Perhaps defeat in 1976 was even more galling. Electoral vindication is a normal goal for all accidental presidents, and for Ford that need was much greater. Not surprisingly, defeat brought understandable distress, which included a residue of bitterness toward Reagan for initially having led the intraparty opposition and then undermining him during the 1976 campaign. When Reagan advisers calculated that Ford would strengthen the 1980 ticket by serving as the vice presidential candidate, the ex-president refused to be enticed. The greater his own distance from the White House, the closer Ford moved toward a warm relationship with his successor, especially after Carter completed his own single term.
Ford, as James Reston of the New York Times later wrote, soon discovered that being an ex-president was even better than president, with many of the advantages but none of the disadvantages. He gave the impression of being the happiest politician in the country. "Once a man has been President," he told one interviewer, "he becomes an object of curiosity like those other notorious Missouri characters, Mark Twain and Jesse James." His security protected by the Secret Service, and a lifestyle that included winters in the southern California desert and the Colorado mountains, he seemed devoted to perfecting his golf and enjoying the advantages of more affluence than he had ever known. Eight corporations chose him as a member of their board of directors. He presided over the creation of a Gerald R. Ford Library, which opened its archives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to researchers in 1982. He joined the college campus speaking circuit, which included becoming the first holder of the Clifford Case Professorship of Public Affairs at Rutgers University. But he was still "good old Jerry," the easygoing Middle Westerner, dressed informally, and always ready for a game of golf.