- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA If Nancy Reagan had not shown up for the GOP convention last evening, the Republican old guard might have been left out of the party.
Under heavy security, former Presidents George Bush and Gerald R. Ford, along with their first ladies and numerous members of former White House staffs, raised their glasses in honor of Mrs. Reagan and her ailing husband, former President Ronald Reagan, at Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Hotel last evening.
Mr. Bush praised the "Gipper," for whom he served as vice president for eight years, by saying what a great "inspiration he has been to our son, George W."
The intimate banquet of former Republican heavy-hitters was a welcome diversion for older members of the party, who have taken a back seat while the GOP steers in a new direction.
They were seen nodding their heads in agreement when Mr. Bush, with his wife, Barbara, at his side, commented it was nice to recognize "the old guys out there, if only for a few, fleeting moments."
Behind Mrs. Reagan and the former presidents paraded Mr. Reagan's daughter, Maureen; former Secretary of State George P. Shultz; former Education Secretary William J. Bennett; former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp; former Reagan aide Michael K. Deaver; former Reagan aide Fred Ryan; former Republican Party Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf; former Reagan communications director James Lake; and several senators, including John W. Warner of Virginia and Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.
"I want to keep this old party/ new party thing in perspective," Mr. Bennett told The Washington Times. "The old party won the Cold War, and that's not so bad either, you know."
"I want a fight," Mr. Bennett acknowledged. "This new theme [of the GOP] is OK, but you can't let down your guard. [The Democrats] will do anything they can to win."
Whether Republicans expect it, he says, "that fight will start soon before Los Angeles," where Vice President Al Gore and his party will convene in two weeks for their convention.
Remembering Mr. Reagan, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and remains in California, Mr. Bush said not a day goes by that the former president is not in his thoughts.
"I think of him all the time," said Mr. Bush. "He is a man of decency, honor and principle."
Speaking of his two sons, future Republican presidential nominee and Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Mr. Bush said it's an incredible feeling for him as a former president to have two sons who "might be president.
"It's very hard to describe," said Mr. Bush, wearing a "DUBYA" button. "I take pride in the race of that son of ours."
Mrs. Bush declined to speculate on the political future of either son, George W. or Jeb.
"I can't tell you, and I won't tell you," she told The Times.
After the reception, Mrs. Reagan and other guests attended convention events last night at the First Union Center, where the former Republican presidents were honored in a videotaped tribute.

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