Did Reagan Get Dissed in 1980 the Way Trump Is Getting It Now?

Back in 1980 I heard plenty of Washington journalists dissing President-elect Ronald Reagan as an empty-headed actor but that was inside talk and when the journalist went out to cover a story no one outside the newsroom was the wiser. There was no social media so Reagan didn’t get publicly attacked and ridiculed on Twitter and Facebook the way Donald Trump is now. Some Washington  journalists haven’t hesitated to use social media to tell 2016’s President-elect they don’t like him and don’t want him in the nation’s capital.

Back in 1980 there were television talk shows and Washington author Paul Dickson remembers Oprah:

The morning after Ronald Reagan was elected I appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s morning show which she cohosted with Stedman Graham. It then was a local show on WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

Before the show began, Oprah and one of her guests were going on about how people were talking about the fact that each of Reagan’s names—Ronald Wilson Reagan—had six letters which represented 666 which was the mark of the devil.

My first exposure to Reagan was when editing a group of weekly papers in California. Our political reporter wasn’t shy about his liberal tendencies and the then-governor was Edmund “Pat” Brown, a Democrat too moderate for our political reporter. He said he hoped Brown would lose in November to his Republican opponent, a movie actor. “That guy will be such as disaster that next time we’ll be able to elect a real liberal.”

The movie actor was Ronald Reagan, who won that election in 1966, was re-elected in 1970, and went on to serve two terms as President.

Looking back at the Washingtonian’s coverage of President-elect Reagan in 1980, we quoted Gerald Rafshoon, an aide to President Carter: “Take away the cue cards and Ronald Reagan doesn’t know what to say.”

We asked some media people who they had voted for. Michael Kinsley, editor of the New Republic, said he had preferred Edmund Muskie or Morris Udall and had voted for John Anderson, an independent. WRC-TV anchor Jim Vance said he preferred Dick Gregory but decided not to vote. Meg Greenfield, editor of the Washington Post editorial page, said, “I did what the Post editorial told me to do.” Susan Stamberg of NPR said she preferred Thomas Jefferson and wouldn’t say who she’d voted for. Only Tom Bethell, Washington editor of Harper’s, would admit to voting for Reagan.

After the election, the Washingtonian made fun of Reagan by quoting him and then guessing what he was really thinking.

What he said: We are vitally dependent on our allies to help defend the cause of freedom. What he was thinking: We can’t trust the French, the British couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, all the Germans want to do is get rich and eat sausage, and the only thing the Japanese are interested in defending is their Toyota market. If the Russians make a move, we’re on our own.

What he said: As President of all the people, I look forward to working hand-in-hand with all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. What he was thinking: Tip O’Neill said he’d give me a six-month honeymoon. That gives me till July to cut his water off.”

The magazine pointed out that President Nixon couldn’t finish his second term, President Ford was rejected in the 1980 primaries, and President Carter served one term and then was defeated. The magazine asked: Will we ever have a two-term President again?

Well, yes: Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama all served two terms.




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