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An Ode to the Correspondents’ Dinner (with apologies to Dorothy Parker)

An Ode to the Correspondents’ Dinner (with apologies to Dorothy Parker)
By Craig Shirley

O, hard is the struggle (with an iPhone) and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top of the D.C. dung heap,
For selfie-art is a form of catharsis
A love of reportage failure is a permanent flop,
And work the province of the paparazzi cattle call,
And the rest’s for a happy clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of drinking too much, throwing up, the battle of the dinner —
Thinking of spending one second with toasted Posties?
My finger down my throat. Ah, relief from the Nerd Prom!
Would you kindly direct me to the hell of Correspondents? A pilgrim in an unholy land. 

Reagan-Buckley debates of 1978, and the state of civil discourse || Washington Times

Reagan-Buckley debates of 1978, and the state of civil discourse

Craig Shirley’s new book captures a moment in time that’s worth emulating

– – Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Last month, I read Craig Shirley’s new work “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980” (see Jennifer Harper’s review here in The Washington Times review).

There are endless numbers of anecdotes or quotes that I highlighted for future use. But if you asked me for one specific story from the book that struck me, it would be Mr. Shirley’s account of the 1978 “Firing Line” debates over the Panama Canal Treaty — between Ronald Reagan/Pat Buchanan (against the treaty) and William Buckley/George Will (for the treaty).

Reading about this event prompted me to go online to find the video, and I was delighted to find it at C-SPAN.

Here is the excerpt from Mr. Shirley’s book:

Buckley also wryly noted the predicament of debating his favorite politician. Reagan spoke and made it clear he did not trust the Panamanian government and that the negotiations of the treaties had begun in 1964, after riots in the streets of Panama. He argued that American should never have been cowed into the negotiations in the first place. Reagan smiled at Buckley and wondered why his old friend was not on his side; Buckley replied, “The force of my illumination would blind you.” The audience again laughed.

Reagan would make a thrust; Buckley would parry. Buckley would make a point; Reagan would make an effective counterpoint. It was a serious discussion without vitriol. It was a disagreement without being disagreeable. It was impressive because all the men involved were overachievers and successful in many endeavors, and thus it showcased the best of the conservative movement. These were high-minded men of serious purpose and scholarly thought, and it showed the movement in its best light to millions of viewers.

Take a look at the video and ask: What keeps us from having this level of discourse today?

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How Reagan Took the GOP Off Life Support || Daily Beast

How Reagan Took the GOP Off Life Support

In the four years after Jimmy Carter’s election as president, Ronald Reagan shed his image of an out-of-it mossback conservative and then led his party back to the White House.

CRAIG SHIRLEY

SCOTT MAUER

04.02.17 12:15 AM ET

Human beings are social creatures and most always want to be part of some group with which they can identity. This instinct is deep in the race, from tribes to bowling leagues. What happens, then, when identity is irrelevant?

The Republican Party of the ’70s found out, the hard way.

The ’70s was a time of one political crises after another, especially for the GOP. In October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, humiliated, rather than going to jail. Only ten months later, President Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, also in humiliation, the only president to do so. Gerald Ford succeeded him, and his presidency, in the long run, is largely forgettable. Come the 1976 election, Ford lost to outsider Georgian Governor Jimmy Carter in a close race. Watergate, Vietnam, inflation, Soviet advances, gas lines, high interest rates—all battered the already weak Republican Party.

The GOP was decimated. It was a ship without a rudder. There were liberals, moderates, and conservatives, all under the same big tent named “The Republican Party.” Higher-ups like Nixon, Ford, and George H.W. Bush fell in one form or another in the non-conservative party.

Then there was Ronald Wilson Reagan, former actor and governor of California, barely bested by Ford at the ’76 GOP convention. Many thought he was done for, too conservative, too old, too out of it. His advanced age, his “extremism” to those left of him, and even his experience were enough to kick him out. The fact that he lost the nomination by the narrowest of margins was only a nail in that coffin. So they thought.

But it was only two weeks after Carter’s inauguration that Reagan took the stage again, not only to put himself on the frontline, but to show the Republican Party what needs to be done to survive.

On February 6, 1977, at CPAC in Washington, D.C., Reagan spoke to a large group on the future of Republicanism. Dubbed, appropriately, the New Republican Party, the speech began with a quip: “I’m happy to be back with you in this annual event after missing last year’s meeting. I had some business in New Hampshire that wouldn’t wait.” He’d been to every prior CPAC and would attend every succeeding CPAC excepting 1980, when again he had business in New Hampshire.

Then he got down to business.

He noted recent Harris and Gallup polls, which stated the country was moving rightward and desired a more conservative identity. This was ample opportunity for him to define the New Republican Party. “What I envision,” he prophesized, “is not simply a melding together of the two branches of American conservatism into a temporary uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.”

Reagan hit hard against the ideological wing of conservatism, which put theories in the air and not in practice. “When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom,” Reagan said to the audience, “he is not theorizing—he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” The Soviet Union was back on a war footing under Leonid Brezhnev, who succeeded the equally warlike Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. It was not a criticism of President Carter—he came into the White House promising human rights, and his foreign policy gaffes came at the end of his term—but it was a small chide against Ford and his team, who, in June 1975, refused to see the famous Soviet dissident and author, at risk of offending the USSR.

What was simply an idea for Reagan in 1977 became reality four years later.

Reagan took charge. Throughout the four years between elections, he was once again branded “too conservative” by his opponents. What this accomplished, however, was an identity, a flag under which to stand. It was a rallying cry for conservatives, that this was the Republican Party. It wasn’t something like Frankenstein’s monster, part liberal, part moderate, part conservative. It was united under Reagan and his policies.

“The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?” That was Reagan in 1977. The Republican Party, under this new banner, won one of the biggest landslide victories in American presidential history. The Gipper’s reelection in 1984 topped that. It was here that the Republican Party was changed, and the party became one of ideas, of optimism, of the future. Young Americans flocked to Reagan and the under-thirty votes went for Reagan in higher numbers than his own generation did.

This is that legacy, of hard-identity and concrete beliefs in the Republican Party. He changed the party, indelibly. He created a Republican Party of individual liberty and true American conservatism, where the wheat was separated from the chaff.

When the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter arrived, Reagan came out on top with 44 states and 489 electoral votes. Carter, the Georgia peanut farmer who arrived in Washington four years earlier, won fewer than 50 electoral votes. The GOP was redeemed.

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” Reagan was fond of saying, a refrain of Franklin Roosevelt’s call to the American people. And indeed, he showed that was true. It was in these four years, between his failure and his success, that he changed America. He was the president of American conservatism before he was president of United States—and he succeeded in both roles.

Craig Shirley is the author of Rendezvous with Destiny, Reagan’s Revolution, and the New York Times bestseller December 1941. He was the first Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Reagan’s alma mater, where he taught a coursed titled “Reagan 101.” He is a regular commentator on many network and cable shows, and contributor to national publications, and The London Telegraph has called Shirley “the best of the Reagan biographers.” His latest book, Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980, was just published by Harper.

Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s primary research assistant. He has earned his Master of Arts in Humanities and History from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and had previously been a research fellow specializing in Soviet history. He is currently assisting Shirley on his upcoming projects.

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Trump’s TV Obsession Is a First || The Atlantic

Trump’s TV Obsession Is a First

No president has consumed as much television as the current one, or reacted as quickly or directly to what they were seeing.

ELAINE GODFREY

President Trump loves Fox & Friends. At 6:24 a.m. on Monday, Trump gushed on Twitter about the “amazing reporting” on the morning talk show. A week earlier he instructed the nation to “watch @foxandfriends now” for their exemplary Russia coverage. He tweeted about the program, hosted by Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade, seven times in March alone, and recently brought it up in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, telling him cheerfully, “I like that group of three people.”

Even after becoming president, Trump reportedly manages to fill his days with “plenty of television,” and from his tweets, it’s often possible to discern when—and what—he’s watching. In January, Axios broke down the president’s media diet:

Most mornings, Trump flicks on the TV and watches “Morning Joe,” often for long periods of time, sometimes interrupted with texts to the hosts or panelists. After the 6 a.m. hour of “Joe,” he’s often on to “Fox & Friends” by 7 a.m., with a little CNN before or after. He also catches the Sunday shows, especially “Meet the Press.” “The shows,” as he calls them, often provoke his tweets. The day of our interview with him, all of his tweet topics were discussed during the first two hours of “Morning Joe.”

Based on their breakdown and this visual guide made by The Washington Post, Trump watches an average of five hours of television every day. That’s almost the same amount the average American aged 50-64 watches daily, according to Nielsen. Trump’s habits don’t quite match up with those of his cohort—Americans in Trump’s age bracket (65+) watch roughly seven hours of TV a day. But many of them are retired, and Trump is the president of the United States. No former president seems to have spent this much time glued to his television set.

For most of America’s recent commanders-in-chief, watching a little TV was a brief break from politics and criticism, a welcome respite from the pressures of the job, or a chance to feel normal. But none consumed as much television as Trump, or reacted as quickly or directly to what they were seeing. Things haven’t gone smoothly for Trump during his first 70 days in office, so perhaps it’s an escape for him, too—a way for him to return to the role he used to play in American politics: that of watcher and critic.

But “it’s a real problem to have a president that has that kind of obsession,” said Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at University of Virginia Miller Center. “The most valuable commodity in Washington is the president’s time, bar nothing. A president who elects to invest a lot of his time in tracking his own media coverage is, to some extent, debasing his own currency.”

During their presidencies, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were “besieged by media criticism,” Riley said. Instead of watching the talking heads, they preferred to use television as an escape. “The media tends to be mainly incumbent unfriendly, and that’s the role of media in a democratic society, to be oppositionist,” Riley said. “They understood that part of being presidential was having thick skin and ignoring what was going on.”

Not so for Trump. The president has brought his campaign-trail feud with the media to the White House, continuing to watch the political pundits on television, responding with praise for some and insults for others. Aides have reportedly attempted to minimize Trump’s TV-watching, but, so far, it hasn’t worked. “He was elected because he was a reality TV star,” Riley told me. “It is a bit less surprising, then, that he would have a hard time tearing himself away.” MSNBC and Fox News are cashing in on Trump’s viewing habits, reportedly hiking up ad rates in February “as companies and outside groups try to influence Trump and his top lieutenants” through ads on his favorite networks.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple stories were published comparing Trump and former President Ronald Reagan: Both worked in the entertainment business, and both were initially seen as political outsiders with a long shot at the presidency. As president, Reagan, too, would show up to work in the Oval Office around 9 a.m., relatively late for White House standards, and on a normal day, he’d clock out promptly at 5 p.m. But after returning to the residence, the Gipper filled his free time in very different ways.

News was different then: There were only a handful of networks, and news programs only lasted about 30 minutes, but Reagan would fit in about an hour of television on a normal day. Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told me the president would occasionally have guests over for movie-watching parties, too. (Shirley said Reagan once held a small viewing party to watch An Officer and a Gentleman and was traumatized by the amount of “gratuitous sex.”)

Mainly, Reagan was a reader. “He literally invented Tom Clancy,” Shirley told me, adding that The Hunt for Red October, Clancy’s breakout novel, became successful “really just because Reagan happened to be reading it.” The president also kept a daily diary and sent handwritten letters to colleagues and constituents nearly every day. “I think Reagan was far more intellectually curious than Trump. He was far more of an intellectual conservative,” Shirley said. “[He] not only read things, he retained them. He could recite poems from memory.”

The 41st president wasn’t a big TV-watcher either. George H. W. Bush would rise at around 6 a.m. and start reading the papers. Unlike Reagan, he’d hold his daily meetings pretty early, around 7:30 a.m.

“He was a diligent worker with no fixed ‘r and r’, no fixed exercise schedule, even though he was active,” said Ed Rogers, a former deputy assistant to Bush. It was the early days of CNN, and Bush liked the evening broadcast. Americans were transfixed by television coverage of the Gulf War, and it was always on in White House offices. Bush liked to watch, but he didn’t have patience to watch for long periods of time. There were “very few of those discretionary, sit at home and take your shoes off kind of evenings,” Rogers said. “Bush was energetic and didn’t long for more idle time.”

Since the development of cable news, the television sets positioned in hallways and offices throughout the White House have all been tuned to a 24-hour news channel, like Fox or CNN. “There’s a sort of background hum of television all the time,” Riley said. But America’s next three presidents mostly tuned in for one thing: sports.

Clinton’s TV-watching was “idiosyncratic and episodic,” Riley told me. He loved college basketball and football. In an interview with the Miller Center, Bernard Nussbaum, who served as Clinton’s White House Counsel, recounted the night the president was supposed to ask D.C. Circuit Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court:

He said, ‘Yes, yes, okay, we’ll appoint her.’ I said ‘Good. Why don’t you give her a call?’ He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ This was in the afternoon, I think, if I have it right. ‘I’ve got some friends coming over, I’ve got to watch the [basketball] game on television.’ I said, ‘What time does [it] start?’ He said, ‘No, I’ve got these friends. I’ll do it later.’ I said, ‘You should really call her up.’ He said, ‘I’ll call her, I’ll call her, but I can’t do it now. I’ll do it later.’ I say, ‘What time is the game over?’ I’m in my office on a Sunday, he’s in the residence with his friends and everything. He said, ‘We’re going to have dinner, the game will be over around 11 o’clock at night or midnight.’ I said, ‘Oh God.’

After the game ended—sometime between 11 and midnight—Clinton appointed Ginsburg, who would later be confirmed as the Supreme Court’s second female justice.

Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also preferred using their free time to watch sports. In January 2002, Bush famously lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel in the White House residence while watching the Baltimore Ravens playing the Miami Dolphins on TV. Obama said he always watched ESPN’s SportsCenter while working out, and once told Disney chairman Bob Iger that he hoped to someday host SportsCenter’s “Top 10 List.”

The president with television-watching habits most similar to Trump’s is probably Lyndon B. Johnson, who famously installed three television sets in the Oval Office so he could see what the three major networks were saying about him on the evening news. “LBJ had a Texas-sized ego in a way that Trump has a New York-Manhattan-sized ego,” Riley said. “There’s a certain parallel in their sensing the universe tends to revolve around them.”

The difference is, Johnson would only need to turn on the television for 15 to 30 minutes every evening to consume the day’s news and see all the coverage of his administration. The ritual wasn’t “terribly intrusive,” Riley said, and didn’t distract from the president’s day-to-day work. Today’s 24-hour news cycle, in which the day’s developments are rehashed on cable shows and Twitter all night long, requires much more time to follow.

America’s recent commanders-in-chief didn’t attempt to keep up. They knew “there were more important things for a president to do than watching television,” Riley said. “What I’m hearing is this is not a lesson that President Trump has yet come by.”

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Review: “…a fine work of history and a good job of storytelling,” by Newt Gingrich || Selous Foundation

BOOK REVIEW

SHATTERING POLITICAL MYTHS

  • Reagan Rising:The Decisive Years, 1976-1980
  • By Craig Shirley
  • Harper Collins Publishers: New York 2017
  • HC, 409, US$29.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-245655-7

Rising

Сraig Shirley is THE definitive biographer of President Ronald Reagan. And this is the fourth volume of that definitive biography.

This is an important book because it shatters some of the myths which have grown up in the afterglow of Reagan’s remarkable presidency.

Looking backwards through the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the long period of economic growth, and the sheer artistry of Reagan as President, it is easy to romanticize how easy and how inevitable it was. Shirley knows better and he teaches us with a masterful combination of facts and anecdotes.

Shirley knows that Reagan could always have stopped after 1976. He loved his ranch and he loved being with Nancy. As Shirley notes in Reagan Rising, there were a lot of grassroots folks who never wavered but there were a lot of politicians who thought Reagan’s time had passed. As Irving Kristol said to his son in 1977 “I guess we will have to be for Jack Kemp since Reagan will be too old.”

Shirley also knows that the nomination of Governor Reagan was far from a sure thing. The Eastern establishment did not like him and largely rallied around George H.W. Bush, a Yale, Skull and Bones, legitimate scion of the establishment wing of the party. Hard core conservatives wanted someone with a greater edge like Congressman Phil Crane. Governor John Connelly saw himself as a natural president. The list went on and on.

Reagan was hamstrung by a really bad campaign run by John Sears. After losing Iowa, the Reagans decided to fire Sears and bring in a new team. That decision probably saved Reagan from defeat and the country from a Carter reelection (neither Shirley nor I believe any other Republican would have beaten Carter who had eliminated Ted Kennedy, pretty decisively, to win renomination).

Finally, there was no guarantee of a Reagan victory in the fall. As Shirley reports, Reagan stumbled at the beginning of the general election, found his rhythm and began gaining ground. However, it was only after the one debate, scheduled on the eve of the election, that Reagan pulled away to win a decisive victory.

For those who remember 1980 this is a refreshingly accurate and candid reminder of that great campaign. For those too young to know what a remarkable moment it was, this is a great introduction to a key part of their country’s history.

Shirley is to be congratulated for a fine work of history and a good job of storytelling.


Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and 2012 candidate for President of the United States. In 1995 he was elected the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years followed by such legislative achievements as welfare reform, a balanced budget and a cut in the capital gains tax. He is the author of 28 books, including Treason with Pete Earley. Newt and his wife Callista also are documentary film producers.

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