Reagan Takes Command

This essay was originally published as the cover story in the July 21, 1980 issue of Time Magazine, which can be viewed online here

Time Magazine_Cover_Jul 21 1980_ThumbRightists ride triumphant, but the nominee must widen his appeal to win. Imagine this colloquy among Republican leaders as they gather around the celestial TV set to watch their party’s convention. Theodore Roosevelt: It’s a bully sight! Calvin Coolidge: Too expensive. Mark Hanna: Not much excitement. I can’t see a single smoke-filled room. Henry Cabot Lodge: I’m worried about the westward tilt of the party. The East always supplied the intellectual leadership. T.R.: If I had not gone West . . . Coolidge: What’s all this talk about winning the blue-collar vote? America’s business is business. Abraham Lincoln: Don’t forget that the workingman’s vote helped to elect the first Republican President. When we were trying to preserve the nation, the Republicans became known as the Union Party. The name is gone, but the meaning should still prevail.

Ronald Reagan is an old hand at theatricals, but nothing in his long career can compare with the four-day extravaganza scheduled for Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena this week. After many years of tryouts, he is the Republican Party’s superstar. His folksy conservatism, with its tinge of Western populism, not only swept the Republican primaries but appears to be attracting other parts of the electorate as well. Scenting that victory might indeed be theirs, the Republicans are closing ranks behind their new standardbearer. Though some are still wary of his politics, others envision Reagan’s launching a new Republican era in America.

To try to lure as many viewers as possible for 18 hours of TV time, the convention is overflowing with show business celebrities who will rival the politicians on the rostrum—a far cry from oldtime conventions where delegates lustily bargained, brawled and demonstrated to choose a nominee. This time there will be Pat Boone to pledge allegiance to the flag, Glen Campbell and Tanya Tucker to sing the national anthem. Other contributions will be offered by Jimmy Stewart, Vikki Carr, Dorothy Hamill, Ginger Rogers, Donny and Marie Osmond. And the national anthem once again by Princess Pale Moon. But through all the pageantry, Reagan will set the tone by word, gesture and command. It is his show, and he calls the shots.

The biggest of all, of course, is his selection of a running mate. His choice will indicate where he intends to lead the party that has now put him in charge. Picking a relative moderate like George Bush with close ties to the Eastern Establishment would give a clear signal that he wants to broaden the G.O.P. base as much as possible. A compromise selection like Indiana Senator Richard Lugar would indicate a certain caution. Choosing an old friend like Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt would show that he plans to run a far more narrowly based campaign—with all the risks that implies in November.

For all the emphasis on unity, however, some rancorous quarrels erupted during the preconvention maneuvering last week, and they could lead to trouble in the fall campaign. A certain militant element of the G.O.P. right wing still seems determined to assert its strength even if it hurts the party and the party’s new leader. It was an indication that for some true believers, ideology is still more important than winning an election. Their special target was the Equal Rights Amendment. Reagan aides had already watered down the party’s traditional support of ERA, which runs through most conventions back to 1940.* But that was not good enough for the right-wingers. By an overwhelming 90 to 9, they pushed through a platform plank saying that the matter should be left in the hands of the states.

ERA supporters were infuriated. Said Michigan Governor William Milliken: “This would be very, very costly in political terms.” In an emotional speech, Mary Crisp, who was being ousted as co-chairman of the Republican National Committee because of her praise of John Anderson, accused the party of suffering from an “internal sickness” and warned that it might lose the election. Remarked an irritated Reagan: “Mary Crisp should look to herself and see how loyal she has been to the Republican Party.” He added: “I don’t think this ERA is a live-or-die issue.”

Equally controversial was the issue of abortion. Again rejecting the compromise wording, the right-wingers rammed through an endorsement of a constitutional ban on abortion. Many moderates were distressed by the changes. Bob Hughes, G.O.P. chairman in Cleveland, even saw omens of the Barry Goldwater debacle: “Shades of 1964—we’re going to do it again.”

Leading the right-wing assault was the imperturbable Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who reveled in the admiration of a coterie of delegates as he railed against the Panama Canal Treaties and the recognition of mainland China. But by now the Reagan forces were alarmed at the attacks on the platform by what some of them called the “grass eaters and know nothings.” Congressman Jack Kemp and Richard Allen, Reagan’s top foreign policy adviser, managed to prevent any alteration of the party planks on Panama and China. Allen emphasized that Reagan, while deploring the brusque way Carter severed U.S. relations with Taiwan, had no intention of restoring them. “There will be no turning the clock back,” said Allen. “Reagan recognizes the importance of our present relationship with the People’s Republic.”

The Reagan forces also overruled right-wing objections to Henry Kissinger’s participation in the convention. Because of all the protests, the former Secretary of State decided not to appear before the platform committee, but William Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager, insisted that Kissinger be allowed to address the convention. “He’s earned the right to speak,” said Casey. “He’s been a good soldier for the party.” Much to right-wing dismay, Reagan scheduled a session with Kissinger this week.

When the arguing abated, the Republicans had a platform that supported Reagan’s principal views. It endorsed the Kemp-Roth bill for a 30% tax cut over three years; called for more nuclear power and complete decontrol of oil prices; denounced the SALT II treaty as “fatally flawed” and demanded “military superiority” over the Soviets; urged the restoration of capital punishment; and appealed for the return of voluntary, nondenominational prayer in schools. All in all, said Platform Committee Chairman John Tower, the document represents “a rightward move” in keeping with the increasing conservatism of the U.S.

To what extent Reagan controls the right-wing zealots in the G.O.P. will become clearer in the coming weeks, but his key aides were doing their best to play down the preconvention controversies. “A good fight or two might be helpful,” said Campaign Manager Casey. Indeed, the more significant and surprising news is that the Republicans have by and large stopped sniping at each other. Richard Whitney, 60, a Reagan delegate who is a Colorado dairyman, declares: “We have to have all philosophies in the party to win. We are trying to embrace more people. We don’t have much of that ‘We won’t compromise’ attitude any more.” Says William Simon, Treasury Secretary under President Gerald Ford and a likely prospect for high office in a Reagan Administration: “All of us are growing up and getting together.”

So far Reagan has done much to set the unifying tone. Gone is the strident rhetoric of the past. Now he talks expansively of bringing people together. He told TIME, “People should properly look at a political party not as a club or a religion, but as a means for uniting people with a common viewpoint about how the Government should be run. I don’t ask for written-in-blood pledges. I am arguing that the Republican Party comes closest today to representing what the majority of the people in this country want.”

Reagan has instructed party leaders around the country to recruit as many volunteers as possible without regard for their viewpoints. Ideological purity is not the price of admission to party affairs. Last month Reagan met in Chicago with a number of Republican Governors, a group that has not generally supported his candidacy, and he assured them that he wanted to work with them. He also placated moderates by keeping Bill Brock as R.N.C. chairman. Traditionally the nominee puts his own man in the post, but Brock had won widespread support from conservatives and moderates alike for his successful efforts to broaden the party’s base and elect more Republicans to state legislatures. Brock has had to relinquish some of his authority, but as long as he stays on the job, he symbolizes party unity.

Party foes of Reagan have responded warmly to these signs of conciliation. Few people fought Reagan harder than Richard Rosenbaum, the former New York State G.O.P. chairman who supported Ford in 1976 and is now a national committeeman. “I guess I would have to say that Reagan is an idea whose time has come,” says Rosenbaum. “Our problems are behind us, and the party will come to its full potential now.” That sturdy pillar of the Eastern Establishment, former Senator and U.N. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., claims to be comfortable with a Reagan presidency. Says Lodge: “Reagan has been around. He’s very practical.”

It is easier, of course, to like a man if he looks like a winner, and conditions seem favorable for a Republican candidate. Though registered Republicans still number less than one-third of all voters, the U.S. is now in the middle of a recession with unemployment climbing and inflation painfully high. Signs of increased Soviet aggressiveness were capped by the invasion of Afghanistan. There is a widespread sense that President Carter is not coping well with the problems facing the country. As Senator Laxalt acidly puts it, “Jimmy Carter is an indispensable ally.” Says Leonard Garment, a Wall Street lawyer who served as an aide to President Richard Nixon: “We are seeing a new nationalism, a revival of strong feelings about the country, a desire for the kind of leadership that makes Americans feel good about their country and themselves. Carter conveys a sense of self-flagellation, of guilt about our power and our past.”

Republican spirits soared when a survey was released last week showing that public confidence in the G.O.P. has risen sharply. The poll, by Robert Teeter’s Market Opinion Research of Detroit (commissioned by the Republican National Committee), found that 58% of the people think the G.O.P. would more effectively control Government spending, compared control Government spending, compared with 25% who believe the Democrats would do a better job. For reducing inflation, the response favored the Republicans 53% to 24%. The G.O.P. outpolled the Democrats on holding down taxes 50% to 29%. By a margin of 49% to 29%, people believe the Republicans are more likely to maintain military security. The most startling finding of all showed that Democrats are considered better able to reduce unemployment by a narrow 41% to 38%. Last fall the same survey indicated a favorable rating for the Democrats on this issue of 39% to 18%; in 1974, only 8% chose Republicans and 54% sided with Democrats. This surge in the Republicans’ standing has encouraged them to concentrate on unemployment in the campaign, an issue that has belonged to the Democrats ever since the Depression. And if they do not have that issue, what do they have?

The Teeter survey, to be sure, must be balanced against less impressive showings. The latest Harris poll puts Reagan narrowly ahead of Carter, 39% to 34%, with John Anderson at 24%. In one Gallup poll, in which only 26% gave Carter highly favorable ratings, the comparable figure for Reagan was 23%, suggesting that Reagan may have quite a job convincing people he is more capable than Carter. A series of Gallup surveys conducted from April through June showed that 38% of the Republicans in New England and 42% in the Middle Atlantic states would vote for either Carter or Anderson over Reagan. Such a defection of members of his own party poses a serious threat to Reagan no matter how many Democratic votes he picks up. On the other hand, given Carter’s increasing weakness in the South and Southwest, it would be possible for Reagan to win without capturing any of the Northeastern states.

On the basis of the Teeter figures, the G.O.P. hopes for dramatic gains in Congress. There is an outside chance of winning control of the Senate, where the party now has 41 seats. There is only a faint possibility of securing a majority in the House, where the Democrats outnumber their rivals 275 to 159. But if the G.O.P. takes a fair number of seats, it would be in a position to control both chambers in 1982, for the first time since 1954.

The numbers favor the Republicans in this year’s Senate elections. Of the 34 seats being contested, 24 belong to Democrats, ten to Republicans. Moreover, several of the Democrats are liberals bucking a conservative trend. The Republicans are anticipating a net gain of three to six seats, enough to give the Senate a more conservative outlook. That could also be true of the House, where from 20 to 40 seats are expected to switch from Democratic to Republican.

Looking to November, Reagan is mapping out a strategy to capture as many Democratic and independent votes as possible. As a former Democratic activist who did not become a Republican until 1962, he has always been fascinated by the New Deal coalition put together by Franklin Roosevelt. He wants to build a similar coalition in opposition to the welfare state created by F.D.R. “If you look back,” Reagan told TIME, “you find that those great social reforms really didn’t work. They didn’t cure unemployment. They didn’t solve social problems. What came from them was a group of people who became entrenched in Government, who wanted social reforms just for the sake of social reforms. They didn’t see them as temporary medicine as most people saw them, to cure the ills of the Depression. They saw them as a permanent way of life.”

Reagan is careful, however, not to attack such New Deal programs as Social Security and unemployment insurance, which are now taken for granted and have large constituencies. There are prudent limits to his assault on Big Government. That is the lesson of the 1964 disaster, when Goldwater went down to resounding defeat after a defiantly conservative campaign that included talk of abolishing the Tennessee Valley Authority.

To build a successful coalition for the campaign and possibly for the future, the Reagan forces are targeting three groups, most of whose members voted for Carter in 1976:

> Working-class families whose heads of household earn between $14,000 and $20,000 a year, a traditionally Democratic group that has been hardest hit by unemployment and inflation. Though largely blue collar, this category includes a significant number of white-collar workers in both private industry and government.

> White Baptists (the black vote is the most faithful of all the Democratic constituencies). Unlike other white Protestants, the Baptists voted in substantial numbers for one of their own in the last election. But they tend to be conservative on social issues, and many have grown disillusioned with Carter. If they turn out in large numbers, they can have a decisive impact in the Border states and the Deep South.

> Residents of towns and smaller cities of no more than 40,000 people. Traditionally inclined to vote Republican, they strayed from the party in 1976. Polling data indicate they can be reclaimed, though G.O.P. policies must be tailored to their different locations.

The Reagan campaign aims to pull these groups together by emphasizing the issues that unite them rather than those that might divide. Says Senator Lugar: “There is a high degree of consistency among working people on patriotic as well as moral issues. The same people who are disturbed about the impotence of national power are also highly worried about abortion. There is a common thread here.” Republicans have found that working people are no less interested in tax reduction than any other group. In addition to the Kemp-Roth federal income tax cut of 30% over three years, Kemp has proposed creating free enterprise zones in decaying parts of cities. Patterned after the well-received British experiments, the plan would permit sharp tax reductions and minimal Government regulations for companies that are willing to relocate and provide jobs for the local community. It could be an ideal Republican program: a free-market approach to a pressing social problem that has resisted governmental remedies.

To bring all these new people into its ranks, however, the G.O.P. is going to have to modify its country club image. Joe Six-Pack does not belong to a country club. Maryland’s Republican Congressman Robert Bauman expresses a widespread aversion to the venerable upper crust that has long controlled party affairs: “They are elitists. They are out of touch with the supermarket counters. Their view of Communism is that it is a market to be sold to, not a system that may destroy their children’s freedom.”

During the rules committee hearings in Detroit this week, Josiah Lee Auspitz, a member of the liberal Republican Ripon Society, plans to offer a resolution to change party rules to make it easier for ethnic groups to become convention delegates and members of the R.N.C. The present process discriminates against the larger states, where ethnic voters are concentrated. Auspitz is a member of the R.N.C.’s outreach program, which makes a special appeal to minorities. Yet he complains: “The party tells these groups, ‘Give us your vote, but your participation stops at the ballot box.’ “

One region that looks particularly promising for Republican gains among working people is the South. That is the thrust of a memo written to Reagan by one of his Southern strategists, Lee Atwater, who thinks the blue-collar workers hold the balance of power in the area. If they could be converted, the South could eventually be solid, he concludes, for Republicanism. Some evidence supporting this view comes from Texas, where the G.O.P. primary contest between Reagan and Bush drew a record 510,000 people to the polls. Says Reagan’s Texas strategist Ernest Angelo: “There was just a greater degree of good salt-of-the-earth Texans than we’ve ever had before.” Dallas Attorney Paul Eggers was surprised by a recent Republican rally that featured “beer, hotdogs, rednecks and lots of music and stomping. Fifteen years ago it would have been sacrilege to do that at a Republican rally.”

The G.O.P., however, cannot take its appeal to blue-collar workers for granted. Evidence of their crossing party lines to vote for Reagan in the primaries is sparse, though they clearly helped in Illinois and Wisconsin. While it is true that union leaders have not yet attacked Reagan, there is no reason to assume they will not. Says Robert Neuman, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee: “Union leadership has been concerned with Carter and Kennedy. They haven’t gotten to Reagan yet. When they do, I think they’ll hold the rank and file on issues of concern to workers: right to work, OSHA. Reagan’s views are dead wrong.”

Right or wrong, Reagan is not likely to change them. In general he sees no reason to modify his opinions when he feels the rest of the country is coming around to his point of view. The best way to form a coalition, he thinks, is for other people to convert to his viewpoint. To an extent, this has happened. But he eventually will meet more resistance. At that point, will he give a little or stand adamantly on principle?

How Reagan orchestrates these various groups he needs to win the election will be a critical test of his leadership. If he seems to cater too much to the Southern fundamentalists, for example, he risks alienating urban ethnic voters in the North. Some of Reagan’s backers in Detroit and elsewhere are demonstrating the zealotry that helped lose the election for Goldwater and lean perform the same feat for Reagan. Says Ed Meese, Reagan’s chief of staff: “It is a difficult balancing act on some of these things, but it is a necessary one to reflect the broad spectrum of support Ronald Reagan gets.”

Whether Reagan can accomplish what he intends will not be known until he is put to the test. Like many successful politicians, he is essentially an enigma. Says one shrewd Massachusetts Republican leader who has known and supported Reagan for many years: “I know George Bush. I know Howard Baker. I know Phil Crane. I know Bob Dole. I even know John Anderson. They all know me. But I don’t know Ronald Reagan. If he came into a room where I was, someone would have to tell him my name. He is the most aloof politician I have ever encountered.”

The successful Republican Presidents—and Democrats too—have generally been skilled party organizers. While overseeing military operations during the Civil War, Lincoln was just as occupied on the civilian front trying to keep all his party’s factions united behind his policies. However convinced of his particular viewpoint, any President must establish a consensus to govern effectively. But Reagan feels that the Republican Party has been too willing to make concessions for the sake of consensus. He blames past G.O.P. defeats less on people of his own convictions than on what he calls party “pragmatists”: Republicans who said, “Look what the Democrats are doing and they’re staying in power. The only way for us to have any impact is somehow to copy them.” Reagan has firmly drawn the ideological line between the parties, and a significant force is finally lining up on his side of it. Despite recent polls, however, that force has yet to prove that it represents a majority of Americans. To show that it does will be Reagan’s task.

* On the Democratic side, Eleanor Roosevelt led the opposition to ERA in 1940, and the Democrats did not support the measure until 1944. The latest polls indicate ERA is supported by 54% of the populace, but by only 43% of Republicans.

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