“Presidential candidates didn’t use to pick running mates. … Since Ronald Reagan named his running mate prior to the convention in 1976 – a move that backfired – candidates have been given wide leeway to pick their own running mate.”
Mollie’s article was, as is customary, interesting and well written, and her assessment of Reagan’s choice in 1976 is interesting, but it is unlikely that Reagan could have won in any event.
I was a leader in the Reagan campaign in Georgia in 1976. When Reagan announced that he would choose Sen. Dick Schweiker (R-Penn.) as his vice president, my phone began to ring. Scheiker was considered a liberal in Georgia and colleagues in the legislature, whom I had convinced to endorse Reagan, were furious. So too were many other delegates to the national convention. I heard from them all.
AP Photo, File
I called Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), the general chairman of the Reagan campaign. Paul had become a friend and I knew he could help. Paul said, “Stay by your phone for the next half hour.”
About 10 minutes later I got the call from Reagan. He admitted that he knew this decision was going to cause some heartache in the ranks. But he had few options.
“John,” he said, “this is a Hail Mary. We don’t have the votes. I’m tipping over the apple cart hoping to scare up some delegates.”
Reagan explained that Drew Lewis was the leader of the Pennsylvania delegation to the convention. Lewis and Schweiker were best friends from childhood and they hoped that Lewis would switch from Gerald Ford to Reagan and bring the Pennsylvania delegation with him to help his pal become vice president.
Lewis didn’t budge, but the Schweiker selection gave Clarke Reed the opening he needed to move Mississippi’s delegation from Reagan to Ford and the rest is history.
Reagan told me over dinner two years later that while Reed disappointed him, Lewis’ standing by his commitment only impressed him. Lewis and Schwieker were both selected for Reagan’s cabinet in 1980.
Ronald Reagan has been a factor in every presidential campaign since that election. He has even become a recognized philosophy – Reaganism.
Writers tell us today that Reaganism is a dying husk. Today’s challenges are not the same and Reaganism is on longer relevant.
They miss the point. Reaganism was never about Reagan. It was about America.
Reaganomics was not about tax cuts. It was about trusting the American people to make better decisions with their money than the government can.
Reagan foreign policy was more about America than it was about the Soviet Union. He believed that we should be strong militarily, not to defeat the Soviets, although that was a welcome side effect, but because America must be strong.
Reaganism was less of a governing style than it was an attitude. Reagan knew, what Alexis de Tocqueville knew, that America is great because America is good.
He always believed in government, but that government should be limited to do what the people could not do for themselves.
He understood, more than any president since, that for so long as there have been governed nations there has been a struggle between freedom and tyranny.
It’s important to remember how dark the world looked when Reagan was elected president.
Our economy was stalled. We had double-digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates.
We were also losing the cold war. Between 1970 and 1980 the Soviet Union had increased its influence in Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua, Grenada, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria.
On top of that, one third of our planes were unable to fly for lack of spare parts, one third of our ships were in dry dock, soldiers were practicing with pretend bullets and many in our enlisted corps were on food stamps.
In his first inaugural address President Reagan addressed our challenges at home and abroad. Then he said this: “With a reliance on God’s help, and our commitment, we believe that we can meet those challenges. And why shouldn’t we believe that. We are Americans."
Our problems today remind us of what America faced in 1980. In the past seven and a half years our economy has failed, our military has been reduced to pre-World War II levels and we have forfeited our leadership role in the world.
While this is all being celebrated in the Democrat primary it is precisely what Republican candidates are promising to fix. If this reminds some of us of Ronald Reagan get over it.
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