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Helms, ever courtly, thanked me — and off I didn’t walk but ran, darting around people, through the concourse, down escalators and stairs, like a broken-field runner in a pick-up football game. Arriving back at the page holding room, panting like a dog, I tried to explain that I needed a floor pass for a message from Jesse Helms. “Who’s Jesse Helms?” asked the functionary behind the desk. Over-hyped up as only a 16-year-old can be, I decided I didn’t have time for this foolishness. I spied one stray floor pass on the functionary’s desk and, like a petty thief, snatched it and ran, yelling behind me that “I’ll be back!”
Yes, I found my way to the floor; yes, I found Mr. Ellis among the North Carolina delegates; yes, I convinced him that Helms was indeed stuck in the balcony awaiting him; and yes, I hustled Ellis through the crowds and back up to where Helms stood. And I still didn’t know what any of this was about.
Waiting with Helms by that time was Maryland’s Rep. Bob Bauman, then chairman of the American Conservative Union. And, nosey as ever, I stood right close and eavesdropped as, right there in the middle of the concourse, the three conservative leaders discussed whether or not to launch a “Stop Bush” movement. The tentative idea was to call a press conference for the middle of the next morning, blast the choice of Bush, and call on the delegates to reject Bush in favor of another nominee, probably Helms himself. Bush was anathema to Helms because he had campaigned as being pro-choice, because he had called the Reagan tax-cut plan “voodoo economics,” and because, culturally, the patrician Northeasterner Bush could not have been more different from the North Carolina son of a small-town police and fire chief.
At some point as I eavesdropped, somebody scribbling notes asked my name — at which point Helms looked up, saw that I was still there, and thanked me profusely before making clear I was no longer needed. (The scribbler was a reporter for the Detroit News, which ran a front-page story about that Helms-Ellis-Bauman confab in the next day’s late editions.) But I already had a story, a huge story: A fight was a-brewing! A real, honest-to-goodness convention fight!
I DIDN’T KNOW IT at the time, but the fight was not to be. Reagan’s unexpected, ad hoc convention appearance just a few minutes later was a masterful stroke. The Gipper somehow turned a fiasco into a triumph, and made it sound as if the choice of Bush was a logical and even brilliant way to carry the fight to the Democrats in the fall. With the wild and enthusiastic reception Reagan received from the delegates, it would have seemed like bad sportsmanship, surliness, and a direct affront to Reagan for Helms and Company to carry out their plan. Overnight, the idea fizzled, and the Reagan-Bush team went on to victory in the fall over Carter and then victory in the Cold War over the Soviets.
At the time, the whole experience, exciting as it was, soured me on Helms’s judgment. Even if Bush were not the senator’s first choice, I reasoned, it was just bad form, at the very moment that Helms’s dreams of a Reagan-led ticket were coming to fruition, for the North Carolina conservative to be raising a stink.
On the other hand, Laxalt — who was so angry that he left Detroit without even waiting to hear his friend Reagan’s acceptance speech — and Helms were absolutely right that the running mate selection was of vast importance. They were operating on the “Prince of Wales” theory, named after the next-in-line to the British throne, which is that the running mate is the heir apparent for the party’s next nomination. And they turned out to be not just correct but doubly so. Not only did Reagan’s choice create an heir apparent, but that successor bred, literally, a quite apparent heir who inhabits the Oval Office today. For better or worse, then, here we are 28 years after that momentous day in Detroit, still seeing repercussions from Reagan’s choice that would never, could never have happened had Reagan selected Kemp or Laxalt or even Rumsfeld instead.
That’s all the more reason why John McCain should think long-term when he picks his running mate — and why conservatives ought to pressure McCain to choose a Reaganite, one under age 60, to be the newest Republican Prince of Wales. In retrospect, I learned something important from my chance encounters with Laxalt and Helms that night: Vice presidential selections mean a great deal. Without a good one in the hand, you can end up with two Bushes.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online