Ronald Reagan, one of the most popular U.S. presidents of the 20th century, transformed politics and government while ensuring that the United States would win the Cold War.
His death on Saturday at 93 stirred the nation’s memories of the White House in the 1980s — of eight years in which Mr. Reagan restored the power of the presidency, cut taxes and nurtured prosperity, strengthened the military and made unabashed patriotism fashionable again.
Mr. Reagan’s steely opposition to the Soviet Union — in a 1983 speech, he described it as an “evil empire” — is widely credited with ensuring the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe. In a 1982 speech to the British Parliament, he vowed that “the march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history.”
Standing in front of the Soviet-built barricade dividing Berlin, Mr. Reagan in June 1987 called upon Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to end communist repression: “Open this gate, Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall.”
In November 1989, 10 months after Mr. Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall — a symbol of communist tyranny for nearly three decades — was dismantled. The Soviet Union soon collapsed. A piece of the Berlin Wall went on display in Mr. Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Elected president in 1980 at a time of economic stagnation and foreign-policy crisis, Mr. Reagan restored confidence in government and made his brand of optimistic conservatism a major force in American political life.
‘Are you better off?’
For many, the nation’s 40th president personified the American dream.
Rising from a poor Midwestern family to movie stardom on his talent and good looks, Ronald Wilson Reagan made a successful leap to politics in 1966 when he was elected governor of California.
Fourteen years later, Mr. Reagan won the nation’s highest office, defeating the incumbent Democrat, President Carter, with 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
He won re-election in 1984 in a landslide, carrying an unprecedented 49 of the 50 states and nearly winning the 50th: He lost Democratic challenger Walter F. Mondale’s home state of Minnesota by only 3,761 votes.
Dubbed the “Great Communicator” by campaign strategist Stuart Spencer in 1980, Mr. Reagan was known for his ability to frame a complex problem in simple terms and then offer an equally simple solution.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Mr. Reagan asked voters in 1980, near the end of his campaign to unseat Mr. Carter.
“Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong, as we were four years ago?”
In five brief questions, the candidate had laid out the priorities of his future presidency.
Mr. Reagan took office in 1981 at 69, making him the nation’s oldest president.
He always cut a rugged, hardy figure, though: He was fond of horseback riding and brush-clearing on his California ranch. He survived a bullet wound in the chest in an assassination attempt three months after taking office. He recovered quickly after bouts with colon and skin cancer in his second term.
Those close to Mr. Reagan said his wife since 1952, Nancy, was the most important influence on him. She was his political confidante and sounding board, the one whose opinion he valued most.
The Reagans had two children, Patti and Ron. Mr. Reagan’s first marriage, to actress Jane Wyman, produced daughter Maureen and adopted son Michael.
Keeping it simple
With a homey personal style, Mr. Reagan espoused a simple conservative philosophy. But his greatest legislative victories usually were won only after compromise had quieted, if not pleased, his opponents.
His primary domestic achievements were economic. He cut taxes and spearheaded the fight to revamp the federal tax code. His policies helped revive a U.S. economy that had been in the grip of a deep recession when he took office.
Mr. Reagan’s foreign policy centered on ending communist aggression in Nicaragua, Afghanistan and other trouble spots. At the same time, he sought an arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union.
Although the president’s policies weren’t always popular, his job-approval ratings soared as America enjoyed prosperity at home and renewed prestige abroad. By the time he left office in January 1989, 68 percent of the American public in a Gallup poll approved of the job he was doing.
The late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Mr. Reagan’s most formidable opponent on Capitol Hill, described the president this way: “Away from politics, he’s a charmer.”
Even Mr. Gorbachev succumbed to the president’s affable nature when the two met in Geneva in November 1985. The Soviet leader, to the dismay of Kremlin associates, seemed to fall into a “Reagan-style” get-acquainted summit rather than one leading to concrete results.
The president was an inveterate storyteller; his repertoire of anecdotes and jokes ranged from Soviet repression to his advancing age.
“If I’m ever in need of any transplants,” Mr. Reagan said in 1986, “I’ve got parts they don’t make any more.”
After being shot by would-be assassin John W. Hinckley Jr. outside the Washington Hilton in March 1981, the new president joked with surgeons: “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
The Reagan Revolution
In the 1980 campaign, Mr. Reagan outmatched Mr. Carter, who was humiliated by his inability to free 52 Americans held hostage for more than a year at the seized U.S. Embassy in Iran. Throughout the race, the former governor of Georgia tried to portray his Republican challenger as mean-spirited and dangerous.
But Mr. Reagan’s poise under fire was apparent in a debate one week before Election Day, when he famously responded to repeated criticisms from Mr. Carter by saying, “There you go again.”
Mr. Reagan won 51 percent of the popular vote on Nov. 4, 1980, to Mr. Carter’s 41 percent, with most of the rest going to independent candidate John Anderson. He collected 489 votes in the Electoral College to the incumbent’s 49. The Reagan landslide also gave Republicans control of the Senate and eroded but did not topple the Democratic majority in the House.
Mr. Reagan arrived in the White House promising to curtail what he described as out-of-control federal spending and cumbersome government regulation. He said he would beat back double-digit inflation and unemployment rates.
It was time, the president said in his inauguration address, “to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means and to lighten our punitive tax burden.”
His economic plan — dubbed “Reaganomics” by detractors — was broadly based on cutting taxes, deregulating private enterprise and creating incentives for savings and investment.
By late 1982, the national recession was ending. Much of the strong recovery over the next several years was attributed to his policies.
In 1981, Mr. Reagan won the largest tax cut in U.S. history from Congress. He was not so successful in securing deep reductions in social programs, but his arguments against government bloat began to take hold.
Three years later, Mr. Reagan won re-election by an even larger margin over Mr. Mondale, who was vice president in the Carter years. Mr. Reagan ran away with 58 percent of the popular vote and a record electoral vote of 525.
‘Make my day’
By his second term, Mr. Reagan — and a record-high federal deficit — had forced a new sense of self-restraint in Congress. One result was the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law.
Insisting that Americans preferred less government to more taxes, Mr. Reagan resisted congressional attempts to raise taxes, despite a deficit exceeding $200 billion by 1986.
“Go ahead, make my day,” the president baited Congress, borrowing a line from his actor-friend Clint Eastwood in the film “Sudden Impact” to threaten a veto of any tax increase that crossed his desk.
He also fought for higher defense budgets, helping boost the morale of America’s armed forces. Most controversial was Mr. Reagan’s advocacy of a space-based defense against nuclear missiles, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which he introduced in 1983.
Though derided as “star wars” by critics, SDI “helped accelerate the demise of the Soviet Union,” said Baker Spring, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation. That collapse in 1991, in turn, helped Americans reap a “peace dividend” made possible by reductions in Cold War defense spending.
Faced with entrenched opposition from Congress, Mr. Reagan had to abandon many of his most ambitious political goals, such as shifting the costs of social services to the states in a plan he called “the New Federalism.”
By the second term, he had stopped trying to abolish the Energy and Education departments, which he saw as symbols of an outsized federal bureaucracy, but were defended zealously by special-interest groups.
Other goals high on the conservative agenda, such as outlawing abortion and allowing school prayer, fell by the wayside as more pressing items crowded the president’s schedule and the Democrats recaptured the Senate in 1986.
Tax reform was the chief domestic priority of Mr. Reagan’s second term.
He crisscrossed the country calling for a simpler and fairer federal tax code that eliminated most of the loopholes favoring the wealthy. He wanted higher personal exemptions, fewer income-tax brackets and fewer corporate-tax breaks. The bottom line, he said, would be lower taxes for most Americans and a system in which everyone paid only their “fair share.”
In 1986, Congress passed a package that reduced the number of personal income-tax brackets from 14 to two — 15 percent and 28 percent. It cut the top corporate-tax rate from 46 percent to 34 percent.
The package also addressed the public’s long-standing complaints about “bracket creep” — the effect of inflation putting taxpayers into increasingly higher brackets. The personal exemption jumped from $1,080 to $2,000, to be adjusted annually according to the rate of inflation.
The benefits of the Reagan tax cuts still were being celebrated more than a decade later, as the U.S. economy continued expanding at record rates.
“Ronald Reagan … is the man most responsible for America’s economic restoration,” said Dinesh D’Souza, author of a Reagan biography.
Standing his ground
Although most Americans benefited from the booming economy, cheap foreign imports hurt workers in textile, automobile and other industries. But Mr. Reagan adamantly opposed mounting demands for protectionist legislation in Congress, walking a political tightrope in favor of his free-enterprise philosophies.
Farmers in loan crunches also suffered despite the recovery. The president, however, refused, in the name of budgetary restraint, to approve massive bailout plans.
He was under constant fire from welfare advocates, whose programs were targeted for deep cuts. He rebutted critics by insisting that he was trying to narrowly focus limited aid on the “truly needy.”
Mr. Reagan’s civil rights policies angered black leaders. He staunchly opposed court-ordered school busing and minority hiring quotas. His attempt to narrow the test of racial discrimination in the Voting Rights Act found no support in Congress.
When the administration tried to restore tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, which barred interracial dating among students, the Supreme Court — in an embarrassing rebuff to the White House — ruled that the exemption should be denied
Mr. Reagan refused to impose economic sanctions on racially segregated South Africa, arguing that economic sanctions would hurt, rather than help, South African blacks living under the oppressive apartheid regime.
The ‘evil empire’
Mr. Reagan made no secret of his distaste for communism and his Soviet counterparts.
“Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state … and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world,” he said in March 1983.
U.S.-Soviet arms-control talks in Geneva produced little as the two superpowers faced off over deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces in European NATO nations. Soviet negotiators walked out in November 1983, with the first shipment of U.S. cruise missiles to Europe.
In rebuilding U.S. military might, the president faced tremendous opposition, drawing protests here and in Europe. While he deployed new weapons systems against the Soviets, political opponents — including Catholic bishops at home — led protests calling for a “nuclear freeze.”
Three successive Soviet leaders died during his first four years in office, dashing hopes of a U.S.-Soviet summit. After the relatively youthful Mr. Gorbachev came to power early in 1985, however, plans were quickly laid that resulted in the November meeting of the two leaders in Geneva.
Their two-day summit in October 1986 in Reykjavik, Iceland, proved to be a turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations. The summit initially was viewed as a failure because the two leaders deadlocked over SDI. Despite Soviet insistence and opposition from liberals at home, Mr. Reagan had refused to give up research.
To the president, a system that would destroy missiles before they reached U.S. targets was a more practical, moral option than “mutually assured destruction,” the long-held policy of nuclear deterrence.
In the face of his firmness, the Soviets agreed in December 1987 to sign the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, under which both sides committed to eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons. The Senate ratified the treaty six months later, just before the final Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow in May 1988.
With the economy back on track, Mr. Reagan turned his attention more fully to his foreign agenda in the second half of his first term.
Mr. Reagan put special emphasis on Central America, encouraging budding democracies and fighting communism in the region under a policy that Time columnist Charles Krauthammer dubbed “the Reagan Doctrine.”
In April 1983, the president focused national attention on the political struggles in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He called a special joint session of Congress to plead for $600 million in aid for Central America to resist the spread of Soviet- and Cuban-supported communist regimes.
“The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America,” Mr. Reagan said, but promised not to send any U.S. troops there. He later described the rebels opposed to Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime as “freedom fighters” and compared them to America’s Founding Fathers.
When Congress learned early in 1984 that the Central Intelligence Agency had mined harbors in Nicaragua, it rebuked the president by banning CIA involvement in the war and restricting military aid. Only after the Sandinista regime became more repressive —and its links to Moscow obvious — did the lawmakers agree to restore military aid to the Contras in 1986.
‘Just in time’
The president’s concern over communism in the Western Hemisphere was demonstrated dramatically in late October 1983. He ordered a surprise invasion of Grenada, a tiny Caribbean island nation that he said was being readied as a Soviet-Cuban base.
“We got there just in time,” Mr. Reagan said after U.S. forces quickly routed Grenada’s Marxist regime.
The summer and fall of 1983 were dominated by a rapid-fire series of events that underscored increasingly icy relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The vehemence of anti-American feelings in the Middle East also became clear.
On Sept. 1, 1983, Soviet troops shot down a civilian South Korean jet en route from New York to Seoul after it strayed into Soviet airspace over the East Sea/Sea of Japan, killing 269 passengers, 61 of them Americans, including Rep. Larry McDonald, a conservative Georgia Democrat.
Mr. Reagan called the incident a “barbaric act,” but refused to satisfy the demands of supporters who called for retaliation.
“It would be easy to think in terms of vengeance, but that is not a proper response,” he said. “We want justice and action to see that this never happens again.”
On Oct. 23 in Beirut, terrorists on a suicide mission drove an explosive-laden truck into a U.S. Marines barracks, killing 241 servicemen who were part of a multinational peacekeeping force.
Mr. Reagan accepted the blame, but again his policy was one of restraint.
He never was able to reinitiate peace talks in the Middle East, where continuing violence was brought home to Americans in the form of terrorism, which haunted the Reagan presidency from its onset.
“Let terrorists be aware that when the rules of international behavior are violated, our policy will be one of swift and effective retribution,” Mr. Reagan said a week after taking office in 1981, welcoming home the 52 American hostages held captive for 444 days in Iran.
But as more American civilians fell victim to brutal hijackings and other terrorist attacks, Mr. Reagan expressed growing frustration over his inability to strike back without harming bystanders.
After a series of incidents in 1985, the president hinted that retaliation was imminent, warning terrorists, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Singling out Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi as a kingpin, the president on April 15, 1986, ordered air strikes on five terrorist-linked targets in Libya.
Foreign policy also was the origin of the administration’s biggest scandal, a complex affair that became known as Iran-Contra.
Seeking the release of Americans held hostage by terrorists in Lebanon, Mr. Reagan in 1985 approved a scheme to sell missiles and other weapons to Iran, in return for which Iran intervened to secure release of the hostages.
Proceeds from the arms sales to Iran were used to assist the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. This violated the congressional ban on such aid, although it never was established that Mr. Reagan knew of the details.
The American public first learned of the arms sales to Iran in November 1986 after a report in a Syrian newspaper. The president denied U.S. involvement, then ordered Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III to investigate.
The probe discovered a memo by a national security aide, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, detailing plans to use the proceeds to help the Contras. Col. North was fired, and the National Security Council chief, Adm. John Poindexter, was forced to resign.
A congressional investigation made a hero of Col. North, who testified in his medal-covered uniform. An independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, was appointed to investigate the scandal and did so for several years. Mr. Walsh’s convictions of Col. North and Adm. Poindexter were overturned on appeal; in 1992, President Bush pardoned other officials implicated.
The scandal drove Mr. Reagan’s approval ratings as low as 43 percent in March 1987. But the public lost interest as the investigations dragged on, and Iran-Contra did little lasting damage to his popularity or reputation.
A high-level official once described the inner workings of the Reagan White House as “Cabinet government with a vengeance.”
The president encouraged aides to fight out conflicting views on everything from affirmative action to space shuttles. But once debate was exhausted, he made the final call.
“I’m not being pushed around,” Mr. Reagan said, when asked whether aides were taking him in directions he didn’t want to go. “I’m being given what I have asked for, which is every option, every shade of thinking on issues, and then I make the decisions.”
Three top officials shared power and knowledge in the first term: presidential counselor Mr. Meese, White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III and Mr. Baker’s deputy, Michael A. Deaver.
The troika dissolved early in the second term. Mr. Meese became attorney general, Mr. Baker swapped jobs with Treasury Secretary Donald A. Regan and Mr. Deaver left to open a high-powered lobbying firm.
Mr. Reagan became known as the “Teflon president,” because opponents’ charges and complaints didn’t seem to stick.
Observers were certain they had found the chink in Mr. Reagan’s Teflon armor in 1985, when the president insisted on laying a wreath at a West German cemetery at Bitburg even after he learned that some of Adolf Hitler’s elite Nazi Waffen SS troops were buried there.
But the president turned a political nightmare into a triumph by speaking eloquently of the horrors of the Nazi reign and the importance of healing old wounds with Germany.
Mr. Reagan extricated himself from other difficult situations. Aides who believed in his instincts stepped out of the way to “let Reagan be Reagan,” though that was sometimes risky.
In August 1984, during an audio check for his weekly radio address Mr. Reagan shocked onlookers by joking unknowingly into an open microphone: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
Mr. Reagan’s first administration was still young when the public again was rocked by the unthinkable: On the afternoon of March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton, the president was shot at close range by a 25-year-old drifter named John W. Hinckley Jr. The bullet pierced his chest and lodged in his left lung.
Secret Service agents shoved Mr. Reagan into his limousine and sped to George Washington University Hospital, 12 blocks away.
The would-be assassin also put a bullet in the brain of White House press secretary James Brady. A Secret Service agent and a D.C. police officer also were wounded.
(Hinckley’s obsession with actress Jodie Foster apparently prompted him to shoot Mr. Reagan. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital.)
Surgeons operated on the president throughout the rainy afternoon. Mr. Reagan’s recovery was remarkable for a 70-year-old man. He later survived two different surgeries for cancer.
In July 1985, doctors at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda discovered a cancerous polyp in Mr. Reagan’s large intestine. In a three-hour operation, surgeons removed a two-foot section of his colon and described his recovery as “spectacular.”
Soon after, doctors found a cancerous growth, a basal-cell carcinoma, on his nose. The White House did not reveal its discovery and removal until several days later.
His parents’ son
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in a rented flat above a general store in Tampico, Ill. He was the second son of John Edward Reagan, of Irish-Catholic immigrant stock who worked in the store, and Nelle Reagan, a Scottish-English Protestant.
His father, on seeing his infant son for the first time, commented: “For such a little bit of a fat Dutchman, he makes a hell of a lot of noise, doesn’t he?” The nickname “Dutch” stuck.
Older brother John Neil was baptized a Catholic, but young Ronald was brought up as a Protestant in his mother’s Disciples of Christ denomination. His father, an alcoholic, dreamed of owning a shoe store, but never even owned his home until late in life.
“I was 11 years old the first time I came home to find my father flat on his back on the front porch, and no one dared to lend a hand but me,” Mr. Reagan wrote in his 1965 autobiography. “He was drunk, dead to the world. … I got a fist full of overcoat. Opening the door, I managed to drag him inside and get him to bed. In a few days he was the bluff, hearty man I knew and loved and will always remember.”
Mr. Reagan’s mother provided the family with an example of religious faith. She also loved the theater and gave readings for prisoners.
Road to Hollywood
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit the family hard. The president’s father lost his share in a shoe store and later a job as a traveling salesman.
Son Ronald played football and basketball and ran track while attending high school in Dixon, Ill., and Eureka College. He was elected president of the college’s student body, joined the student drama society and, in 1932, received a degree in economics and sociology.
Mr. Reagan’s first job was as a sports broadcaster, first at WOC radio in Davenport, Iowa, then at powerful WHO in Des Moines, where he became the voice of the Chicago Cubs throughout the Midwest.
During the Cubs’ spring training in 1937 near Los Angeles, an agent for the Warner Bros. movie studio persuaded Mr. Reagan to take a screen test. When he returned to Iowa, a seven-year contract was waiting.
His acting career got off to a quick start. The part that secured his stardom was that of Notre Dame football player George Gipp in “Knute Rockne — All American” (1940).
Mr. Reagan earned 53 film credits in a 27-year career in Hollywood, many of them so-called “B movies” but including the critical triumph “Kings Row” in 1942.
In “Kings Row,” he played a man who awakes from surgery and discovers that both his legs have been amputated by a sadistic physician. The stunned man asks from his bed, “Where’s the rest of me?” The famous line became the title of his autobiography.
By Mr. Reagan’s own estimation, he was “the Errol Flynn of the Bs.” Other films included “Bedtime for Bonzo” (1951) and “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957) — co-starring Nancy Davis, who became his wife.
In 1938, Mr. Reagan was appointed to the board of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
World War II interrupted both his movie career and his work with the guild. When nearsightedness disqualified him for combat duty, he was assigned to make training films. After the war, he began a metamorphosis from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican.
“I was a near-hopeless hemophiliac liberal. I bled for ‘causes,’ ” he recounted in his biography.
The change began during Mr. Reagan’s 1947-52 term as president of SAG, when he opposed communist subversion of the motion-picture industry.
“I was truly so naive I thought the nearest communists were fighting in Stalingrad,” he said.
For about a year after the war, Mr. Reagan made rousing speeches against neo-fascism.
One evening in 1946, Mr. Reagan recalled, a minister approached him after a speech and asked if, while denouncing fascism, he also might denounce communism. Mr. Reagan agreed.
“I wrote a new last paragraph to my speech,” he said. “In a 40-minute talk, I got riotous applause more than 20 times. Then I denounced communism. The silence was ghastly.”
While on the guild’s board, Mr. Reagan said, he learned of a communist conspiracy to take over Hollywood unions and turn films into propaganda “to soften the American public’s hardening attitude toward communism.”
He began “to see the seamy side of liberalism,” he wrote, and waged what he called a battle of “rewards and sacrifices.”
“By the time it was over,” he wrote, “I was president of the Screen Actors Guild — and I had lost my wife.” He and Miss Wyman never discussed their divorce publicly.
‘Last best hope’
From 1952 to 1962, Mr. Reagan was host and performer on a dramatic television series, “General Electric Theater.”
He also went on tour for General Electric, making speeches about free enterprise to thousands of the company’s employees. He warned of “our eroding freedoms.”
In 1962, he became a Republican and in October 1964 made a nationally televised, half-hour speech on behalf of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican nominee for president.
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” Mr. Reagan told Americans, as he denounced an entrenched federal bureaucracy and assailed communist imperialism. “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.”
Although Mr. Goldwater lost overwhelmingly to incumbent President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Mr. Reagan’s speech earned him a devoted following among Republican conservatives. “The Speech,” as it became known, is still popular as a video shown at party gatherings.
In 1965, Mr. Reagan was urged to run for governor of California by businessmen Henry Salvatori and Holmes Tuttle. Mr. Reagan at first resisted, but in September 1965, he agreed. He went on to trounce incumbent Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown by almost a million votes in November 1966.
Raising his sights
During his eight years in Sacramento, Mr. Reagan preached a hard line against student radicals. He restrained the growth of state government and raised taxes to rid California of a deficit. He reformed both the tax structure and the welfare system, cutting the number of recipients while increasing payments to families with children.
His first presidential bid came at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. But by the time he had deployed his forces, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon was well on his way to capturing the nomination.
After a second term as California governor, Mr. Reagan was an attractive candidate in 1976. Mr. Nixon had resigned in the Watergate scandal, but there was an incumbent Republican president to face: President Ford.
Mr. Ford, who used the power of his office to secure uncommitted delegates, proved tougher than expected. Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan’s choice of Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as a running mate angered Southern conservatives. After losing this second try for the nomination, Mr. Reagan began planning for 1980. He resumed writing a syndicated newspaper column, spoke out on conservative themes and waited while Mr. Carter, who defeated Mr. Ford, presided over an inflation-ridden economy and a foundering foreign policy.
In 1977, Mr. Reagan denounced the Panama Canal Treaty, which conservatives called a Carter giveaway. In 1978, he campaigned for Republican candidates. In 1979, he set up an exploratory committee for a possible run for president.
A defining moment
Most of Mr. Reagan’s 1976 team was back in 1980, but rival George Bush won the caucuses in Iowa and was gaining momentum.
A Reagan-Bush debate in New Hampshire proved to be a turning point. Mr. Bush arrived hoping for a one-on-one confrontation, but found that four other Republican candidates — among them Sen. Bob Dole and Rep. John Anderson — had shown up uninvited.
When Mr. Bush protested their inclusion, Mr. Reagan drew applause by declaring his belief in free speech.
“Will someone turn off Governor Reagan’s microphone?” asked Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph editor Jon Breen, the moderator.
Mr. Reagan, whose campaign underwrote the debate, grabbed the microphone and paraphrased a line from an old Spencer Tracy movie: “I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green.”
Although he got the name wrong, Mr. Reagan rolled up 50 percent of the vote in New Hampshire to Mr. Bush’s 23 percent. By July 1980, he was the party’s clear choice and tapped Mr. Bush as his running mate. After soundly defeating Mr. Carter in November, he took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1981.
“We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free,” Mr. Reagan asserted in his inaugural address.
The nation should “believe that together with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us,” he concluded. “And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.”