“And the occasional slip-up, like wearing Gucci loafers at a country fair” so quipped (almost critiqued) Fox News reporter, Carl Cameron, on all-but-declared presidential candidate Fred Thompson’s performance at the recent Iowa State Fair, bought to mind an anecdote from my late friend and former boss, Lyn Nofziger, on Ronald Reagan.
Lyn was Reagan’s longest serving adviser — working for the Gipper from 1965 to 1988 — the beginning to the end. He had many Reagan stories but his favorite campaign anecdote involved him and the then candidate for California governor, Ronald Reagan.
Lyn was his press secretary at the time and it had to do with an incident at Reagan’s ranch.
A woman named Nancy Reynolds, who later became an aide in Reagan’s governor’s office, was a reporter for KPIX, a San Francisco television station. She came to Lyn one day and suggested that it would be a great story if she could interview Reagan while she and Reagan were riding horseback. Lyn agreed. And got Reagan to agree.
So one fine day Lyn and Reagan drove out to Reagan’s ranch. Reagan went into the ranch house to change into riding clothes.
He came out wearing jodhpurs.
Lyn was aghast.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Lyn asked. Very much not exactly happy.
“This is what I always wear when I ride,” Reagan responded.
“Ron,” Lyn said. “We’re trying to win an election. You wear jodhpurs and people will think you’re one of those eastern sissies. I want you to be a westerner, a cowboy. California voters want you to be a cowboy.”
(Jodhpurs are riding britches that connect to shoes. Not exactly cowboy material.)
After further discussion and some grouching on Reagan’s part he reluctantly changed into Levis , put on true cowboy boots, and threw a western saddle on his horse and the horse Miss Reynolds was to ride. Soon after, she arrived with her film crew. And she and Reagan rode off down a dirt road, with the film crew ahead of them in a Jeep shooting the interview, and Lyn trotting behind on foot. (No cowboy was Lyn Nofziger, except perhaps in his great novels.)
And, apparently, the interview turned out to be an awesome hit and a tremendous plus for the gubernatorial campaign.
When Ronald Reagan was elected president, there was fear and trepidation in the eastern liberal establishment and among the souls of Western Europe that the United States had elected a cowboy.
A cowboy in their eyes was a wild man from out West, who rode horses, had a shotgun, and favored nuking Moscow and sundry other bastions of Communism. He was not to be trusted with his finger anywhere near the nuclear button.
And Reagan in their eyes was just such a cowboy. He was, after all, a right-winger from the West and they all had seen him playing a cowboy in the movies. They knew that anyone who rode a horse that well, shot a gun that well, and wore a Stetson titled so rakishly had to be a cowboy.
But they were wrong. Reagan just wasn’t.
With Rudy Giuliani leading the polls, Mitt Romney’s millions chopping at everyone’s heels, and John McCain lurking in the background waiting for someone to falter so he can jaunt back into the spotlight, the former Senator from Tennessee can’t afford to be seen wearing Gucci shoes at the Iowan State Fair.
One cannot help but think that Fred Thompson is wondering just at this moment where was his Lyn Nofziger when he decided to don those expensive Italian slippers.
Thomas Cheplick worked for Lyn Nofziger from 2004 to 2006.