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Born in 1930 into a Texas family of power and privilege, James Baker seemed destined to be a high-powered attorney who would broker deals for wealthy clients and large corporations. But his career took a turn when a good friend invited him to join a political campaign. This turn would lead Baker into influential roles in Washington D.C. and on the international stage. Baker’s many accomplishments include playing pivotal roles in presidential campaigns; being a close aide to three presidents — including in the positions of secretary of state and secretary of the treasury; helping facilitate the end to the Cold War; and brokering peace accords in the Middle East.

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THE HEIR (1930)

“I was led to believe that politics was sort of a scuzzy business that really fine lawyers would not involve themselves in.”

— James Baker

James Baker started his career entering the family business of successful attorneys. Politics, he was told, was not a career to pursue.

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James Baker as a child with his father and grandfather

Baker was born into power and privilege and seemingly destined to become a lawyer.


“I thought, well, you know, maybe I ought to try my hand at this politics stuff.”

— James Baker

Baker sank into grief after the death of his first wife. Soon thereafter, his tennis partner George H. W. Bush called to ask for his help: Bush was planning to run for one of Texas’ senate seats. Would Baker help run the campaign? It was just the beginning of Baker’s career in politics.

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Newspaper clipping: Miracle Man Given Credit for Ford

Baker helped to secure the election of President Gerald Ford and earned the nickname Washington’s “Miracle Man.”


“Negotiating legislation up on the Hill was not a whole lot different than negotiating mergers and acquisitions and things that I had done as a practicing lawyer."

— James Baker

In 1980, Baker accepted a job at the White House as the chief of staff for Republican President Ronald Reagan. On Capitol Hill, he engaged in “horse trading” with members of Congress in an effort to get the administration’s conservative agenda passed.

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Partial list of job responsibilities of Ed Meese and James Baker

Baker and Ed Meese shared chief of staff responsibilities under President Reagan.


“Being in the Cabinet changed [Baker’s] image in Washington. People now understood that Jim Baker was not just a political practitioner – a guy who made the train run on time – but he was a guy who could actually preside over an arena of policy.”

— Hedrick Smith, journalist

As treasury secretary, Baker was tasked with tax reform. It was a huge undertaking that took more than a year of bipartisan negotiations, but finally Baker and Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski were able to craft legislation that both Democrats and Republicans could stand behind.

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Baker seated at desk with BUCK STARTS HERE sign

As treasury secretary, Baker gained bipartisan support for tax reform.


“Politics ain’t bean bags. Politics is a blood sport. I damn well know that because I’ve done a lot of it and I have the bruises to show for it.”

— James Baker

As Reagan’s second term drew to a close, Vice President George H. W. Bush decided to run for president. He asked Baker to lead his campaign – and Baker accepted. The gloves came off during the campaign, but despite the negativity – or perhaps because of it – the Bush team won comfortably in November.

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James Baker and President George W. Bush

Baker helped propel George H. W. Bush to the Whitehouse, and Bush appointed Baker secretary of state.


“If you are as superb at domestic politics as Jim Baker was, you are playing two-dimensional chess. When you move to foreign policy, you are playing three-dimensional chess.”

— David Gergen, political commentator

Baker was sworn in as Bush’s secretary of state at a particularly turbulent time in global politics. For 40 years, Germany’s Berlin Wall had stood as a concrete representation of Cold War tensions. But in 1989, the wall came tumbling down. Baker and Bush were faced with the delicate challenge of balancing a reunited East and West Germany with a weakened Soviet Union.

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James Baker shaking hands with Edourd Shevardnadze

Baker took his counterpart Edourd Shevardnadze, Soviet minister of foreign affairs, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to begin building a relationship.


“When you have the American secretary of state and the foreign minister of the Soviet Union standing together shoulder to shoulder and condemning the actions of a Soviet client state, the Cold War is over.”

— James Baker

In 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, a blatant act of aggression. All eyes were on the United States, the world’s “lone” superpower, to see how it would react. It was up to Baker and Bush to show the world that the U.S. could respond appropriately.

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Baker with two world leaders

Following the U.S. and Soviet Union’s condemnation of Hussein’s actions, Baker set out to build an international coalition.


“It seemed to be the time was right to make a major effort [for peace in the Middle East]. [National Security Advisor] Brent [Scowcroft] thought I would be wasting my time. We talked about it and finally we went to the president. The president said, ‘Well, Brent, if he wants to do it, don’t you think we ought to let him try?”

— James Baker

The success of the Gulf War coalition changed the political landscape of the Middle East. Baker wanted to seize the moment to pursue one of the most elusive goals in diplomacy — a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors. Could the great negotiator manage what seemed to be impossible?

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Baker with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad

Baker negotiated with some of the toughest leaders of the Arab world in the 20th century.