Chapter 7 – The Revolution Begins: The 1980 Election Campaign and the Reagan Coalition

Although Reagan’s political and media opponents belittled him constantly, the people valued him with their votes. In California, Reagan twice overcame the severe handicap of facing an electoral base of one million more registered Democrats than Republicans. An exceptionally successful and popular governor, Reagan gained high-level executive experience in leading an administration team working with a contentious legislature. As he sought solutions on serious issues of governance on a bi-partisan basis, Reagan won increasing legislative and popular support for “Republican” issues of personal freedom and warnings about the threat of over-taxation and over-regulation by large government bureaucracies and many supported his opposition to the left-wing radicalization of the University of California’s vast educational system that had begun in the fall of 1964 on the Berkeley campus.

Reagan’s Increasing National Influence: 1967–1975. As governor, Reagan rejected the increased radicalization and violence he encountered from leftist movements within California and saw nationally on issues like Vietnam and civil rights for which he thought only principled peaceful protests were appropriate. He rejected the destructive riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and the radical Left’s riots that summer at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago that nominated the liberal Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, President Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President. Reagan was still governor when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, and when the Democrats lost the general election in November 1968 to the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. In 1969, Governor Reagan sent National Guard units to Berkeley to restore order there. At the national level, Reagan, along with growing numbers of Americans from the ranks of centrists, independents, and conservatives, rejected the leftist “McGovernization” of the Democratic Party that by the 1972 presidential election campaigns had pushed aside Humphrey and other more centrist Democrats like Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Columnist, Radio Broadcaster—1974. As Reagan ended his terms as governor in 1974, he became a radio columnist and broadcaster with a weekly outreach to scores of radio stations and newspapers while famously writing his own scripts and lecturing across the nation. Now a nationally known figure, he was identified with a mission to help secure the American society and nation against those who would restrict freedoms, nationalize institutions, and impose centralized big-government bureaucracies issuing ever more intrusive and costly regulations. Internationally, a major Reagan mission was to encourage the American people and Free World allies and move those in the U.S. and throughout the world who remained indifferent toward the focus of evil in the Kremlin’s Communist ideology and empire to action.

Confidence, Truth, and Divine Providence. Unlike many of his critics, Reagan had great confidence in the exceptional blessings of American freedom and the goodness and future of Americans and America at their best. As a candidate and president he believed that, notwithstanding serious national problems including those of race, economy, and Cold War conflicts (e.g., Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, etc.), substantial progress had been made at home and abroad in overcoming difficult obstacles in the past and would continue if Americans built on the country’s founding principles and rallied their confidence and inherent strengths to take on the challenges they faced. He believed in the Biblical maxim that “the truth shall set you free” and that the American people and those oppressed in the captive nations behind the Iron Curtain or targeted by Communism in the “Third World” could join in a crusade to speak and demonstrate strength and truth to Soviet power. He was confident that, like America, this high cause would be blessed by Divine Providence.

Reagan, Race, and “Still” Hope and Resolve. Reagan’s confidence did not overlook the profoundly deep wounds most evident in the American experience in the sphere of racial injustice. He also understood that these wounds contradicted the words and principles of freedom and democratic representative government that were to assure God-given rights that marked America’s founding, had led to its civil war, remained a matter of deep national concern and required steady progress. He knew that this understanding of racial wounds and healing was shared by America’s most honored leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. In King’s address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in March 1963, King began the stirring “dream” section by declaring to Americans of all colors and faiths: “I still have a dream,” with “still” an extraordinary expression of continued faith, hope, and resolve. The “still” is also at the core of what Reagan’s personal faith, love, leadership, and strategy demonstrated in his unflagging vision in his domestic and Cold War crusade for freedom and peaceful progress.

Reagan’s Emerging Cold War Strategy and the Presidential Campaign of 1976. The foundation of Reagan’s future new Cold War strategy was shaped over decades, beginning in the 1940s. It emerged full blown at the time of his 1975–1976 challenge to the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, for the

[Book pg. 152]