American progress and growth and optimism

Flashing Lights:

Ronald Reagan and the Campaign of 1980

Each passing month of the Carter administration-that would, on a daily basis, remind America that the nation was passed its prime-lessened the reluctance of the twice defeated, then-governor of California, Ronald Wilson Reagan to run for President of the United States of America, for the third time, in 1980. Reagan, concerned with the potential threat of recession the administration policies posed, unemployment, inflation, and rapidly climbing interest rates, tried to gain the Republican nomination in 1968, and tried yet again in 1976 running against incumbent Gerald Ford. And although Ronald Reagan nearly won, he was defeated in the Republican Convention on August 19, 1976 (History Beat Online). Ronald Reagan, former prosperous actor turned politician, once popular for his films, as governor became a common household name associated with overt conservatism and anti-communism. With the suffering economy, high unemployment rates, and cutback of defense spending, Reagan pledged to restore "the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism" (White House Online).

In his efforts to run a successful campaign, Reagan gathered indispensible people he had previously worked with. Reagan decided to bring back Edwin Meese III, a man who admired Reagan's core ideas and who was efficient in giving them political shape. Meese, a former prosecuting attorney, had already served six years as Reagan's Chief of Staff in Sacramento while he was governor of California. Meese was considered versatile yet inexperienced because of his lack of ability to shield Reagan of his own mistakes. Like when then- candidate Reagan would unintentionally, non-specifically misinform the public, it was Meese who was blamed. However, despite feeling that his political skills were undervalued, Edwin Meese "claimed to have no agenda other than the success of Ronald Reagan". Reagan also re-enlisted John P. Sears, a brilliant man who aided him with his near-miss run against Gerald Ford four years prior, as campaign manager. Sears's "front-running" political strategy which avoided an on-the-ground campaign and kept Reagan out-of-range from media coverage reflected his regard for the candidate. In fact, Sears held little respect for Reagan's entire California entourage, slowly eliminating them, most notably was Mike Deaver. Fortunately, Reagan, who was significantly more effective when he abandoned campaign scripts written by Sears, was made aware-by Californians financially supporting the campaign-of Sears's outrageous and almost over-limit spending habits. After Reagan's marginal defeat to George Bush on January 21st in the Iowa caucuses, Paul Lexalt, then-United States (U.S.) Senator of Nevada, Reagan's only close political tie, convinced Reagan, with the help of Nancy Reagan and Edwin Meese, he was better off without Sears's expertise. Before Reagan-who did not want to lose again-knew of his victory in the New Hampshire primaries, he fired Sears and enlisted William Casey as campaign manager. William Casey, backed by those supporting Reagan yet unknown to Californians, had gathered experience by serving in both the Ford and Nixon administrations and knew his way with money; it was this that Reagan was drawn to. Casey was quick to make improvements to the campaign team first by firing people Sears had hired then by changing Regan's campaign method (Cannon 45-49).

Adopting a method of his 1976 campaign, Reagan decided to assert "the right kind of negative campaigning", specifically targeting the Democratic party (New York Times). Reagan "told [his] campaign staff that [he] intended to abide by the Eleventh Commandment: attack only Democrats while trying to let the voters know where [he] stood" (Primaries Online). Hoping the strategy, developed by Sears, of having a less rigorous campaign and keeping neutral relationships with same-party rivals would work, Reagan avoided attacking Republicans. Unfortunately, Republican candidate George Bush, former CIA director, and former National Republican Chairman, who had a massive campaign in Iowa in order to gain exposure and media attention, easily won the Iowa Caucuses. The race between him and George Bush had become neck-to-neck, Bush being the front-runner. However, feeling that Reagan had lost his old enthusiasm, veteran Republican politicians did not believe they would see a Reagan victory. "'If that happens,' said Gordon Nelson, G.O.P. chairman in neighboring Massachusetts, 'I'm the Easter bunny.'" Reagan, motivated by his surprising loss at Iowa, decided to challenge Bush to an exclusive one-on-one debate (Time 1). Interested in the predicament, The Nashua Telegraph, a New Hampshire native newspaper, offered to sponsor a debate between the two. The offer, considered an illegal campaign contribution by the Federal Elections Commission-whom Bob Dole, one of the seven candidates consulted in fury-caused much commotion until Reagan's campaign offered to pay for the debate. Reagan extended his invitation to the five candidates, believing it unfair to exclude them: Congressman John Anderson, Congressman Philip Crane, Senator Bob Dole, Senator Howard Baker, and former Governor John Connally. All but John Connally, were campaigning in New Hampshire, which made it an easy decision to participate in the debate scheduled to take place on February 26, 1980 (Primaries Online).

Upon arrival to the New Hampshire high school, where the debate was taking place, the candidates, were noticed by Jim Baker, George Bush's campaign manager, and were told to leave, if not George Bush would not participate. Reagan noticed the impatient crowd's immediate unfavorable response to the delay and decided to offer an explanation (Primaries Online). As Reagan picked up a microphone, Jon Breen, newspaper editor, urged the technician to turn his microphone off. Reagan, outraged that this man was acting as if The Nashua Telegraph was still funding the debate, retorted with a line he felt may have won him the primary and the election, "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Breen!" Reagan managed to yet again turn the tables, winning the majority of the votes that night, re-establishing himself as the Republican front runner; the revitalized man to beat in the upcoming debate in Detroit. "I don't know about the hierarchy and the upper regions; I know about the people," Reagan said the night of the victory (Time 1). He counted on this knowledge to bring him further victory in the thirty-five state primaries to come. It was early, but things looked promising. Fortunately, the early March primaries were to take place in conservative states Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida. The Republican race was, indeed, upside down with Reagan in the lead. However, it was speculated that Reagan might be too conservative, giving way for the alternative candidate, George Bush.

Bush had managed to gain the exposure he sought, but, unfortunately, the media broadcasted pictures captured of Bush-who had flown to his home in Houston after the primaries-relaxing next to his Texas swimming pool while Reagan continued to campaign in New Hampshire on that February weekend. Bush claimed to have "the big mo[mentum]" but found that it was slipping, barely keeping this runner-up status against the revamped Reagan (Time 2). The media did well in effectively advertizing key points that "The Great Communicator" believed in, such as "that there are simple answers" to complex problems. He intended to tackle the double-digit indexed inflation, which was devastating the pocketbooks of many Americans, by cutting taxes by 30% over a time period of three years to raise the economy's revenue enough to properly balance a budget. He believed there would be no special need to conserve energy if Government's hold on energy and agriculture was broken. He also intended on shrinking the Government. Focusing on foreign affairs and believing that the advancing Soviet Union, a threat to the weakened U.S., would back down if our nation's arms were strengthened, Reagan said:

Tune out those cynics, pacifists and appeasers who tell us the Army and Navy of this country are nothing but extensions of some malevolent military-industrial complex. There is only one military-industrial complex whose operations should concern us, and it is not located in Arlington, Va., but in Moscow. (Time 5)

Reagan said this referring to the advancement of the Soviet Union into Africa and Iran. He wanted to take action-different to Carter's micromanagement approach. Reagan said the public should tell the president "We [the public] don't care if they [spectators] like us or not. We intend to be respected throughout the world." Some Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, believing he was only trying to sound appealing, disagreed with Reagan's popular, genuine beliefs. They argued that Reagan was wrong in proposing tax cuts that could swell the inflationary deficit, in proposing a reduction of Government, and in advertizing that the U.S.-whom already had to conserve fuel to keep foreign imports to a minimum-could self-sustain itself (Time 5-6).

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