Old political canards never die, and never seem to fade away. Take “He didn’t do enough,” a vintage 1976 charge that Ronald Reagan didn’t give enough support to then-President Gerald Ford in his fall campaign against Jimmy Carter.
On Fox’s “The Beltway Boys” recently, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke were amusing themselves over Bill Clinton’s “campaigning” for Barack Obama. They cited Clinton’s statement to the press when Obama visited him for lunch: “He’s going to win handily” (thereby raising the bar when Obama’s poll numbers were dropping). They also chuckled over Clinton’s public utterances of admiration about Sarah Palin.
Kondracke then spoke about the principle of “teamwork” in which all party leaders are expected to work together for their ticket. The implication was that Clinton was honoring this in the breach and cited as a historical example, “Remember Reagan in 1976.” Thus, he renewed a canard cooked up by some of Ford’s aides that Ronald Reagan “hadn’t done enough” to help the GOP ticket that November.
When, on August 20, Michael Deaver and I returned with the Reagans from the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, we went to work on setting up Mr. Reagan’s fall schedule (he was a client of our firm and his office was inside our suite). Mike said he had asked the Ford campaign to give him their Reagan requests within three weeks because our office was being deluged with requests for appearances and television spots from Republican candidates for Congress and other offices.
Mike said, “I’m worried that the Ford people won’t get their requests in on time, that we’ll have to go ahead with our scheduling, and that they’ll come to us at the last minute with a handful of emergencies.” He was right as it turned out.
Reagan campaigned in 25 states for the Republican ticket, but the Ford campaign made few specific requests until near the end of the campaign when they wanted him in a place he could not get to one day without scrubbing several long-promised campaign appearances for other candidates.
At the request of the Republican National Committee, Reagan taped a number of television appearances on behalf of the Ford-Dole ticket: a half-hour speech, a five-minute speech and several spots. He also did, in one session, television spots for several dozen Republican candidates, several of whom came to the studio that day to appear on camera with Reagan.
About two weeks before the end of the campaign I was surprised to see a newspaper story in which a Ford campaign aide was quoted as saying Reagan hadn’t “done enough” for the Ford-Dole ticket and strongly implying that if Ford lost it would be Reagan’s fault. Mike called Stu Spencer on the Ford campaign to ask him to stop aides from spreading such stories, but the damage had been done. The canard was been metabolized by the media.
History will decide whether Bill Clinton’s various statements and actions will have added up to counter-campaigning for Barack Obama. One thing I know for sure: Back in 1976, Ronald Reagan did plenty for his party’s ticket and he did it willingly and with the earnestness for which he was famous.