Veterans of the 1976 Reagan presidential campaign will meet this weekend at the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., to reminisce and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s hard-fought primary battle with incumbent President Gerald Ford. While it was a losing effort for Reagan at the time, it has now been aptly dubbed, in hindsight, as the campaign that “started it all.”
In the spring and summer of 1976, Reagan was the standard-bearer of the formative conservative movement at a time when it wasn’t quite yet “cool” to be conservative. It was a time when there were no computers, e-mail, fax machines, cell-phones or cable news. Conservatives held meetings in telephone booths. A presidential primary candidate like Reagan could ask to buy a half-hour of prime-time network television time funded largely out of the pocket of one wealthy donor, and NBC would agree to sell it! Supply-side economics had not yet been born, and most right-leaning liberals had not yet realized how they were being “mugged by reality.”
“We built it, we paid for it, it’s ours and we’re going to keep it!” Reagan would declare to cheering conservatives in his famous oft-repeated refrain about the Panama Canal, signaling his determination to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
That year, Reagan rode his campaign to the Republican convention in Kansas City, where, on the final night after the balloons had cascaded down, a gracious and victorious President Ford asked him to say “a few words.” Those brief words, invoking his thoughts on a drive up to his beloved ranch, are still memorable today to anyone who was there. They literally brought down the house in a way that has rarely been seen in politics before or since.
Indeed, there will be many happy and sad memories for the remaining Reagan ’76ers to celebrate. Some of the prominent names expected to be in attendance include former Reagan hands who played significant roles in the 1976 effort such as Paul Laxalt, Richard Schweicker, Edwin Meese, Peter Hannaford, Martin Anderson, James Lake, Frank Donatelli, Paul Russo and David Fischer, among others.
This weekend’s event is being hosted by Young America’s Foundation, which purchased the Reagan ranch and is restoring it to be exactly as it was when Reagan lived there. Click here for more information.