How Reagan Almost Blew It in 1980
If you enjoy this post, you have to thank your fellow reader, Tony, for reading the whole TIME article from yesterday’s post. He pointed out more similarities between 1980 and 2016. Especially Reagan’s gaffes and Democrats' complacency.
First, the gaffes.
You hear about Trump stepping on his own applause lines. He announced Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway the day after the best speech of his life (until then). He wondered aloud (via Twitter) what Mr. Kahn’s wife was thinking and why she was so quiet. Et Cetera.
Those Trump gaffes fueled his enemies and hurt his poll numbers. But he recovered remarkably, didn’t he? His speeches are humble without groveling. His message is clear and connecting. He seems to have hit his stride just in time.
You might think Reagan, being an actor and governor of our largest state, sailed through the post-convention period without a ripple. But that’s not what happened.
Let’s look deeper into that TIME article as we stroll down memory lane.
Despite his speaking skills, Reagan has, of course, been too busy trying to explain away a series of bloopers either to maintain a consistent attack on Carter’s performance or to attract attention to the Republican policies that he has proposed.
Not only has Reagan fallen into uttering such needlessly provocative comments as advocating “official” governmental contacts with Taiwan, praising the Viet Nam War as “a noble cause,” suggesting that Darwinism be countered by teaching the biblical story of creation as well, and terming the current recession “a severe depression,” but his own advisers have jumped readily into the ensuing fray, like a Greek chorus of mourners, to concede in most cases that Reagan was wrong. Says Dean Burch, the senior adviser to Bush: **“There is a possibility that the caricature of Reagan will become a reality. We have to guard against it.” **
While some of the impulsive Reaganisms may have pleased his more conservative supporters, they feed the doubts about his judgment that bother other voters. Thus the tense staff is trying to set up “fail-safe” systems to protect Reagan against Reagan. His aides are more carefully reviewing every speech text for pitfalls and insisting that the Governor just stick with the typed pages.
You could literally search and replace “Reagan” with “Trump” and print that paragraph tomorrow, could you not? Seriously, it’s like Groundhog Day. From “blowing up the world” to “stick with the typed pages,” everything they say about Trump they previously said about Reagan.
As I re-read the TIME piece from 1980, it dawned on me that Reagan was not quite as perfect a candidate as I remembered. Which is good news. That means Trump is not nearly as flawed as we are told. For example, the MSM wants us to believe Trump’s campaign is hopelessly disorganized and chaotic. But so was Reagan’s in September 1980:
In addition, an outside heavyweight adviser—last week it was James Lynn, who headed Gerald Ford’s Office of Management and Budget—will ride shotgun on the campaign planes to help Reagan. The staff itself, however, remains a problem: it is still far too disorganized. Says an old Reagan friend: “Ron doesn’t know how to be tough with people. Sometimes he tolerates so-so performances."
But Reagan had other flubs, too, as TIME happily pointed out:
So far, so good, and then, once again, Reagan botched it. At the Michigan State Fair, he launched another attack on Carter and went too far. “Now, I’m happy to be here,” he said, “while he [Carter] is opening his campaign down in the city that gave birth to and is the parent body of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Thud. By linking the President with the Klan, Reagan not only outraged Carter’s supporters but offended no less than seven Southern Governors, who fired off wires protesting that Reagan had insulted the South. The President promptly jumped on the blunder: “I resent very deeply what Ronald Reagan said about the South and about Alabama and about Tuscumbia. Anybody who resorts to slurs and to innuendo against a whole region based on a false statement and a false premise is not doing the South or our nation a good service.” Indeed, Reagan had compounded his mistake by getting his facts wrong; Tuscumbia is merely the headquarters of a branch of the Klan. Reagan apologized by telephone to Alabama Governor Forrest (“Fob”) James, and once again his aides sheepishly tried to explain that their boss had not really meant what he said.
Thirty-six years later, we Reaganites tend to forget the times we had to explain or apologize for his comments. Really, they were innocuous. But the MSM of 1980 were just as viciously anti-Republican as they are today.
The thing to remember is this:** if Reagan, the trigger-happy simpleton of 1980, could win, so can Trump in 2016. **
In a moment we’ll look at what Democrats were saying in September 1980 and compare that to what Democrats (aka, CNN) are saying today. But first, let’s look at the swing states of 1980 and 2016. They’re remarkably similar.
Even if Carter should hold the Deep South, which is far from certain, Reagan will look for his victory margin in five targeted states: Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida. They have 121 electoral votes, and if Reagan can win just the largest three, he should wind up in the Oval Office. Thus nearly 40% of his currently scheduled campaign time (49 days of travel and 95 major appearances) will be devoted to these five states.
The ads are set to begin Friday in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and run through August 29. The full extent of the advertising is still unclear, but as of Thursday afternoon, Trump was set to spend $1.3 million in Florida, $775,000 in North Carolina, $675,000 in Ohio and $790,000 in Pennsylvania. That does not include cable-TV advertising, which was not yet available.
Trump’s campaign told POLITICO earlier this week the GOP presidential nominee would begin advertising in five states: the four where it began placing Thursday morning, but also Virginia.
Tea Party for Trump will focus its initial work on Ohio, along with shoring up support in each founding member’s home state.
The big difference between 1980 and 2016 is, of course, the Deep South. In 1980, the south was iffy. Carter won big there in 1976, but Reagan polled well in the South. In September 1980, no one knew how the South would break. (It broke for Reagan and has remained solidly Republican ever since.)
Trump will dominate the Deep South in 2016. Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are in play, but Tea Party for Trump plans to be the difference in those battlegrounds.
And now we turn to the Democrats of 1980. Let’s just say they were confident. Again, from the TIME story:
As for the Carter staff, it has been astonished by its candidate’s catch-up in the polls. Chortled one aide last week: “That Reagan is doing our work for us.”
But other Democrats were more clear-eyed:
Campaign Manager Robert Strauss professes to be worried that Carter’s rally will generate overconfidence. Says he: “I don’t think Reagan necessarily is dumb. I don’t think he is going to get us into atomic warfare. I don’t think he is evil. He’s a very likable, attractive man.” But Strauss pinpoints Carter’s re-election strategy: to portray Reagan as “simplistic” and “not equipped to be President."
“Not equipped to be President.” Where have we heard that recently?
We hear it every day from CNN, #NeverTrumpers, and President Obama. They’re just reading the Clinton campaign’s talking points memo. Like robots they call Trump “unfit.” Unfit is the new “not equipped.” They were wrong in 1980, and they’re wrong today.
If you like Donald Trump’s list of Supreme Court candidates better than the dread thing Hillary might appoint, you should take heart. **Tea Party for Trump is here to help you choose Antonin Scalia’s successor. **
Join us for the Tea Party for Trump on August 28 at 4:00 (music starts 3:30) at Surdyke Harley-Davidson in Festus. You’ll be glad you did.
And here’s a handy checklist to make Tea Party for Trump easy and effortless.