What ifs of history: Ronald Reagan and 1976

From Washington Monthly’s review of The Invisible Bridge

There is one shortcoming of the book—which I hope Perlstein will address in the fourth and final volume, which is supposed to carry the story through to Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. What would have happened had Republicans nominated Reagan in 1976, as they very nearly did? It’s hard to imagine Reagan defeating Jimmy Carter that year, given Carter’s powerful southern and evangelical base, which would have trumped Reagan’s natural area of strength. Gerald Ford came close to upsetting Carter in no small part by battening on liberal and secular doubts about the Democratic nominee (he ran ahead of Nixon ’72 in some Yankee territory); Reagan would not likely have duplicated that feat. Republican elites would have decisively written off Reagan in 1980 in those circumstances, and movement conservatives might have moved on as well, to Phil Crane or John Connally or Bob Dole or even George H. W. Bush, who was running as a born-again conservative. In any event, Carter’s exceptionally poor public standing in 1980 would have likely rewarded just about any credible Republican nominee with a general election victory, and the political Myth of Ronald Reagan, which exerts so powerful an effect on Republicans even today, would have never developed.

Phil Crane?

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