Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ronald Reagan, 1980 - Will Hartnett

Will Hartnett
Ronald Reagan, 1980

Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States, however his rise to the top of politics was both long and uncommon. Reagan began his career as a movie and television actor, born in 1911, it wasn’t until 1964 when Reagan had his first major political breakthrough, delivering an amazing speech in support of presidential candidate Brian Goldwater.  Soon after he ran for governor of California in 1966 and won. He was not chosen as the Republican Presidential candidate in 1968 or 1976, however in 1980 he was chosen as the Republican candidate with George Bush as his Vice President. He was facing the incumbent Jimmy Carter.
            In 64 BC, Quintus Tullius Cicero wrote a letter to his brother, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was running for Consul. In this letter Quintus outlined how Marcus should go about campaigning in order to win.  Many of the strategies Marcus used in the elections of Ancient Rome can be seen in the Reagan campaign. Quintus outlined the importance of appearing hopeful for the future, adapting ones policies based on the audience, and keeping up ones appearance. All of these can be clearly seen in the Reagan campaign.
            Reagan was able to use the idea of hope for the future in order to secure votes in the election. In his closing statement of the Presidential Debate, Reagan asked the audience a series of questions including “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” and “Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?” and ended by saying “If you don't think that this course that we've been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.” Reagan presents himself as a figure of hope for the future, while convincing voters that Carter represents outdated and unsuccessful policies that led the country to a poor state. Reagan’s ability to portray himself as a symbol of hope is something, which Quintus outlined in his letter Marcus. This convinced voters that if they wanted change, Reagan was the right man for the job, and at a time of minor crisis, with inflation rates very high and President Carter’s approval rating at an all-time low, change was what much of the country was looking for.
            In every election candidates struggle with how to capture the votes of moderates, or people who do not lean strongly to either the right or left wing. While campaigning to become the Republican nominee Reagan came off as very conservative, his view on both fiscal and social issues leaned far right as well as his views on foreign policy. This strategy helped Reagan earn the nomination, however after his nomination, many of Reagans campaign advisors worried he wouldn’t be able to capture moderate votes because of his far right policies. In order to combatant this Reagan chose George Bush as his running mate. Bush was known to have more moderate policies, even calling Reagans views on the economy “voodoo economics”. Quintus Cicero outlined the importance of adjusting ones views based on the audience being spoken too. For Reagan, while campaigning to be the republican candidate, his audience consisted only of conservatives. However once winning the nomination he had to shift his policies to appear more moderate thus pleasing more his new audience, the entire nation.
            During his campaign many questioned Reagans age and the affect it could have on his mindset. He was 69 at the time of his inauguration, thus making him the oldest president ever. In order to combatant the negative effect the appearance of old age would have on him Reagan tried to appear youthful and vibrant. This strategy was most apparent at the Presidential Debate. Reagan was able to deflect Carter's smear attacks while remaining composed. Reagans past as an actor helped him appear youthful and confident, one of his advisors called him “the greatest television candidate in history”.  Cicero’s advice was to put on a show full of color and spectacle that appealed to crowds. Reagan’s performance at the debate was both inspiring and energized, and helped to wipe out concerns about age affecting his performance as president .
In conclusion, Reagan’s ability to appear as a symbol of hope for the future, change his policies based on his audience, and appear youthful and spirited led to a successful campaign that ended in a victory. Reagan won 50.7% of the popular vote, carried 44 states, and earned 489 electoral votes resulting in a landslide victory. 

Reagan During Presidential Debate

Results of Election


American History, s.v. “Ronald Reagan,” accessed October 10, 2012.

American History, s.v. “campaign debates,” accessed October 10, 2012.

 The American Presidency Project. Accessed October 10, 2012.

“Best Reagan Clips from 1980 Carter debate.” YouTube. Video file.

Boller, Paul, Jr. Presidential Campaign. New York, NY: Oxford University, 1984.

Reagan, Ronald. “The Carter-Reagan Presidential Debate.” Speech, October 28, 1980.

Stallings, Melissa. “election of 1980.” In American Government. ABC-CLIO, 2000-. Accessed October 10, 2012.


  1. One thing that stands out to me is Reagan's choice of George Bush as is running mate. In my case study, the 1964 election, the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater refused to sway from his extremist views and couldn't gain any votes from moderates. Reagan makes a stronger effort to gain moderate votes, and that helped him in the election,

  2. Will, by including the part about how Reagan was able to appeal to moderates by choosing George Bush as his running mate you bring up an effective campaign strategy that many candidates use in one way or another. For example, in the election this year, Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan helped to reshape his image because to many people Mitt Romney appears to be out of touch with the American people. Paul Ryan is middle class and is a charismatic speaker who will help Romney appear more humanistic. In past elections, how have candidates who cater heavily to one side tried to mitigate this? Have they changed their policies or chosen moderate running mates?

  3. Did Reagan's career as a movie/television actor impact his campaign at all? Did he have a fan base that voted for him?

  4. In reading these posts, I've found that politicians find success in doing away with some of the policies that were unsuccessful in the previous term. How was Reagan able to draw on the criticisms of Jimmy Carter's presidency in his own campaign?

  5. I think that this enforces what we studied in the 1960 debate between Kennedy and Nixon, which is that televised appearances do have an effect on how well the candidate does. These debates must have helped Reagan, as he was known to be a suave, charismatic debater, and helped to dispel any notion that he was too old for the job. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush also appeared confident and charismatic on television, in contrast to Gore's strained appearance. I think that if anything, Cicero's advice about putting on a good show is more relevant now that candidates appear on television and can be seen easily by many Americans.