SocraticGadfly: Alternative history: Ronnie is nominated in 76, loses general to Carter

January 22, 2019

Alternative history: Ronnie is nominated in 76, loses general to Carter

This is the third in a series of counterfactual history articles about Ronald Reagan's presidential quest having an alternative timeline from what happened in reality. All are based in part on thoughts stimulated by Bob Spitz's new Reagan bio, reviewed by me here. Here's the first and here's the second posts.

This one presumes that Reagan beats Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican nomination — and then loses the general election to Jimmy Carter just like Ford did.

Both portions of that occurrence are quite possible.

Reagan lost New Hampshire, as Spitz notes, for entirely avoidable reasons. Lyn Nofziger bragged to Gov. Meldrin Thompson about how big a lead they were piling up and he then went public with it.

That right there is the alternative history change point.

Imagine that Nofziger keeps his mouth shut. Or that John Sears or whomever never gives Nofziger such info in the first place.

Sears, instead, when any rumored leaks comes out of the campaign, does negative spin.

Reagan wins by 10 points. Turns the heat on in the South more than he actually did. Sears tells him, to like Carter, play up the outsider stuff and make a reference to cleaning up Washington. Keep it subtle while hinting about Ford's pardon for Nixon and distancing himself from his past blank-check support for Nixon. Sears' moderate-conservative GOP centrism is sold in a way to appeal to Reagan.

Reagan narrowly wins, by slightly more than Ford did. He, as Ford actually did, names Dole his Veep.

And, all of this is not enough. Sears, as in the start of 1980, has trouble keeping reins on a fractious campaign, both in terms of general organization and also political message organization. Despite his attempts to moderate Reagan, Carter makes him look like a new Goldwater and wins the election.

Carter faces the Shah-and-mullahs trouble he did in reality, but not to Reagan's benefit. In 1980, moderate-conservative Republicans pick back up on the "new Goldwater" claims of Carter. Hints of age issues also get dropped here and there. Reagan bows out after failing to corral sufficient support in the South.

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