Next month Michael K. Deaver will return to private life after more than four years as the deputy White House chief of staff and 18 years as one of the closest advisers to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Since the departure of Judge William Clark and Edwin Meese III, whose years of friendship with Deaver suffered when he aligned himself with more moderate political factions in the White House, Deaver has been the last of Reagan’s longtime California lieutenants still at his side. So his departure marks the end of a Reagan era—as well as a new beginning. Deaver, an acknowledged master of public relations, will be giving up his tiny study next to the Oval Office to open his own consulting firm in Washington, which is sure to benefit from his close association with the President. On a rainy spring day, Deaver sat down with Washington bureau chief Garry Clifford to discuss his years in the White House.
What was your family’s reaction to your resignation?
My daughter, Amanda, was delighted. My son, Blair, said, “I suppose that means we’ll never get invited to the White House again?” I told him I didn’t think that was true. As for my wife, Carolyn, the sooner I gave it up the happier she would be. I think she knew that I was making a contribution and that I had a sense of duty and it was important to me. But I don’t think there’s any way to appreciate the impact of these jobs on your family. The invasion of privacy didn’t bother me because I had a staff to protect me. But your wife and kids don’t have any staff. That bothered me. Washington wives are in a very difficult situation. These jobs are tough on them.
Has the White House changed you?
I think I’ve become a little wiser. I’ve seen how this place has affected some of my closest relationships, which is the saddest part of the four years.
So there are things you regret?
Oh, sure. I regret things that I had to do that I thought were in the best interest of the President but that got me at cross-purposes with old friends. And I regret any times that I ever embarrassed the Reagans by something I said or did.
Did you hear from Nancy about your remark that the President occasionally slept at cabinet meetings?
I talked to her about it and she said, “Oh, Mike, those things happen to all of us.” The President made the biggest joke of it, saying, “I’ve got to go into the Cabinet Room and take a nap.”
Does the President ever chew you out?
Yes. Not very often. If he ever would get upset with me, it was over the schedule. In the first year I went in and said, “I really don’t think it is a good idea for you to go out to the ranch next week because the press is going to criticize you for it.” He said, “Look, Mike, you can tell me to do a lot of things, but you’re not going to tell me when to go to the ranch. I’m 70 years old and I figure that ranch is going to add some years onto my life and I’m going to enjoy it.”
In Rome the President nodded off while visiting the Pope. Has he ever blamed you for overscheduling him?
No. I blame myself. I’m 47 and I don’t adjust well to time changes when we’re traveling. And I don’t have all the pressure that he’s got. He’s out front all the time. Having gone out as the head of a delegation myself, I know. My staff people can take their shoes off and have a couple of belts and a good time while I’ve gone to the dinner and am seated at the head of the table thinking about the toast I have to make. The pressure is really on the President.
Does Mr. Reagan have any special needs when he travels abroad?
Not really, he’s so easy. All of his food is taken care of by his steward. His requests, like decaffeinated coffee and well-done beef, are all taken care of. One of the most difficult things is to get hotels not to repaint the room the day before the President arrives. They want everything to be perfect and the result is that the President doesn’t sleep all night because of the fumes.
Two months ago you caused a flap by buying a car in Germany through diplomatic channels. What was the President’s reaction?
He shrugged it off. I only have one car. My assistant came into my room in Munich and said, “You’ve been talking about buying a car. You can buy a car for a lot less today on the strength of the dollar.” It was a bargain. I did get the diplomatic savings, which has been done for years. I don’t think I did anything wrong. That’s one of those things that I hope didn’t embarrass the Reagans.
When your wife took a public relations job, the press called it conflict of interest. What’s your opinion?
I think it is an unfair charge because she had really gotten those clients on her own. She is a very bright and talented person. She has done an excellent job for each of her clients—Giorgio perfume and the American Medical Association—and none of it had anything to do with the White House.
What will the President miss most about not having you one step away?
The fact that he knows that I always put him first and that he could say anything to me and know it would never be repeated. I’m sure he will miss that.
Do you plan to write a book?
Never, never. You can’t take a special relationship of trust and then do a kiss-and-tell book. I’m looking forward to writing a diet book because that’s about me. I can say anything I want about me. I was up to 186 pounds when I went on the diet [of no fats, high protein and lots of apple juice]. Now I’m what I ought to be, at 150.
What were the best and worst aspects of your job?
The hardest day in my life was the day the President was shot. It still affects me. Last month at a dinner when I saw Jim Brady walk in, I just couldn’t watch. Some of the agents with us that day still give a kind of special handshake. We’ve had great days with our legislative victories. It’s exciting to watch someone you know be able to achieve what the President has achieved.
How do you think it’s going to feel after so many years to be away from the vortex of power and on your own?
It’s going to be hard to find the excitement and emotional highs and lows that you get around here in one day. But the first day I was here I was driven out the southwest gate, and there on Pennsylvania Avenue was Jody Powell walking down the street all by himself. I said, “Deaver, remember that. Someday you’re going to walk out the gate too.” Sure I’m going to miss it. It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me.