Washington Monthly Writer: Reagan Nomination in 1976 Would Have Meant No Reagan Presidency…Ever

Should conservatives give thanks that Gerald Ford edged out Ronald Reagan for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination? Yes, suggested the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore in the November/December issue of the magazine. In fact, Kilgore believes that Reagan never would have made it to the White House otherwise.

In his review of Rick Perlstein’s recent book, The Invisible Bridge, Kilgore argued that had Reagan been the ’76 nominee, it’s “hard to imagine [him] defeating Jimmy Carter that year, given Carter’s powerful southern and evangelical base, which would have trumped Reagan’s natural area of strength.”

And, asserted Kilgore, that presumed loss would have meant that the Gipper had almost no chance at a rematch with a weakened Carter: “Republican elites would have decisively written off Reagan in 1980 in those circumstances, and movement conservatives might have moved on as well, to Phil Crane or John Connally or Bob Dole or even George H. W. Bush.”

From Kilgore’s piece (emphasis added):

There is one shortcoming of the book—which I hope Perlstein will address in the fourth and final volume, which is supposed to carry the story through to Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. What would have happened had Republicans nominated Reagan in 1976, as they very nearly did? It’s hard to imagine Reagan defeating Jimmy Carter that year, given Carter’s powerful southern and evangelical base, which would have trumped Reagan’s natural area of strength.

Gerald Ford came close to upsetting Carter in no small part by battening on liberal and secular doubts about the Democratic nominee (he ran ahead of Nixon ’72 in some Yankee territory); Reagan would not likely have duplicated that feat. Republican elites would have decisively written off Reagan in 1980 in those circumstances, and movement conservatives might have moved on as well, to Phil Crane or John Connally or Bob Dole or even George H. W. Bush, who was running as a born-again conservative. In any event, Carter’s exceptionally poor public standing in 1980 would have likely rewarded just about any credible Republican nominee with a general election victory, and the political Myth of Ronald Reagan, which exerts so powerful an effect on Republicans even today, would have never developed.

Campaigns & Elections Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Washington Monthly Ed Kilgore Rick Perlstein Ronald Reagan Jimmy Carter Gerald Ford


Sponsored Links