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    Anecdotal Observations On History & Politics

    Entries in Ronald Reagan (13)


    Campaign Slogans: To Recycle Or Not To Recycle?

    Ben Smith reported last night that Mitt Romney's new slogan, "Believe in America," was previously used by John Kerry for a cross-country bus tour. However, many presidential campaign slogans have been strikingly similar, albeit not exactly the same, as previous campaigns:

    • George W. Bush's 2004 campaign message, as introduced at his RNC Nomination speech was "TURN THE CORNER," which was near identical to FDR's 1932 slogan, "WE ARE TURNING THE CORNER"
    • Both Nixon and Reagan stressed the urgency of their message, Nixon with "NIXON NOW" and Reagan with "THE TIME IS NOW"
    • John McCain's 2008 slogan "COUNTRY FIRST," was almost the same as Warren Harding's "AMERICA FIRST" in 1920.
    • Eisenhower's "WE LIKE IKE" sounded like a rip-off of Wendell Willkie's 1940 message "WE WANT WILKIE," except one was a rhyme and the other used alliteration.

    "I Am Paying For This Microphone!"

    Ronald Reagan's oft-quoted 1980 debate zinger, "I am paying for this microphone," became almost as instantly quotable as Charlie Sheen's "winning" rant last week. However, few remember what that declaration actually meant in the context of that Republican Primary Debate. 
    After Reagan's then-rival George Herbert Walker Bush edged him out by 2% in the Iowa caucuses, many pols saw the nomination battle as a two man race. A month later, the Nashua Telegraph newspaper set up a debate between Reagan and Bush exclusively, the only one that would exclude four of the six candidates, and it would be held only three days before the New Hampshire Primary. The Telegraph's plans almost fell through when the FEC cited that the format was unfair and declined to pay for the event, but the Reagan campaign volunteered to pick up the cost. 
    Reagan and Bush had the most to gain from a two-man debate, since a strong performance could propel either of them to a New Hampshire Victory. Reagan especially needed the edge, as he was down 4%, at 33% to Bush's 37%. However the morning of the debate, Reagan unexpectedly began to lobby the Nashua Telegraph and George Bush on behalf of the excluded candidates, insisting that they be allowed to participate. When his 11th hour effort was rebuffed, Reagan pulled a stunt that would go down in history. 
    Appearing on set with the excluded candidates in tow (Bob Dole, Howard Baker, John Anderson and Philip Crane), Reagan angrily insisted that the other candidates be included and proceeded to create a spectacle of his indignation. When the moderator refused to give in to his request and tried to proceed as originally planned, Reagan only acted out more. The moderator, having had enough, then asked to have Reagan's microphone cut off, at which point the candidate famously responded, "I am paying for this microphone Mr. Green!" 
    Another little known fact: the line Reagan used was actually borrowed from the movie The State of the Union with Spencer Tracy -- despite being criticized for his age, the former actor had the ability to quickly recall famous movie quotes, always in asset in any field or occupation. 
    Whether Reagan was feigning indignation or not, the tactic clearly paid off as the debate was largely overshadowed by the confrontation. Reagan showed leadership ability and a willingness to help the underdog and Bush was one-upped, appearing petty for supporting two-man-only contest. Bush later claimed to have been "set up" by Reagan's campaign. Probably so, but that's politics...

    Strange Bedfellows: Ronald Reagan & Nelson Rockefeller at the '68 Convention

    By the 1968 Republican National Convention in August, Richard Nixon had all but locked up the nomination. His only remaining challengers were both long-shots: Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who had previously lost the 1964 nomination to Barry Goldwater, and Governor Ronald Reagan of California, who had only just been elected in California two years before, in 1966. The election of 1968 might have been very different had this political odd-couple only secured five more delegates from Florida on the first ballot of the RNC. The burden of this task fell on the shoulders of the Reagan campaign, but had he succeeded, a convention battle might have propelled one of them to the nomination, leaving Richard Nixon in the dust-bin of history. 

    Candidates Rockefeller and Reagan could not have been more ideologically opposed, even in the 1960's. As a moderate, many of Nelson Rockefeller's positions were fairly liberal, especially with the unions, the environment, education and infrastructure spending. To boot, he had increased New York State's budget by over 350% in just 14 years. On the flip side, Reagan was a consummate fiscal conservative and had campaigned in '66 on the slogan, "send the welfare bums back to work." He worked to balance the budget by freezing hiring and raising taxes (yes, raising taxes). Furthermore, the fact that Reagan had risen to prominence in 1964 through his adamant support of Rockefeller's chief opponent, Barry Goldwater, only elevated their differences. 

    Yet from the start of the summer of '68, Rockefeller and Reagan's fortunes were tied -- their only hope of attaining the nomination was to deprive Nixon of a majority of delegate votes, since their individual numbers were coming up short. In July of '68, Rockefeller's surrogate met with Reagan and a deal was struck: both underdog candidates would stay in the race and would try to peel away as many Nixon delegates as possible before voting began on the floor. With a little luck, Nixon would fall short on the first ballot and the ensuing shock-wave would quickly destroy his image as the inevitable candidate, paving the way for a prolonged convention battle could only help Rockefeller and Reagan.

    With their delegate estimates hovering on the cusp of the 600 necessary votes, Nixon's operation staff was calm and confident and their "no drama" approach only reinforced the image that Nixon was the inevitable choice. Rockefeller's staff estimated a best case scenario of receiving about 300 votes, yet they were dependent on Reagan's ability to reach approximately 267 votes in order to proceed to the second ballot. The key to their strategy lay in the south -- Reagan had to appeal to southern delegates, many of whom had already committed to Richard Nixon. Of the southern states Florida held the most sway and since it was early on the roll call -- thus a deal with the Florida delegation was crucial because if Florida went for Reagan, other southern delegations were more likely to follow. 

    Reagan's team proposed a deal with the Florida delegation that would allow it to abide by the "unit rule,"  a technicality that allowed a state to cast all of its votes with it's majority individuals, rather than splitting proportionally. Having obtained pledges from 12 of the 34 Florida delegates, one man stood in the way, William Murphin of Hobe Sound, who led the delegation. While Murphin was open to voting as a unit, he would only abide if Reagan could gain the support of 3-5 more Florida delegates. But this is where Reagan's effort fell short -- both Rockefeller and Reagan's ambitions were dashed when Reagan was unable to peel away any more Florida delegates. 

    In the end, Nixon reached the magic number on the first ballot and became president after defeating Hubert Humphrey. Despite a noble effort, Nixon never considered Reagan as a running mate, referring to him as a "glamor boy". Rockefeller later became Vice President under Gerald Ford and Reagan ran and lost again in 1976 and finally won in 1980. 

    While the primary system has since made political conventions moot since the 1960's, does a fractured Republican party in 2012 make a divided convention more likely? 



    Flashback: Reagan Declares Candidacy in 1979

    This should be required viewing for any republican considering a run for the GOP nomination in 2012. The text of this speech could be delivered today almost verbatim and the message would be equally effective... Text of the speech is available here