- - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE REAGAN ENIGMA: 1964-1980

By Thomas C. Reed

Figueroa Press, $21.95, 176 pages

Tom Reed was trained as an engineer and has an engineer’s orderly mind. Where politics is concerned, it led him to concentrate on organization. In turn, this led to an important role in Ronald Reagan’s first electoral victory, the governorship of California in 1966.

As happened to more than a few Americans, Reagan captured the imagination of Mr. Reed when he saw his 1964 televised speech late in the Goldwater campaign. Mr. Reed saw it from a Pittsburgh hotel room where he was working as an advance man in the campaign. About the speech he writes, it “struck a chord that jolted much of America’s body politic.”

When he returned home, he wrote a letter to Reagan urging him to run for office and offering his help. Reagan put the letter in a file labeled “Worthwhile.” That was at a time when some of Reagan’s friends, who had facilitated the televising of the speech, were talking with him about exploring a run for governor in 1966. These men came to be called the Kitchen Cabinet (although Mr. Reed prefers to call them “The Los Angeles Elders”).

In spring 1965, the successful campaign firm of Spencer-Roberts was hired to pilot Reagan’s campaign. He gave them his “Worthwhile” file and their San Francisco partner called Mr. Reed. He told Mr. Reed to organize Friends of Reagan volunteer committees throughout Northern California. Mr. Reed did so. On primary election day, Reagan carried the region against his rival, George Christopher, former mayor of San Francisco.

During that campaign, Mr. Reed often accompanied Reagan to events in towns in Northern California. After an event, Mr. Reed understood the need for the candidate to “decompress” with an audience of one. Through these occasions he began to understand what made the man tick.

Late in the primary campaign, Mr. Reed decided that the television spots produced by Reagan’s brother’s advertising agency office in Los Angeles would not work. So, he arranged for a local production company to turn out spots he felt worked. Judging from the election results, they did; however, it riled Neil Reagan which, in turn, upset the Kitchen Cabinet and Nancy Reagan. The upshot was that Mr. Reed was not appointed statewide chairman for the November campaign, as he hoped. He soldiered on and Reagan defeated incumbent Pat Brown by nearly 1 million votes.

Mr. Reed professed he had no interest in a job in the new administration; however, sensing that the man the new chief of staff had chosen to handle appointments was not up to the job, he offered to do it for 100 days. He stuck to the timetable and says his actions averted several personnel disasters.

Meanwhile, days after the election, the author decided that Reagan was the man who could defeat Lyndon Johnson’s re-election in 1968. He appointed himself to organize a campaign. A great deal would have to be done in 1967. He had a list of key allies who would be needed: for finance, delegate-gathering, harnessing friendly constituencies. He recruited Spencer-Roberts to provide political strategy.

He then met with Reagan to describe his plan and asked for permission to proceed. Reagan gave it. It is likely that Reagan saw it as an intriguing idea worth exploring. Mr. Reed’s mind was racing ahead to catalog the many details that would have to be organized in order to win the nomination.

Reagan busied himself with the business of governing the state. Mr. Reed’s effort ultimately did not pay off. Reagan agreed to have his name placed in nomination at the last minute and many delegates Mr. Reed thought were lined up went with Nixon. Oddly, he scarcely mentions Nelson Rockefeller, who got the second-largest group of convention votes.

The author then returned to his high-tech business. He reappeared to be chairman of Reagan’s 1970 gubernatorial re-election campaign. In 1973, he was named an assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon. In early 1974 he became a director of telecommunications command and control systems.

His recounting of Reagan’s 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns is fragmentary and drawn almost entirely from secondary sources.

Once in the White House, Reagan gave his National Security Council staff the task of developing the tactics for his objective of bringing the Cold War to a successful conclusion. In early 1982, then-National Security Adviser William Clark invited Mr. Reed to join the NSC staff. He participated in the detailed plans that Reagan adopted.

For readers interested in Ronald Reagan’s political development and initial campaign, this is a useful guide. Its subtitle would have been more apt if it had been “1964-70” since he was not involved with Reagan in the ‘70s.

Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late president for a number years. Of his six books about Ronald Reagan, the most recent is “Reagan’s Roots” (Images from the Past, 2011).

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