The Spectacle Blog

Reagan’s Crossover Democrats

By on 2.28.12 | 12:55PM

Some people are in a tizzy because Michigan is one of the many states that allows "crossover" voting in the presidential primaries, meaning that anybody can vote in either party's primaries (but not both), despite earlier voting pattens (or registration).

I've always been for "crossover" voting in presidential primaries. Why? Because without crossover Democratic votes, Ronald Reagan never would have become president. 

It is irrefutable that if Reagan had bombed out of the presidential primaries in 1976, he would have had no chance in 1980. In 1976, though, he lost the first six contests, sprung an upset in North Carolina, and then lost two more contests. So he had lost eight out of nine, and the last one before Texas was a 93-5 wipeout loss in Pennsylvania. He was dead in the water. Then came Texas. Reagan won a huge victory in Texas, 66%-33%, largely via an immense crossover vote from Texas Democrats. He won all 100 delegates from the state, completely jump-starting his campaign and going on to win a long series of primaries. Conservative U.S. Sen. John Tower of texas,was a Ford man that year, and he complained bitterly that the Reagan win was due to the Dems.

In a number of other primaries in addition to Texas, Reagan did the same thing, either winning due to Democratic crossovers or keeping it close due to the Dems.

Ford moaned a lot about it, but Reagan repeatedly put up stirring defenses for allowing everybody to vote for whomever they wanted. He said that the GOP candidate would need Dems and independents to vote GOP to win the fall campaign anywya, so why not appeal to them in the primaries, too?

Reagan won the argument, and only some last-minute vote-renting (of the legal kind) by the Ford White House kept Reagan from winning the nomination at the 1976 convention. But that clsoe call set him up for his triumphant campaign in 1980.

Without the crossover Dems, the entire country would have been much worse off.

Crossover voting is good. And candidates who try to appeal to "Reagan Democrats" should be encouraged and applauded.

UPDATE: Acclaimed Reagan campaign biographer (and good friend of The American Spectator) Craig Shirley sends this message: 

The crossover vote kept Reagan in the race quite simply. From the time of his announcement in November of 1975 to
his closing remarks in KC after losing the nomination, Reagan made continuous appeals to Democratic voters.

The Ford campaign (and later the Bush campaign) bitched about it but Reagan Democrats kept Reagan in the race in 1976
and help him win the nomination in 1980.

...

The emergence of the Reagan Democrat came into sharp relief in the 1980 Wisconsin primary where Frank Donatelli made
sure of the inclusion of culturally conservative voters in the Reagan campaign appeals there.

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