Ben Barnes’ Reagan Baloney - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ben Barnes’ Reagan Baloney

Eye-rollingly typical of the Left.

Over there — where else but in the New York Times?was this headline:

A Four-Decade Secret: One Man’s Story of Sabotaging Carter’s Re-election

A prominent Texas politician said he unwittingly took part in a 1980 tour of the Middle East with a clandestine agenda.

The essence: The 1980 Reagan campaign sent former 1980 GOP rival — former Texas Gov. and Nixon-era Secretary of the Treasury John Connally — on a mission to the Middle East to prevent the release of the 52 Americans being held hostage by Islamic radical students at the American Embassy in Iran. Why? The idea was to prevent the release before the 1980 election between Reagan and then-President Jimmy Carter. The reason: A hostage release before the election would supposedly make Carter look good — and win him reelection.

To be blunt? What bunk. Make that debunked bunk.

Over there at Breitbart, my old Reagan 1984 campaign colleague Jim Pinkerton has expertly debunked the story. Among other things, Jim notes the following of the story’s source, former Texas Democrat Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes:

For instance, [the Times story] mentions that his 1972 campaign for governor of Texas would “fall short.” Well, yes, Barnes did lose the Democratic gubernatorial primary, badly, coming in third with less than 18 percent of the vote. But what’s not mentioned is that the previous year, 1971, he had been embroiled in an epic scandal in Texas that left him deeply implicated, if not formally accused.

The scandal that took Barnes out was that of the Sharpstown stock fraud. 

Jim goes on: 

Now we can note some immediate concerns about the truth of Barnes’ tale. Connally was talking to Arabs, not Iranians—and the two ethnicities have often been at war. Moreover, the Arabs he was talking to were Sunni, and the Iranians were Shia—and the two denominations within Islam have also often been in conflict. Indeed, it was around this time that the Sunni Arab regime in Iraq launched an all-out war against the Shia regime of Iran. So, the idea that Connally would be talking to Arab Sunnis about possible American policies and that it would get passed along, in a straight way, to Iranian Shias seems highly implausible.

The newspaper did concede that Barnes has no proof of any his substantive claims, nor any real evidence: “confirming Mr. Barnes’ account is problematic after so much time.” But it was not so problematic as to stop the Times from printing it! On the other hand, Barnes has told others over the years about the purported real purpose of the trip; there was a brief mention of the allegation in a 2015 book by respected historian H.W. Brands, although it drew little attention.

The Times puts great stock in the apparent fact that Connally met with Reagan’s 1980 campaign manager, William Casey, at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Although interestingly, that meeting was on or about September 10, 1980, which made it a full month after Connally returned to the U.S. from his trip. It seems reasonable to surmise that if Connally had something “hot”—and if Casey were really interested in hearing all about it—that the meeting would have happened much sooner.

Exactly. To which I would add the following.

In 1980, I was a senior staffer for Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. And Shuster was the Pennsylvania chair of, yes indeed, the “Connally for President” campaign. He and the governor were in frequent contact, and Connally campaign info was shared with myself and my Shuster colleagues who were involved in the campaign.

At no time — ever — was such lunacy passed on to Shuster. And if it were, Shuster, patriot that he is, would never have been silent about it.

And one other thing?

The 1980 election wasn’t even close. Reagan won the popular election by almost 10 percent. He carried 44 states for 489 electoral votes. And there was infinitely more in terms of issues than the hostages. The economy was a mess, with inflation roaring. The price of gas had not only soared; gas lines where one had to wait endlessly were routine.

Not long ago — 2021 — no less than the Washington Post ran an article headlined this way:

Long lines, high prices and fisticuffs: The 1970s gas shortages fueled bedlam in America

The article said this:

The line of cars stretches for blocks. Pumps run dry. Newspapers warn of a great “gas crunch.” The president urges calm. Panicked motorists turn on one another….

Gas prices surged. Federal officials reduced the national speed limit to 55 mph. Gas stations flew a stoplight-themed array of flags to alert drivers about their fuel supplies. Red meant they were all out, yellow meant running low and green signaled they were stocked. One man, judging the system to be “un-American,” burned the flags with acid.

Some drivers ventured out before sunrise to fill up. States instituted a rationing system based on car license plates — if you had an even number, you could only get gas on an even-numbered day.

At least one man was arrested for pulling a gun on a gas station attendant who refused to fill his car because it was the wrong day. Cars encircled city blocks as people waited more than an hour for their turn at the pump. A Washington Post headline on the front page of the June 9, 1979, newspaper announced: “Gas Lines Long, Tempers Short in Panic Buying.” The article noted “occasional fistfights” and described one kerfuffle along the District’s Connecticut Avenue, where two motorists cut in line at a BP station.

“According to witnesses, one of the culprits pulled in front of a ‘very heavyset man’ who angrily jumped from his car, opened the door of the line-jumper ‘and began to curse royally,” Post reporters wrote.

“Only the driver’s white hair may have saved him from the violence,” a bystander told them.

In short? Americans en masse were seriously unhappy with Carter — for reasons vividly illustrated by the Post. And they vented that displeasure in the 1980 November election. In fact, the hostage crisis was merely an additive — not the cause — of the belief that Carter was a wildly ineffectual president.

All of which is to say that Reagan would never have allowed such behavior from his campaign. As someone who worked both in his reelection campaign and in his White House, this was a man of immense patriotism and humanity.

In fact, after he became president, more American hostages would be taken, this time by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. By then I was working for him in the White House. It was abundantly clear that he was deeply concerned about the well-being of those hostages. PBS reported that this way, bold print for emphasis supplied:

In 1985, while Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States. (Reagan National Security advisor Bud) McFarlane sought Reagan’s approval, in spite of the embargo against selling arms to Iran. McFarlane explained that the sale of arms would not only improve U.S. relations with Iran, but might in turn lead to improved relations with Lebanon, increasing U.S. influence in the troubled Middle East. Reagan was driven by a different obsession. He had become frustrated at his inability to secure the release of the seven American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. As president, Reagan felt that “he had the duty to bring those Americans home,” and he convinced himself that he was not negotiating with terrorists. While shipping arms to Iran violated the embargo, dealing with terrorists violated Reagan’s campaign promise never to do so. Reagan had always been admired for his honesty.

This led, of course, to what became known as the “Iran-Contra scandal” — the trading of arms for hostages. All of which is to say, that whether he was candidate Reagan in 1980 or President Reagan in 1985, Ronald Reagan was first, last, and always concerned about the well-being and freedom of American hostages — period. There is zero chance that he ever would let hostages languish in captivity for political purposes, least of all his own election. In fact, he risked his presidency to get those American hostages released.

So what’s really going on here?

What’s really going on, as Jim Pinkerton notes, is the leftist media using this much-debunked conspiracy theory to disparage Reagan — and yes, imply that Trump is just one more unethical Republican president following a pattern set by Ronald Reagan.

It’s all bunk. As mentioned, it is debunked bunk.

But hey. For the conspiracy theory-driven leftist media — who cares?

The goal, of course, is to get Trump. And if a 1980 debunked conspiracy theory about Ronald Reagan will help, then use it.

Of course.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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