This side of the Atlantic never “got” Ronald Reagan. We thought he was a bit dim, full of cloying cliches and “aw, shucks” answers and we could never understand how he managed to get elected, and in landslides too. “Reagan’s Revolution” by Craig Shirley gives a pretty clear picture as to why the man absolutely turned modern American politics on its head by challenging for the Republican nomination in 1976.
What we in Europe don’t understand is that after Barry Goldwater’s clobbering by LBJ in 1964, conservative was a dirty word in American politics. The Republican Party had a solid liberal wing, led by New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, which pretty much dominated the party leadership until Reagan challenged, and narrowly lost against President Ford for the nomination. The book tells, in very expansive detail, the story of how Reagan, an unrivalled political communicator until the arrival of Bill Clinton in 1992, went over the heads of the party seniors and appealed to the conservative grassroots of the GOP, transforming the party as he went, and very nearly denying a sitting president his party’s nomination.
This, given the detail, is a book for the anoraks, and the author doesn’t hide his pro-Reagan feelings, although they don’t affect the telling of the story. But it is fascinating in telling the pretty untold story of how Reagan began a journey which resulted in a shift to the right in American politics which exists to this day. It is also a telling tale of what happens when a party leadership ignores its base.