House correspondent for CBS News. Twenty-five years later, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw recalled the difficulty of covering the White House for NBC when Rumsfeld was giving scoops to his rival.
In the White House, Rumsfeld was again a young man in a hurry—to get out of town. He sensed something rotten going on that might jeopardize his career. In late 1972, he persuaded Nixon to send him to Brussels as ambassador to NATO. “His timing was impeccable,” says Jannotta. Rumsfeld reorganized NATO to make it run more efficiently, and he laid the foundation for his expertise in defense and foreign policy while becoming one of the few Nixon confidants to escape Watergate untainted.
On the day that President Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford summoned his friend from Spain, where the Rumsfelds were vacationing, and asked him to run the transition. Next, Ford invited him to replace Alexander Haig as the chief of staff. Rumsfeld at first declined, fearing he would become ensnared in reputation-ruining infighting, but then agreed, reluctantly. He called Cheney and told him to sign on as his deputy.
Critics complain that Rumsfeld played Ford like a puppet, maneuvering him into moves that, they argue, better served Rumsfeld’s interests than the President’s. One man long active in Republican politics in Illinois uses the phrase “cutthroat bureaucrat” to describe Rumsfeld. He is said to have pushed Ford into axing the perfectly competent Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger, to open up Defense. According to Joe Laitin, Rumsfeld, determined to be slated as Vice-President, “knew the chief of staff job was not a good launching pad. He had to get into the Cabinet. The best job was Secretary of State, but Kissinger had that and could not be unseated; the next was Secretary of the Treasury, but William Simon had that and would fight like an alley cat. The third was Secretary of Defense, so Rumsfeld decided to go after that.”
In November 1975, Rumsfeld became, at age 43, the youngest Defense Secretary in U.S. history. It was his ideal post—intellectually challenging, concerned with military and international affairs, excellent for the résumé: Running a big department would show he had the stuff to run the country.
In the aftermath of Vietnam, the defense job needed someone like Rumsfeld. Morale was in the basement, racial tensions and drug use were rampant in the armed services, and contempt for the military had become almost mainstream. Cap Adams recalls going to dinner at the Rumsfelds’ home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and being surprised to find no security at all. Inviting Adams outside, Rumsfeld showed off a grave that former priest Philip Berrigan and two other antiwar protesters had dug in the front yard. “Don didn’t care about it, wasn’t big on security,” says Adams.
Warning that the Soviet Union was becoming a superpower, Secretary Rumsfeld successfully lobbied Congress to increase the defense budget. He also bested Secretary of State Henry Kissinger by persuading Ford not to sign the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation) treaty, arguing that it would be impossible to verify and that it gave the Soviets too much. Jannotta recalls Rumsfeld telling him that Kissinger was warning that “politically” the United States needed to have an agreement with the Soviets. “Don’s view was, you never need to have an agreement. Have the right kind of agreement or no agreement.”
Rumsfeld became one of the few to humiliate Kissinger and live to tell about it. Today, Rumsfeld counts the former Secretary as a close social friend. “I came to believe that if he ever reached the presidency,” Kissinger later wrote, “. . . he had the makings of a strong president.” (The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently wrote, “Henry Kissinger once called Mr. Rumsfeld the most ruthless man he knew, all global despots included.” Kissinger has denied saying that.)
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Rumsfeld had been Defense Secretary for just a year when the Ford/Dole ticket lost in 1976. Though he had next to no experience in private business, he came home to the Chicago area and took over G. D. Searle, the Skokie-based drug company. As Robert “Tubby” Bacon, a fellow New Trier graduate, puts it, Rumsfeld “brought it back from the depths of hell.”
At the time Rumsfeld joined the company, Dan Searle, the great-grandson of the founder (and the finance chairman of Rumsfeld’s first campaign for Congress), Searle’s brother, and his brother-in-law were running things. The company was losing money; analysts considered it unfocused, and some of its drug studies were under investigation.
Though Dan Searle was pushed aside—he became chairman of the board, but had no operating responsibilities—he credits Rumsfeld with having done “an incredibly good job. And he certainly did what the family might not ever have been able to do until it was too late.” He shed subsidiaries and sliced the payroll by more than half. Fortune named him one of the ten toughest bosses in America.
Ned Jannotta says the Searles deserve credit for taking the “big gamble” of bringing in a man who had virtually no business experience and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. But what Rumsfeld did have were ties to government and an insider’s grasp of the workings of Washington. That proved a bonanza to Searle. Rumsfeld was able to hasten Food and Drug Administration approval of aspartame (sold under the brand name NutraSweet), which had been delayed because of questions about some of the first animal tests on the product. (Aspartame has been controversial from the start, with charges, unproven as yet, that it might be a carcinogen and could trigger such maladies as migraines and seizures.) Rumsfeld had been at the helm of Searle for four years when the FDA approved aspartame in 1981 for use in dry foods and in 1983 for soft drinks. By 1984, aspartame would account for more than half of Searle’s net income.
In 1985, Monsanto bought Searle for $2.7 billion. The investment banking work, generating a $1.8-million fee, was handed to William Blair, whose managing partner was Ned Jannotta. On leaving Searle after the sale, Rumsfeld was named a senior adviser to Blair while he figured out what to do next.
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When he moved from Washington to Chicago in 1977 to take the job at Searle, Rumsfeld had to take an advance from the company to buy a house in Winnetka. But Searle made Rumsfeld a wealthy man; according to financial disclosure documents, his fortune today is estimated at between $50 million and $210 million. (Getting back into government may cost him a bundle, though. Under ethics rules, he must rid himself of investments that could present conflicts, and 40 percent of his personal fortune is said to consist of private investment partnerships, which are difficult to sell in a sputtering economy.)
In 1986, Don and Joyce Rumsfeld sold their Winnetka house and moved downtown to a spacious condominium, a duplex with a garden, at 1411 North State Parkway. From there, Rumsfeld began to plot his next move—to the Presidency. But as the 1988 campaign beckoned, he had been out of Washington for 11 years. He also lacked a political base, not to mention a sexy issue, and it had been 20 years since he had run for office. He had considered challenging Adlai Stevenson III in the Senate race in 1974, but the Watergate scandal made that year a bad bet. He had considered running against Alan Dixonfor the Senate in 1986 but backed off, reportedly on the advice of Richard Nixon. He had considered running for governor that same year, but Jim Thompson stayed put.
Still, Rumsfeld formed an exploratory committee, staged a dinner at The Drake, heavy with New Trier friends, and spent well over a million dollars. Even his friends acknowledge that he did not seem to have had a compelling issue or vision—just the confidence that he could run the country brilliantly. But he withdrew before the primaries. An avid reader of history, Rumsfeld knew that no businessman had won the nomination of a major party since Wendell Willkie in 1940. Joyce says that he could not stand the thought of going into debt again. It took them, she recalls, five or six years to pay off the debt for one race for Congress.
In the end, he reconciled himself to remaining a private citizen who would engage in public service when asked. His friend Robert Galvin, Motorola’s former chairman, says Rumsfeld did not have the “zeal” to risk the consequences of going all the way.
In 1990, Rumsfeld became the chief executive officer of General Instrument, a Chicago-based manufacturer of equipment for the cable and satellite TV industry. As he had at Searle, Rumsfeld cut staff by two-thirds and sold off extraneous businesses. He also plowed money into research and development and focused on products such as high-definition TV and set-top boxes. In 1992, he took the company public, made a load of money, and left the following year.
He spent the rest of the nineties serving on a number of blue-chip boards (among them, Tribune, Kellogg, and Sears, Roebuck). In 1998, he chaired the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which issued the influential Rumsfeld Report. It concluded that rogue nations such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq could threaten the United States with long-range missiles much sooner than the CIA had predicted.
He also relaxed at the family house in New Mexico. In high school, Rumsfeld had spent a summer at a Boy Scout ranch near Taos. After he was out of government, says Joyce, “and we could save two dimes, we knew we were going to claim something in the West.” They chose Taos, she says, because of the dominant Hispanic and Native American cultures. Their adobe house, across from a working dairy farm that abuts Pueblo land, dates back at least 150 years. They keep horses, a donkey, a mule, cats, and their dachshund, Reggie. Don has the Reaganesque fixation with clearing brush and chopping wood. He and Joyce both ride, ski, hike, fish, and skate on the dairy farm pond. On New Year’s Eve, the extended family gathers.
Though friends say the Rumsfelds have what seems to be an uncommonly good marriage, it has not been easy being married to Don. His career has required Joyce to move her family more than 30 times, to live, pre-Searle, on a no-spree budget. Then there is the fact that he seems not to age. Joyce’s pretty face, rarely without a smile, is graced by kindness, intelligence, curiosity. She seems without artifice; her hair is gray; her glasses hang from a chain around her neck. While she looks more or less her age, he looks the way he did when he was Defense Secretary the first time around, just a bit more gray and lined.
From the first congressional campaign—“I aged him,” Joyce says. “I showed that he had some stability”—she has played a traditional role. “Joyce had no power needs of her own and no need to bask in the light of reflected glory,” says Dan Searle. Ned Jannotta calls her “the velvet glove for Don. He’s a little hard-edged; she’s got a great touch with people.” (The sharp edges, Don would argue, are a virtue. “Don’t necessarily avoid sharp edges,” reads one of his rules; “occasionally they are necessary to leadership.”)
While her husband was busy at Searle, Joyce was taking some time for contemplation of “this wild ride” her family had been on, touched by assassinations, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the resignation of a President. The experience that resonated most was that of sending her girls to the public schools in Washington. In particular, she sensed the lack of an education in character. “Our children’s classes would have benefited enormously from some code of discipline, honor,” she says. In 1984 she established what would become the Chicago Foundation for Education, a little-publicized nonprofit group aimed at giving public elementary school teachers here the grants and training to teach students about values and ethics, among other subjects. Linda Lenz, the editor and publisher of Catalyst, which covers school issues, gives CFE a grudging endorsement as playing “a small but important role in school reform.”
Two years ago, Joyce stepped down from heading her foundation, relishing the prospect of spending more time in Taos. “I am moving into my rural period,” she told her family last September. When George W. Bush went on television on December 28th and announced his pick for Defense Secretary, the scope of it all did not hit her immediately. But two weeks later, when she sat with her daughter Marcy and her granddaughter at Rumsfeld’s six-hour confirmation hearing, it all came back. “I know what this is, and it is a total commitment,” she says. “And at that point I understood how we would move to Washington completely.” They sold their condo here and bought a place in Kalorama, a Washington neighborhood favored by diplomats.
At the confirmation hearing, just about the only uncomfortable moment came when Rumsfeld was asked about a Chicago Tribune report recounting a taped 1971 conversation in the Oval Office between Rumsfeld and Nixon. On the tape, Rumsfeld seems to agree—“Yes” and “That’s right,” he answers—with some of the President’s racist observations. Rumsfeld told the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was acknowledging, not agreeing. He was probably also being Rumsfeld. Sitting across from the President in the Oval Office and criticizing the Commander in Chief’s observations would not have been politic.
None of the Rumsfeld children followed their father to Princeton—“They couldn’t get in,” says Joyce, in her typically unvarnished manner. None have shown their parents’ intensity of interest in public service. The girls, says Joyce, “love being mothers.” When this reporter called Marcy, a divorced mother of two living on the North Side, she said, “I don’t take any media calls; I refuse to do it. Bye.” Valerie, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, married an artist and architect and lives in Santa Fe. The youngest Rumsfeld child, Nick, worked for an Internet company in Portland, Oregon. He recently left that job and is living in the family home in Taos with his fiancée while he figures out what to do next.
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Since Rumsfeld’s return to the Pentagon, he has faced virtually a crisis a week. The defense budget cannot grow as much as Rumsfeld thinks it must and as he seemed to promise at his confirmation hearing. The missile shield—a natural outgrowth of the commission he headed that warned of the possibility of sudden attack—will not be easy to sell: Opponents argue that it will trigger a new arms race; Nobel laureates denounce it as a boondoggle that will not work. A U.S. nuclear-powered submarine accidentally rammed and sank a Japanese fishing trawler, killing nine Japanese civilians. Five Americans and one New Zealander died in a training exercise in Kuwait when a U.S. Navy jet dropped a bomb on its own military personnel. And two dozen U.S. military personnel on a routine surveillance flight over the South China Sea were held by the Chinese after their navy spy plane apparently was bumped by a Chinese fighter plane. During the tense 11-day standoff, Secretary of State Colin Powell was front and center while Rumsfeld—the hardliner—remained in the background. Once the plane crew was released, he quickly emerged to criticize the Chinese.
Rumsfeld has had to fight a turf battle almost daily with the superstar Secretary of State, who has talked as if he were going to run Defense as well as State, and who is said to have wanted Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge at Defense (a choice Cheney vetoed). The Cabinet officers disagree on a range of foreign policy issues, with Powell surrounding himself with moderates and Rumsfeld sticking with people who, some critics charge, think the cold war is still on. No wonder that Rumsfeld, uncharacteristically grumpy after four days on the job, was quoted as saying that it felt like four months. This isn’t Ford’s Pentagon, and Rumsfeld may wish he were riding horseback in Taos instead of having to sell his belief in arming the opposition in Iraq in the hope that it will eradicate Saddam Hussein.
Then again, during the early months of the Administration, Rumsfeld’s protégé, Dick Cheney, has certainly lived up to his billing as the man behind the curtain, operating the controls, while the President travels to friendly states selling his programs, with time out for naps and workouts. Even if Cheney’s health allows him to last out the first term, there will be pressure to take him off the ticket in 2004. Would the Secretary of Defense take his place?
That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Don Rumsfeld has learned that the only way to move up is to stay in the arena. He might even write a rule about it.