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

proposed combination of strategic defense and reductions in offensive arms. He rejected “détente” diplomacy as ultimately based on illusions and concessions that too often encouraged the Soviet Union rather than hastening its collapse.

Reagan’s Realism and Idealism. Reagan’s exceptional understanding of American, Soviet, and Cold War history—evidenced throughout his life as a labor union leader, broadcaster, and political figure—effectively combined America’s moral idealism and love of freedom with geopolitical realism at their best. He understood the totalitarian Soviet system as ultimately vulnerable to the fatal flaws and contradictions in its Marxist-Leninist blueprint that could be exposed and exploited by a revolutionary new U.S. Cold War strategy. This strategy would force Soviet reassessments by undermining the Soviet Union’s monopolistic Communist faith, norms, and practices. It would change the “rules” of the Cold War to collapse a tyrannical ideology and empire. While characterized among “liberals” and “progressives” during his time as backward-looking, Reagan and his Cold War strategy were revolutionary in their perspectives. By changing the principles, rules, and game-plans of both the American and the Soviet Cold War assumptions and strategies, Reagan and his coalition of advisors and allies intended and ultimately achieved a fundamental forward-looking transformation of the Soviet Union and the course of history.

Reagan’s Crusade. Reagan evidenced a special love for the revolutionary cause of freedom and felt that responsible Americans and Free World allies had to rally to stop the mounting Soviet threat to peace and freedom that was being magnified by the weakening of Western power and resolve. In his Address Accepting Presidential Nomination on July 17, 1980 (further reviewed near the end of this chapter), he recognized this cause and his calling and mission as president as working with the American people “to recapture our destiny,” blessed by “Divine Providence.” and to “begin our crusade joined together” to win the Cold War for peace and freedom.1

3. Reagan’s Bipartisan National Security Coalition and Advisory Network

During the 1970s period of U.S. “détente” policy, Ronald Reagan stood out among U.S. political leaders and drew increasing public support in his unique combination of historical knowledge, moral idealism, strategic realism, communication skills, and proven executive abilities. In 1976, a year after completing his second term as the popular and highly successful Republican governor of America’s largest state, California, Reagan challenged the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in the national election. Ford was re-nominated and gained Reagan’s support, but lost to Jimmy Carter in the November elections. Reagan, however, proved a knowledgeable and inspiring campaigner. As Carter’s setbacks at home and abroad raised increasing public concern, Reagan’s public stature rose dramatically.

An Unprecedented Coalition for the Reagan Revolution. In the presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980, increasing numbers of Americans came to look on Reagan as offering the vision, competence, and leadership that could best rebuild U.S. strength and credibility at home and abroad. While opposed by media, academia, and party establishments, he not only became the favorite Republican candidate for the coming 1980 presidential election, but also gained increasing support as the leader of growing national opposition to Carter’s faltering policies. An unprecedented coalition formed around him reaching far across party lines to Republicans, Democrats and independents, middle class entrepreneurs, “hard hats” and blue collar workers, and members of Congress from both parties. As a group, the Democrats who supported Reagan were far more centrist than the George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy Democrats on the Left who had taken over the leadership of the Democratic Party in the national election campaigns of 1968 and 1972.

National Security Advisors. In preparation for a 1980 presidential run that began soon after the 1976 elections, Reagan moved systematically to build a strong senior staff and a broad national and international coalition of advisors and contacts to help inform his thinking and consolidate his campaign posture. He drew on Republicans, Democrats, and independents, including many former officials and representatives of numerous policy institutions. He traveled abroad to consult with foreign leaders, including conservatives who were leaders of governing and opposition parties.

Reagan’s International Coalition. Overseas, government institutions and concerned citizens among the Allied populations were reinforced by Reagan’s freedom rhetoric on behalf of heroic dissidents and millions of ordinary citizens yearning to be free behind the Iron Curtain. Although Reagan was generally opposed by international establishment politicians and intellectuals, his broad pro-freedom, anti-Communist cause was strengthened by and benefited from principled international leadership demonstrated by personalities like

[Book pg. 156]