March 27, 1980
Reagan A New Breed Of Populist
Ronald Reagan may not be the next president of the United States, but he stands a 50-50 chance of reorganizing American politics.
The mood of the country is one of reform, of distrust of the old system that has brought turmoil, unease, inflation. We seem to want change for change's sake. The old formula of a free lunch for everyone is bankrupt.
Reagan likely will be the catalyst for change.
Not many political pundits have yet grasped the fundamental reason why the former union leader-actor-governor might move forward as the exponent of this new mood.
The significant fact of Reagan's candidacy is that he operates from center ground. He is not - repeat, not - a "conservative" as the east coast columnists like to declare - as if that label was some kind of epithet.
It is interesting to note that the old-line conservatives such as Senator Barry Goldwater and Senator John Tower have already endorsed President Gerald Ford. Our non-elected president is a true conservative moving farther right each week.
Reagan is a new breed of populist. Sooner or later the worn out politicos who have dominated the Washington scene for four sorry decades will have to deal with Reagan on that basis.
I've seen Reagan in action, before live audiences and on television. He's better when he is eye-balling it. He speaks to the working man, the truly needy on welfare, the craftsman, the small businessman. It is this majority that elected him governor of California for eight years.
The so called "fat cats" don't know Reagan. He castigates big business, big labor and big government indiscriminately. Employees, rank-and-file union members and overburdened tax payers are his main source of support.
On the surface, Reagan's task of winning the Republican nomination seems long odds. The biggies are lining up fast behind the old-formula pros. Business contributions are flowing steadily to Ford's campaign coffers. Ten of 12 GOP governors attending a conference at Wichita, Kansas, two weeks ago backed Ford.
In Ohio, the top Republican leaders ignored their long-standing rule not to endorse primary candidates, declared officially for Ford and accepted positions of prominence on Ford's campaign staff.
All of this, of course, is meant to stifle Reagan's chances. It surely will back fire - perhaps not to Reagan's benefit but to future difficulties if nothing else.
Reagan is well thought of in New Hampshire and Florida the first two states to hold primaries next year. Should he win there, he will seriously shake the Ford campaign.
Ford is alarmed and moving rapidly to establish an image of leadership - perhaps too rapidly. His credibility is suffering from haste and mind-changing.
The commentators move with similar haste to cut down Reagan as a man with no issues. Yet, his issues are plain and appealing to a large number of Americans.
He advocates returning to the states responsibility for such things as welfare, food stamps, aid to education, housing and Medicaid. He claims this would cut federal spending by $90 billion, balance the budget and reduce income taxes by 23 percent.
State taxes would have to be raised of course, but considerably less than the 23 percent federal income tax reduction. The net savings would remain in the tax payer's pocket and at the same time give him closer control of state government programs.
The mammoth Washington bureaucracy is already throwing up a smoke screen around Reagan's proposals - asserting that he would "deprive" needy Americans of welfare, food stamps, medical care and the other goodies we have come to expect from the Great White Father.
This was the same kind of scare tactics that falsely accused Goldwater of planning to kill Social Security or drop an atom bomb on Vietnamese communists.
It is going to be a little harder to hang an albatross around Reagan's neck. For one thing he is too articulate. For another his record as governor of California is too well known. In that state he chased out the free loaders on welfare and increased the benefits to the truly needy. He balanced the budget and gave a REBATE to tax payers from the savings.
It is hard to argue with better government for less money.
Should Reagan beat the Republican establishment and win the nomination he would have to fight an entrenched Democrat establishment, for all the Democratic candidates are from the old mold - something for everyone, and hang the expense.
A Reagan run for the roses would upset the political apple cart, win or lose. A Reagan win would de-populate the Washington bureaus. A Reagan defeat would be a Goldwater-type debacle which likely would finally kill the Republican party now at low ebb from the previous Goldwater conservative split and the Watergate trauma.
So, Reagan is an explosive factor in all presidential sweep stakes.
Something has to give way. Reagan may not be the answer, but neither is the present Republican administration or the present Democrat Congress.
Reagan is a serious challenge to the old discredited order. Those who underestimate him, do so at great risk.
Author: Lindsey Williams