Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation, Playing It Safe, Snubs Liz Cheney

Famed photographer, David Kennerly, resigns from the board in protest.

AP/Mark J. Terrill
Despite the hype, political analysts believe Congresswoman Liz Cheney would face an uphill struggle in the 2024 presidential race. AP/Mark J. Terrill

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation is stumbling over the prospect of awarding its annual Medal for Distinguished Public Service to the former congresswoman of Wyoming, Liz Cheney. One trustee resigned over the snub, saying it’s being done to appease President Trump, a move at odds with the 38th president’s courage.

Pulitzer Prize-winning political photographer David Hume Kennerly submitted his letter of resignation to the foundation on Tuesday. Signing the letter “former trustee,” he wrote that Ms. Cheney — also a board member — had her nomination blocked over fears of Mr. Trump’s retaliation.

Mr. Kennerly realized “something else was going on” when the foundation rejected Ms. Cheney even “after two people you selected instead” declined. “The process for honoring President Ford by recognizing his virtues in others was being undermined by the same pressures weakening Republican institutions and many conservative leaders.”

The foundation’s executive director, Gleaves Whitney, wrote to trustees that giving the award to Ms. Cheney wouldn’t be “prudent” since she’s considering a presidential run. The medal “might be construed as a political statement” and risk the foundation’s “nonprofit status with the IRS.”

Mr. Kennerly, who was Ford’s White House photographer, wrote that “a key reason” for Ms. Cheney’s rejection was the board’s “agita” about Mr. Trump’s re-election. Some of the board, he said, “raised the specter of being attacked by” the IRS and losing tax-exempt status as “retribution.”

The “historical irony,” Mr. Kennerly wrote, is “completely lost” on the board. “Gerald Ford became president, in part, because Richard Nixon had ordered the development of an enemies list and demanded his underlings use the IRS against those listed. That’s exactly what the executive committee fears will happen if there’s a second coming of Donald Trump.”

Mr. Kennerly cited the JFK Foundation awarding Ms. Cheney its Profile in Courage award in 2022 for being a “consistent and courageous voice in defense of democracy” who “refused to take the politically expedient course.”  The language could describe Ford, who took the unpopular step of pardoning President Nixon.

Ford, the only president never elected to that office or to the vice presidency, was at peace with the pardon even after it emerged as one factor that cost him the White House in 1976. As passions cooled in the decades since, the pardon of Nixon is regarded as a move that helped end what Ford described as “our long, national nightmare.”

The day after Mr. Kennerly’s resignation, Mr. Whitney sent an email to trustees that the former governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, would receive the medal. His selection undermines the justification for rejecting Ms. Cheney since he conferred with the No-Labels group about heading its third-party ticket and considered a run for Senate last year.

Unlike Ms. Cheney, Mr. Daniels isn’t a critic of Mr. Trump. It’s also worth noting that her father, Vice President Cheney, was given the medal in 2004, although he was a candidate for re-election and possible GOP nominee for president in 2008. Didn’t the award carry the same potential to be seen as a political statement then?

“Gerald Ford,” Mr. Kennerly wrote, “wouldn’t have been intimidated by phantom consequences. He would have adopted a ‘damn the torpedoes’ approach as he proceeded to do the right thing.” The photographer “strongly supported the effort” to present Ms. Cheney with the medal because “there was no other choice.”

“The ultimate test of leadership,” Ford said when accepting the Profile in Courage award in 2001, “is not the polls you take, but the risks you take. Political courage can be self-defeating. But the greatest defeat of all would be to live without courage, for that would hardly be living at all.”

The New York Sun

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