Reagan’s 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan’s Emergence as a World Statesman is an inspiring never-before-told history of how Ronald Reagan first began to restore pride in America when he first ran for president in the late 1960s.
The author’s findings are based upon never-before-analyzed critical archives including
-the Eisenhower-Reagan correspondence and files at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
-the Eisenhower Post-Presidential Diary there
-the 1967-1968 Reagan gubernatorial audiotape collection, covering his out-of-state presidential campaign press conferences and speeches, housed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and
-interviews with Reagan’s 1968 campaign staff and grass roots activists.
Against the back-drop history of Reagan’s first campaign for the presidency, it can now be revealed that behind the scenes, none other than former President Dwight Eisenhower was Ronald Reagan’s hidden political mentor. In fact throughout the 1960s, Ronald Reagan was tutored by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower: how to enter politics, and then how to run his 1966 gubernatorial primary, and then general election campaigns. Eisenhower even counseled Reagan on how to fight charges of antiSemitism and critiqued Reagan’s speaking style.
Reagan followed Eisenhower’s political advice virtually to the letter, and indeed Reagan based his 1966 campaign theme (common sense) and campaign persona (the citizen politician) on Ike. Ike certified him as presidential timbre, said he would endorse Reagan for president if he were the 1968 nominee, urged him to run for president as California’s favorite son, and may actually have favored political winner Reagan over loser Nixon as the 1968 Republican nominee.
During the mid and late 1960s, Reagan’s main political foe was Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s ruthless pursuit of Reagan is detailed, including how Reagan believed that Attorney General Kennedy had coerced General Electric into canceling Reagan’s television show and arranged for the IRS to audit ten years of Reagan tax returns. But when RFK campaigned against gubernatorial candidate Reagan in 1966, RFK ran into stiff resistance from young California pro-Reagan supporters. In a May, 1967 international debate on Vietnam, Reagan soundly defeated RFK. As a result, many wanted winner Reagan as 1968 presidential nominee rather than perennial loser Richard Nixon.
Reagan’s multi-year long first quest for the presidency is detailed, including interviews with his presidential campaign director and his nationwide grass roots activists, especially in the all-important 1968 primary states of Wisconsin, Nebraska and Oregon.
While remaining “back stage,” Ike also mentored candidate Reagan on foreign affairs. While Reagan was the leading Republican hawk on Vietnam, his strategic calls for winning the war, and specific military and geopolitical tactics, came directly from mentoring by Ike. Reagan saw Vietnam through the lens of Eisenhower and Korea.
Reagan’s growing campaign is detailed, including his national speeches and press conferences, which increasingly emphasize foreign affairs. Inspiring stories of enthusiastic supporters, such as Students for Reagan, the Citizens for Reagan National Information Center, and the creation of the campaign film Ronald Reagan, Citizen Governor, are told here for the first time. When RFK announces he is a candidate, Reagan reenergizes his campaign, culminating in five scathing White Paper speeches attacking the foreign affairs and defense failures of the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. Reagan and his grassroots teams achieve initial primary breakthroughs in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Reagan’s greatest effort is by his campaign team in Oregon. North Carolina becomes a Reagan majority delegation as almost do Utah and Washington.
Ultimately by the time of the Miami Beach convention, more people had voted for Reagan than for Nixon. Convention delegates, committed to Nixon on the first ballot, can’t wait to vote for Reagan on the second ballot. Reagan’s efforts concentrate on preventing a first ballot Nixon victory, but Nixon barely ekes out a win by a scant 25 votes out of 1,333 cast. Reagan departs the convention telling his dejected student supporters not to give up: he will make another try for the presidency in the future.
Afterwards, Eisenhower’s direct influence on Reagan continued until the end of Reagan’s presidency. President Reagan saw his agreements with Gorbachev to lessen nuclear stockpiles, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and communism, as his own official direct fulfillment of President Eisenhower’s goals.
Other crucial issues associated with President Reagan (proclaiming his “pale pastels” oration, tearing down the Berlin Wall, freedom for Eastern Europe, creating an anti-ballistic missile defense shield, siding with Israel versus staying neutral in the Mideast, how to deal with hostages and negotiate with communists and eventually to win the Cold War through peaceful means) all began during Reagan’s first presidential campaign.
Ronald Reagan’s 1968 campaign was a crucial dress rehearsal for his ultimate triumph in 1980. During 1968, Reagan became a world statesman and shaped his crusade to restore pride in America. For Reagan, Ike’s tutelage was critical. Indeed Ronald Reagan now may be seen as one of Dwight Eisenhower’s proteges and his major political heir. This political mentorship changed America’s national priorities through the end of Reagan’s presidency, whose effects still are very much with us today.