December 21, 2018

Alternative history: Ronnie runs in 1964, not 1980

Note: This and other counterfactual histories ahead are stimulated by the new bio, "Reagan: An American Journey," reviewed by me here. (Spoiler: I three-starred it.)

Picture Ronald Reagan first giving his famous "A Time for a Decision" speech not in October 1964 as a Barry Goldwater fundraiser but a year earlier, for whatever reason, but it getting just as much attention then as in reality.

Many of the SoCal conservatives who backed Goldwater might never have jumped on that train. They would have seen Reagan right then as both more packageable and more charismatic than Goldy. As to people saying he was a political novice? One answer would be the rhetorical "So was Ike." Another would point at his Screen Actors Guild presidency and related items.

How would Reagan have fared?

In my opinion, he would have bombed even worse than Goldwater.

First, he would have made some of the same gaffes as Goldwater.

Remember, he worried that GE would fire him, years before GE Theater's ratings slid and they mutually separated, over his attacks on the TVA — attacks just like Goldwater made.

Remember, already by this time, Reagan had mentioned voluntary Social Security.

And, parallelling Goldy's "Let's lob one in the men's room of the Kremlin," just move back 20 years Reagan's open mic mic-check of "The bombing begins in 5 minutes."

And, Reagan, just like Goldy, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

With no presidential debates, Reagan's 1980 "There you go again" to Carter would not have been heard. And, had he tried something like that, LBJ would have clobbered him over that.

Assuming he did something like his mic check or even close, LBJ would have run the Daisy commercial. He also would have run some sort of "affable doofus" commercial.

At some point he would have gotten under Reagan's skin, and a public blow-up by St. Ronald would have finished things off.

He would have lost at least as bad as Goldwater.

What if he then tried to repair things by a 1966 gubernatorial run?

Pat Brown — who should have taken him more seriously in the real world — would have been encouraged by LBJ to go for the kill in hopes of kayoing the entire California GOP. So, Reagan loses again.

That means, in 1968, he's not in competition with Nixon for the GOP nomination. He's a frustrated has-been. And American history changes a lot. He fails more than in reality in trying to get the 1976 Republican nomination. He's not even in the picture for 1980. And U.S. conservativism is forced to adapt, as Republicans and Democrats drift closer into neoliberal nuancings.

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