I was picketed a few days ago in California by some youngsters that had signs that said, ‘Make Love, Not War!’
The trouble is they didn’t look like they were capable of doing either. This fellow that was doing the talking had a haircut like Tarzan, walked like Jane, and smelled like Cheetah.
Ronald Reagan, on a student loan application in the late 1920s
Reagan later noted that had he received the sales job he wanted at Montgomery Ward, he almost certainly would never had become an actor, let alone Governor of California and President of the United States.
I agree. Especially for the guy who always talked about the “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican”, Reagan really should have shown more respect to President Ford, been patient, and supported the leader of his party. Historians talk of the Nixon pardon destroying Ford’s chances of being elected in his own right in 1976, and it certainly didn’t help, but what really beat Ford in 1976 was the challenge from Reagan and the right-wing of the GOP. Ford had to move to his right to meet the challenge, made a move that he regretted for the rest of his life when he dumped Vice President Rockefeller as his running mate for Bob Dole to placate the conservatives, and had to spend all spring and plenty of money just to win his own party’s nomination. Ford was spent by the time the Republican National Convention rolled around, stumbled during the general election against Jimmy Carter, and yet, he still barely lost the 1976 election. Also, after the GOP Convention, Reagan really should have been out campaigning for Ford instead of nursing his wounds.
It’s said that Reagan himself was hesitant about challenging Ford in 1976 and that he was pushed into it by Nancy Reagan and his top political advisors. They were worried that four more years of Ford would cause fatigue for Republican leadership and make it more difficult to win in 1980. They were also worried that Reagan would lose some of his luster because he was already 65 years old in 1976 and his term as Governor of California had ended in 1975, removing a powerful platform for politicking.
But I agree that, even if Ford had won in 1976, Reagan would have almost certainly been elected in 1980 anyway. Because Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unfinished second term after he assumed the Presidency following Nixon’s resignation, Ford would have been term-limited in 1980 and Constitutionally ineligible to run for President again. Reagan would have been the front-runner in 1980, no matter what.
In the end, of course, it worked out well for Reagan, but it was a pretty shitty way to treat Ford who had helped restore faith and trust in the Presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Ford deserved the Republican Party’s support in 1976 after all that he had done, and he deserved loyalty from Reagan and the conservative wing of the GOP that was just unwilling to offer it and impatient about electing Reagan.
Ford was understandably stung by the entire ordeal in 1976. Anybody who ever knew or met Gerald Ford talked about how kind and gentlemanly he was, mentioned that nobody ever said a bad thing about him, and noted how his optimism and how well he got along with even his political rivals. But the challenge from Reagan in 1976 left him bitter about it for the rest of his life and he blamed Reagan for his loss to Carter in ‘76 more than anyone or anything else. Even then, being the good Republican that he was, Ford wholeheartedly supported Reagan publicly in 1980 and campaigned for him — despite personal animosity over Reagan’s 1976 challenge and Ford’s own deep-seated fears that Reagan simply wasn’t suited for the job of President.
Gerald Ford, when Ronald Reagan’s name was brought up as a possible Vice Presidential running mate in 1976.
Reagan had challenged and nearly defeated the incumbent President Ford for the 1976 Republican Presidential nomination leaving Ford damaged going into the general election against Jimmy Carter.
One day, I publicly declared that this is a depression and the President [Carter], before the day was out, went to the press to say, ‘That shows how little he know. This is a recession.’
If the President wants a definition, I’ll give him one. Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery will be when Jimmy Carter loses his!
Ronald Reagan, at a Washington Press Club dinner in honor of his 70th birthday, February 6, 1981
Today is the 64th anniversary of that 39th birthday that Reagan liked to be stuck on.
(But, to really put things in perspective, it’s also the 33rd anniversary of Reagan’s 70th birthday!)
Many men are great, but few capture the imagination and the spirit of the times. The ones who do are unforgettable. Four administrations have passed since John Kennedy’s death; five Presidents have occupied the Oval Office, and I feel sure that each of them thought of John Kennedy now and then and his thousand days in the White House.
And sometimes I want to say to those who are still in school and who sometimes think that history is a dry thing that lives in a book: Nothing is ever lost in that great house; some music plays on.
I’ve even been told that late at night when the clouds are still and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by. You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, ‘And another thing, Eleanor!’ Turn down a hall and you hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, ‘Bully! Absolutely ripping!’ Walk softly, now, and you’re drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room where a crowd surrounds a bright young President who is full of hope and laughter.
I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a story I’ve been told. And it’s not a bad one because it reminds us that history is a living thing that never dies. A life given in service to one’s country is a living thing that never dies — a life given in service, yes.
History is not only made by people; it is people. And so, history is, as young John Kennedy demonstrated, as heroic as you want it to be, as heroic as you are.
Ronald Reagan, speech given at a fundraiser for the JFK Library at the home of Senator Ted Kennedy, McLean, Virginia, June 24, 1985
No, not necessarily. If anything, Jimmy Carter should have been way better off during his term (1977-1981) and been in a position of strength going into his 1980 reelection campaign. But Carter rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, didn’t know how to play the game in Washington, couldn’t work with Congress, and was frequently described as “supremely self-confident” — which is code for “arrogant asshole” in the political dictionary. Carter was also probably one of the most inexperienced Presidents of the 20th Century. Prior to his 1976 bid for the Presidency, Carter had served just four years as a Georgia State Senator and four years as Governor of Georgia. His political career had also seen a pretty bad loss in Georgia’s 1966 Democratic Gubernatorial primary to the virulent, unabashedly racist Lester Maddox. What really made Carter’s Presidential election in 1976 especially impressive was the fact that, quite frankly, Jimmy Carter has never been a very good politician.
As I mentioned, Carter had a contentious relationship with Congress throughout his term. Now, many Presidents have difficult relationships with Congress and it can tend to handcuff, if not cripple, their Administrations at times. What’s really unique about Carter’s problems with Congress is that, throughout his four years in office, the Democrat Carter had significant Democratic majorities in Congress. During the first two years of Carter’s Presidency (1977-1979), the 95th Congress had 61 Democrats, 38 Republicans, and 1 Independent in the Senate and the House had 290 Democrats and 145 Republicans. In Carter’s last two years in the White House (1979-1981), the 96th Congress had 58 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and 1 Independent in the Senate, and 276 Democrats-159 Republicans in the House. But because of Carter’s imperious and micromanaging style and the way he treated the Congressional leadership (of his own party!), President Carter basically sabotaged the significant political advantages that he should have had while working hand-in-hand with his fellow Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress. Carter should have been able to have his legislative agenda rubber-stamped through Congress for four years. Instead, Congress cut him off at the knees and never forgave him. Any candidate who could come out of nowhere as a dark horse and win election as President of the United States, as Carter did in 1976, seems like they must have remarkable political skills. But Carter didn’t. It’s almost as if he simply got lucky in 1976 and just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Carter was and is a wonderful humanitarian, but he also was and is a crappy politician, and it showed from 1977-1981, particularly when it came to alienating a Congress that was on his side and making his own job exponentially more difficult than it should have been.
Carter may have failed from 1977-1981, but if Ford had been reelected in 1976, I think he would have continued to grow into the Presidency (he was only in office for 2 years, 164 days at the time he left the White House) and been a solid leader during that time period. If Reagan had been elected in 1976 and started the Reagan Revolution four years earlier, I think he would have done just fine from 1977-1981, too.
So, no, I think if you plugged a capable leader into that time frame, they would have done just fine. Carter’s failure during those four years can be chalked up to one simple problem: he’s just never been a very good politician.
Before I post my LONG-AWAITED answers to the Proust Questionnaire, I just want to remind everyone that I actually wrote posted a new essay today: Ronald Reagan’s Private Correspondence With America. It’s not even that long despite my well-deserved reputation as an overly wordy horse’s ass! I hope you’ll check it out and share it and not be annoyed in a couple of days when it runs in AND Magazine and I shamelessly plug it again.
Next up is the Proust Questionnaire! Who’s excited besides the one reader who sent it to me and requested that I complete it? Don’t all raise your hands at the same time now.
(By the way, a fitting alternative title to my Proust Questionnaire post might be “Anti-Climactic”.)