Ronald Reagan

Presidential Aspirations: 1976–1980

Shortly after retiring from politics in California, Ronald Reagan decided to run for President of the United States. He had expressed interests in the job in private letters to members of his family, but had never actively pursued it until the mid 1970s. By 1974, Reagan had both fame and political experience.

In order to run for President in 1976, however, Reagan had to campaign in the primary elections against incumbent President Gerald Ford. Running against an incumbent–let alone a current president–is an extremely difficult task, but Reagan was up to the challenge. He announced Senator Richard Schweiker, a liberal Republican from Pennsylvania, to be his running mate, and then set out on the campaign trail.

Reagan's primary campaign strategy revolved around attacking President Ford. He strongly disagreed with Presidents Nixon and Ford's policies of Detente with the Soviet Union, and consequently opposed the SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement that Nixon and Ford had made with the USSR to curb nuclear armament. Also contrary to Nixon's and Ford's policies, Reagan wanted to cool relations with communist China and support the struggling Chinese nationalists in Taiwan. Furthermore, he disagreed with President Ford's pardon to those who had dodged the drafts during the Vietnam War. Finally, Reagan blamed Ford for the budget deficit, and referred to him as a poor leader.

Above all else, Reagan criticized the federal government and politicians for being too large, too powerful, and too involved in American society. He disliked most social welfare programs and believed the state governments should be solely responsible for education, welfare, food stamps, Medicare, and development projects. He claimed that if the government in Washington could transfer these programs entirely to the states, it could save over $90 billion, substantially cut federal income taxes, and balance the budget.

Reagan's campaign was surprisingly successful, but not successful enough to win the Republican primaries. He lost to Ford, 1,070 votes to Ford's 1,187. Yet, his loss proved to be a mixed blessing; when Ford lost the 1976 election to Democrat Jimmy Carter, Reagan immediately became the favored possible Republican nominee for the 1980 presidential election. The former actor retired to his ranch in California, continued to make dozens of political speeches throughout the country, and let his popularity grow during the next four years.

As a result, when 1980 rolled around, Reagan was ready to run for the presidency again. His campaign included many of the same issues. He attacked President Carter for working too closely with the Soviets in the USSR. He disliked the SALT II talks, and also disagreed with Carter's grain embargo on the USSR in retaliation for the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Reagan believed that the embargo did little to affect the Soviets and only hurt American grain farmers.