Ford, Reagan and Carter - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ford, Reagan and Carter

A 2004 column by Fergus Cullen of the Union Leader, reposted today, asks the time honored question, “What if Reagan had beaten Ford in ‘76?” Cullen’s piece focuses on Reagan’s near-miss in the New Hampshire primary that year, although Reagan rebounded and came very close to taking the nomination from Ford at the convention in Kansas City. Cullen concludes:

“Reagan's defeat in New Hampshire cost him his momentum, but it also meant he did not become the nominee who lost to Carter that fall. Instead, he survived politically to return to New Hampshire and get it right four years later, and what a difference that made.”

Cullen’s automatic assumption that Reagan would have lost to Carter is strange, especially given how close Ford came to defeating Carter while burdened by his Nixon past. As George Will’s column points out, “a change of 12,791 votes in Ohio and Mississippi would have sufficed.” It’s hard to believe that Reagan wouldn’t have found a way to make up that small difference and prevent Carter’s peanut tour.

Getting Reagan four years early would of course have had many benefits. For one, the mental decline that shadowed his second term (clearly the onset of Alzheimer’s, the denials of his retainers notwithstanding) would have been averted if he had been president from 1977 – 1985. For another, the 1979 Iranian revolution likely would have been handled differently. And if one looks at that event as a central one in the rise of political Islamic radicalism, “what a difference” indeed had Reagan defeated Ford.

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