Megyn Kelly

Carr: Donald Trump is a lot like Ronald Reagan when dealing with moderators

Boston Herald

Howie Carr Friday, January 29, 2016

Long before there was a Megyn Kelly, there was another presidential debate media scapegoat — a New Hampshire newspaper editor by the name of Jon Breen.

Or, as then-candidate Ronald Reagan called him back in 1980, “Mr. Green.”

That’s always cracked me up — Reagan, apoplectic with rage, yelling at this guy, in front of an audience of 2,400 screaming voters in a high school gym, and he can’t even get Breen’s name right. How’s that for the ultimate insult? It’s as if Donald Trump started calling his blonde Fox nemesis “Kelly Megyn.”

Actually, Donald Trump should be so lucky as to get as much mileage out of Megyn Kelly as Reagan got out of Jon Breen. After losing the Iowa caucuses to George H.W. Bush, Reagan found himself trailing him in at least one N.H. poll by 21 points.

Following his confrontation with the editor, Reagan crushed Bush in the New Hampshire primary, 50-23, and was never seriously challenged for the nomination again.

What happened was, Reagan’s campaign managers thought he had the GOP nomination wrapped up. As the front-runner, Reagan even skipped a pre-caucus debate in Iowa. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Anyway, when the campaign shifted east, the Nashua Telegraph, of which Breen was executive editor, offered Bush and Reagan a one-on-one at Nashua High School on the Saturday night before the primary. But the paper couldn’t pick up the tab unless it invited the other five GOP candidates.

Reagan, desperate, offered to pay the expenses. But realizing that this was the last big media event of the campaign, Reagan decided to invite the other five GOP candidates. He figured he needed to split up the anti-Reagan vote.

Bush said no, the debate in Nashua would have to go on as scheduled, one-on-one. Breen, a veteran N.H. Republican operative, agreed. According to Craig Shirley, who recounted the event in his book, “Reagan’s Revolution,” the debate was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., but there was a standoff among the five candidates present. Finally, at 8:15, Breen and Bush sauntered out to the microphones.

Reagan was visibly angry. He strode out onto the stage, and motioned to the other candidates to join him.

“Can I address the audience?” he asked moderator Breen.

“No!” said Breen, whom Shirley describes as rude. The crowd started booing him. Breen then ordered the tech to turn off Reagan’s mic, twice. But the tech was on Reagan’s side. After the second order, Shirley wrote, Reagan “turned to Breen with blood in his eye and thundered, ‘I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!’ ”

And that was basically it. No one remembers much else that happened that evening.

No networks were broadcasting the debate live, but in the subsequent hours leading up to the election, on TV the cut of an angry Reagan yelling at “Mr. Green” ran about a million times.

If Breen is still around, he’d be 75 or 76. I found one Breen in the 603 area code yesterday, and that guy’s voicemail sounded like he was about the right age. Alas, he didn’t return my call.