Category Archives: Commentary

Victor Gold, Raconteur, Rest in Peace || CNS News

Victor Gold, Raconteur, Rest in Peace

By Craig Shirley | June 12, 2017 | 11:49 AM EDT

Several times a week, Vic Gold and I would discuss all manner of things. Our phone conversations were lively. We’d laugh, and more than once he would yell. But the most enjoyable result of every conversation was the knowledge he would impart; something new, every time.  That was Vic, smart and passionate about everything. It was the same with our monthly lunches which sometimes stretched out 2-3 hours. I am going to miss Vic Gold. He added a lot of spice to life, and the world will be less interesting without him.

While few individuals in politics were as passionate as Gold, even fewer could endear themselves to as many people as he had in his many years on this earth.   He passionately loved Alabama football, Bear Bryant, his wife Dale, his children Paige, Jamie and Stephen, writing (especially) movies, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, the St. Louis Cardinals, George H.W. Bush, Cajun food and good conversation, not necessarily in that order. He did not like hypocrisy, pomposity, big government Republicans, Dan Snyder, neo conservatism, the United Nations, Donald Trump, the Weekly Standard, some of the people around George W. Bush, again not necessarily in that order. To say Vic suffered no fools goes without saying.

Often times, I thought his temper was in truth, just an act, especially if you caught the twinkle in his eye. Other times, it was real, whether yelling about something George W. Bush had done, like invading Iraq. However, his real passion was writing. He wrote the now legendary, PR as in President and The Body Politic with Lynne Cheney. He wrote provocative articles for National Review, The American Spectator and Washingtonian. For years, he did a point-counterpoint exchange on “Good Morning America” with Frank Mankowitz. He was always well-timed, even as late as last week he was posting for his blog, the perfectly named “The Wayward Lemming.” That was Vic, charting his own course, intense, erudite, a true romantic.

A favorite saying of his was, “Don’t burn bridges in front of you.” That did not mean he didn’t appreciate burning bridges in his wake. He was often quotable and always a good companion. He had the rare gift of being provocative yet a great listener, as well. He was incisive, without question, but also insightful; invaluable to every political leader with whom he worked. Most notably, in the grim final days of the failed 1980 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, it was Gold’s fiery and wise counsel that brought a fuming Bush back from the brink of breaking with the GOP and pushed him towards a reconciliation that would unify the party, deliver him the vice presidency and chart his course to the Oval Office. Not bad for someone from the wrong side of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Without Vic Gold, George HW Bush might never have been vice president and later president.

Vic was a product of the rough and tumble New Orleans of the Depression era 1930’s, and he never lost his street perspective. He viewed himself as a Damion Runyon-like character, part erudite writer and part streetwise character. He often used the language of Runyon. When he saw someone wearing a new suit, he might say, “nice threads.” He was an actor in a Frank Capra movie.

And why wouldn’t he see himself that way? He lived that life. One evening he might be dining with Spiro Agnew and the next with Frank Sinatra and some shady underworld figures. He told more than once of prowling Los Angeles or Las Vegas into the wee hours of the evening with Sinatra and the Rat Pack. He told stories that would make you double over with laughter. His friends were an eclectic bunch, from Sinatra and Jim Baker to Stan Musial.

He was a charming rascal, a throwback to a more exciting and interesting Washington, the town of Tommy Corcoran, Lyn Nofziger, Paul Corbin and other characters. Stories over the years about the volatile Gold were legendary. He was Agnew’s press secretary but quit many times in a fit of pique. Unlike the many candidates and leaders he worked with, he had his own code. He knew for years that Agnew had a mistress and could have sold the story, yet never talked about it. That type of integrity has long since been confined to amber in the tell-all consultant world of Washington DC.

On an instinctual level, he knew what the people saw and how they worked and he dedicated that insight to the service of his country, not himself. A rogue, a gentleman, an insider who preferred the fringe; Gold was a man of many things but most enduring and most important to him was to be a man of honor. At a time and in a town where men of such priorities are seen as parochial and providential, this city will have to do with one less. Famed journalist Jim Wooten once joked that the “working definition of insanity in Washington is Vic Gold.”

Where does nearly forty years of a friendship go? Vic was mercurial, hot tempered, and loving. He once told me he was not a hugger as so many men are today, but he’d hug his Daddy, his children, his wife Dale—and me. I mourn Vic Gold and I mourn his generation of Washingtonians. They were the last interesting people who could quote Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammett. They drank, ate and laughed.

Unlike the modern generation of Washington operatives—blow dried, shallow, all talking points, little native intelligence, humorless, little charm and less grace—Vic’s generation was rough and loyal, tough and smart, funny and interesting, principled and sophisticated.

Vic said when you leave Washington, you should leave like a rock star. Vic has left Washington, and he’s left like a rock star.

Vic Gold, RIP.

Craig Shirley is the author of four bestselling books Ronald Reagan’s campaigns, including “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980,” out March 21, 2017. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December 1941,” and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.


‘Star Wars’ is the ultimate conservative morality tale || Washington Post

‘Star Wars’ is the ultimate conservative morality tale

 No wonder Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire.”

A long time ago, in a movie theater far, far away …

Actually, 40 years ago, beginning in about 40 theaters in the United States, an uncanny, cowboys-in-space movie — produced and directed by independent filmmaker George Lucas — was released. “Star Wars,” starring the unknown young Mark Hamill, the little-known young Harrison Ford and the better-known young Carrie Fisher, along with legendary actors Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, swept the country in the summer of 1977. The film was an instant success, wildly surpassing every expectation and instantly changing how movies were made. Soon, these unknown actors became household names — and it was “Star Wars” in these homes, nothing but “Star Wars.”

There was a reason for that success: The movie was hopeful. It was clear. It was different. It was real. It was upbeat. Lucas, decades after its release, admitted to the Boston Globe, “I love history, so while the psychological basis of ‘Star Wars’ is mythological, the political and social bases are historical.”

The 1970s in America, compared with the social revolutions of the 1960s and the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, was an abysmal decade. Vietnam had escalated under President Lyndon B. Johnson, but it was failing under President Richard M. Nixon. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, only for Nixon to follow suit after one of the worst political scandals of the 20th century. President Gerald R. Ford’s term was forgettable. Oil prices rose. Iran was acting up. There was stagflation, a seemingly impossible scenario of simultaneous stagnation and inflation in the economy. President Jimmy Carter, who came to Washington in 1977 to clean up the bureaucracy and the United States, became that which he most feared: a pessimistic, bureaucratic politician, not against the system but part of it.

By 1977, the Soviet Union was agitated, and it appeared, by most measures, that they were winning the Cold War. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev took a strong tone against the West and against capitalism, especially in keeping their hold on occupied Eastern Europe. “We will bury you,” Khrushchev had proclaimed in 1956. Two decades later, many feared that he was right.

All these issues put a damper on the American spirit, and this could be seen no more clearly than in movies at the time, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975, or “Taxi Driver” in 1976. A sense of doom was always around the corner and always prevalent. Even the fun “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a celebration of crooks.

And then along came “Star Wars.” It was a story of a young group of independent rebels fighting against an oppressive, collectivist empire for the freedom of the galaxy. The former government was even known as “the Old Republic.” The Force is a hint of Judeo-Christianity as a unifying agent for goodness, and “a New Hope” screams conservative optimism. The militarized Galactic Empire was ruled with an iron fist by a Politburo and an emperor. Its main tactics for unity and stability were enslavement, fear, death and destruction, especially with its new planet-killing weapon. Its uniforms of masked, bright-white armor destroyed any sense of identity; a soldier was simply a number.  On the other hand, the Rebels, a loose collection of ragtag freedom fighters, staged an all-out attack on the Empire to erase it from the galaxy. They were a small, motivated force who learned they could defeat a large, unmotivated force. It was George Washington against the British Empire.

Switch a name or two around, and the film’s political landscape looked familiar: It was no less than the Cold War in space. The Soviet Union still had its grip on Eastern Europe, violently suppressing any sort of rebellion or call for reform. The Hungarian uprising of 1956 had collapsed within three weeks when hundreds of Soviet tanks came barreling into Budapest. The revolts within the Vorkuta, Norilsk and Kengir gulags and slave labor camps in the mid-’50s had failed. The Prague Spring in 1968 was similarly put to rest when the militaries of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia. The precursor of Poland’s Solidarity movement was formed in the 1970s, and negotiations for reforms were squashed in Yugoslavia in the mid-’70s. Several decades after the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union still controlled all of Eastern Europe, in the name of “security” against the West.

No matter how many times revolutions against the Soviets failed, though, there was still that renewed call for freedom for the people of Eastern Europe. The United States knew that call, and moviegoers recognized it, too. “Star Wars” showed that that call was not worthless, not simply a fool’s errand. It was worth pursuing. The phrase “may the Force be with you” is the ultimate statement of individuality, of American conservatism.

In “Star Wars,” there was no moral ambiguity for the audience. We knew the good guys, we knew the bad guys. Only Han Solo, the smuggler, could be considered morally gray, but even he had a good heart. It was almost fairy-tale-like in the starkness of its battle between Good and Evil.

The best part? Unlike the moral ambiguity of “The Godfather,” unlike “Taxi Driver,”  in “Star Wars,” the good guys win. The bad guys lose. That is exactly what Americans and all people of the free world wanted. It was a clear message that good can and does prevail in the face of evil. It was a message that republics win over collectivist oppression.

Was it any wonder that a few years later, Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and his missile defense system was derided by the left as Star Wars? The public, though, associated success with the phrase and overwhelmingly supported it, much to the chagrin of Reagan-haters and Soviet-lovers.

Not bad for a scruffy-looking independent director. Well done, George. You made a political epic for the ages.

May the Force be with you. Always.


Shattered: A Review || Townhall


By Craig Shirley and Andrew Shirley

Campaign books used to have a lot more heavy drinking in them. They had intrigue, they had scandal, and scads and scads of gratuitous sex. Or at least one side screwing another. Not so today. Infighting is the new intrigue, slander is the new scandal, and “snark” is the new sex. Maybe that’s why almost every source quote in Shattered; Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign has at least one curse word. Sexual frustration manifests itself in many forms. In the salubrious, moist towelette, analytical, data driven, cold, calculating, “ClintonLand” (once known more creatively as “Big Sister”), the tawdry details of human nature are as alien to the campaign as the voters were to the campaign staff.  All this in Shattered and Bill Clinton too.

Shattered has other qualities that make it unique. For those asking the strategic question of “why,” this book is not for you. The authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, to their credit, don’t editorialize. For those asking the tactical question of “how,” Shattered is a strong resource that is sure to be cited in campaign strategies for years to come.

The book reads less like Theodore White’s The Making of a President, 1960 and more of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones (but without the aforementioned sex).  Each chapter becomes its own little mini-drama and while some characters and themes carry over, many pass by. You could almost shuffle the chapters and not lose clarity, but this would deprive the reader of the overall themes that the Amie Parnes & Jonathan Allen articulate rather effectively. Those themes of jockeying, betrayal, infighting, and kingmaking would be welcome more in feudal court than western elections. 

Most tales mainly revolve around the machinations of “rising star,” “political assassin,” and Campaign Manager Robby Mook. The data driven analytic’s first and ongoing task was to unite the various factions of employees, loyalists, advisers, hangers on, and ne’er-do-wells from Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, State Department faction, establishment Democrat faction, old friend’s faction, 2008 campaign faction, various boosters, Obama’s faction, Clinton Foundation faction, Arkansas faction … the list goes on. King David could sympathize.

It was, and is, a task impossible for anyone other than Clinton herself, but choosing Mook for this was disastrous. The book details when he was asked what would he do if made head of the DCCC in 2012, his immediate response was “clean house.” Fire everyone and “force people to reapply for their jobs. Those who remain know who whom they know allegiance. And use the new opening to bring in loyalists.” Mook’s own faction was the “Mook Mafia.” Considering Michael Corleone’s similar strategy to “unite” the Five Families of New York, it was an apt title. After his ascension to Campaign Manager, Mook’s first hit wasn’t Sollozzo, it was a “Clinton missionary.”

Ready for Hillary super PAC leader Adam Parkhomenko obsessively spent ten of his then-thirty years on earth trying to make Hillary president. Despite Clinton’s clear request and promise to see him and his entire staff made a part of the campaign proper, Mook disregarded the request, raided their fundraising lists, and “kneecapped” the organization. Only months later when the staff was railing publicly about their treatment and Clinton started asking questions, did Mook bring on Parkhomenko and a shell of his staff. He would be given a token position with little staff and less money, recompense for a decade of loyalty. Parkhomenko wasn’t the only Hillary loyalist, reduced to an empty title at the Brooklyn Campaign headquarters; he was just an easy one.

Hillary Clinton never fired anyone, she layered people over, moved them up and down, but never fired anyone. Fired employees talk. Layering ensured “loyalty.” But it wasn’t just those who fell out of favor who haunted the halls. The book is filled with one example after another of operatives and leaders, brought in and folded over. She wanted to make sure their expertise were used for her campaign and only hers, but would then ignore them in favor of her seraphim choir. She was never hiring, she was collecting. Inside they were controlled, neutered and inaccessible to rivals. There must have been dozens of Jacob Marleys rattling chains and proselyting at would-be Scrooges while wandering the halls; omnipresent reminders of what awaited anyone who dare question, fail, or threaten Clinton or the inner circle. There’s no nobility in dissent in “Clintonland” and there are no heroes in Shattered.

This book refuses and refutes simple narratives. It would be easy to lionize Senator Bernie Sanders as the noble populist or label him an aggressive insurrectionist who sold out Hillary, her party, and our country to enhance himself.  Shattered doesn’t do either. This book gives out no life rafts; nobody can claim “they saw it coming.” Most political books need a hero to be sustainable. That means the narrative must be simplified and accommodating. Shattered is under no such obligation and makes it very clear that no one in the Clinton nebula can say, “I told you so.” Some saw what others didn’t but no one is blameless. “All are punished,” but none fare as badly as Clinton.

For all the failings of the Clinton team, which the book notes extensively, the failure ultimately rested with Clinton herself. She worked for years to create a clear hierarchy that was “drama-free” yet she actively empowered people to circumvent that command. She and Mook assert that they never expected a coronation, but they had no contingency plan for when Sanders proved a threat. She would have the greatest minds on her team, but rarely listened to that team. She demanded they craft her campaign vision, but couldn’t articulate that vision. She didn’t understand why voters weren’t “getting her” but wouldn’t meet voters outside staged events. With millions of dollars and endless committees at every turn, every speech, statement, and appearance was polished, saccharine and so palatable to everyone that it appealed to no one.

All said, the book is quite good and writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes are to be commended for ferreting out deep information. If they do it again, it will advance them to the front lines of campaign journalists.

Most campaign books, especially those written without a decade of emotional distance and intellectual clarity, have been reduced to cash grabs for publishers and consultants as well as mechanisms by which consultants settle scores, self-aggrandize, and shift blame for failed strategies while earning piles of cash. Shattered merits mark it well above this once interesting and insightful discipline. Even its title is unique; it’s metaphonically palindromic. The book could have had the same name if she has won.


Remarks by Craig Shirley at the Essex County Memorial Day Ceremony


May 29th, 10am.

18740657_1935669919792191_2958787799036264261_nThank you, Commissioner Blackwell, very much for your kind introduction and invited speaker for this Essex County Memorial Day Ceremony. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and the honored guests here today, American veterans, heroes all — and those who are not here, but who live in our minds and hearts forever.

We come here today to observe Memorial Day, to honor those who have paid the ultimate price to defend us and defend the world. Established in 1868, this holiday was originally designated Decoration Day, to commemorate the Union losses of the Civil War. The South similarly had a day to remember their fallen — this was called Memorial Day. No greater honor is extended than to remember our honored dead. And after the Civil War, the ladies of the South established the Association for the Beautification of the Graves of the Glorious Dead. Writers and politicians and civic leaders have often noted that it is the women at home who often bear the hardest burdens of war. My grandmother’s hair went white within days of learning of the death of her son — my uncle — in World War II. She never recovered from her grief.

Too many times over the recent years, we sometimes hear young Americans ask why we commemorate Memorial Day? As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up, we may answer — it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go some whither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate.”

The War of Independence, the War of 1812, the Barbary Wars against the brutal Muslims, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Three centuries in — and the United States has become and remains the leader of the Free World. We owe so much to the men and women who have fought through history, some of whom are here today. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.” So said Abraham Lincoln in his timeless Gettysburg Address. Over a century later, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan said on a windswept cliff overlooking Normandy Beach, “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” As was said of a young man during the Civil War, “I saw the flame of genius and daring on his face.”

These heroes are all around us.

“I have a rendezvous with Death,” wrote Alan Seeger, who died at the Battle of the Somme in World War One. “At some disputed barricade, / When Spring comes back with rustling shade / And apple blossoms fill the air— I have a rendezvous with Death / When Spring brings back blue days and fair.” But still, he promised he would not turn away from his duty. “And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.”

Here in Essex County, we see the effects of war. From the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s, up to the present day, Virginians have fought both at home and abroad. The Civil War and World War II in particular have a long list of the Essex dead. And we honor them, too. Douglas MacArthur once succinctly said to the cadets of West Point, “You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the Nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war toxins sounds.”

Take, for example, these boys of Essex. Robert Green, who died in 1950 at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Take two cousins, Robert and Richard Garnett, both Brigadier Generals in the Civil War. Robert died in West Virginia near Corrick’s Ford, and Richard died during Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Others like William Leonard Hall and Frank Smith Jeffries served and died in World War One. These locals, a century apart, made the ultimate sacrifice. They believed in their cause, love for freedom, their family, and their country. And many others of Essex have also nobly served.

Since 1775, the Shirley and Cone families have heard the call to arms. Henry Cone, my mother’s great grandfather, was in the Connecticut militia, when he was sent to Boston to join General George Washington’s command.

After joining the regular army, Henry Cone proceeded to fight under Washington for seven years, including at Valley Forge, when he lost an eye due to smallpox. His son Andrew served in the War of 1812. Shirleys and Cones fought on both sides in the Civil War, fought as doughboys in the First World War and my uncle, my father’s oldest brother, Barney, made the ultimate sacrifice — he was shot down and killed in the Pacific on his 20th birthday in January of 1945.

My father served in the Army during the Korean War, his other brother in the Marine Corps. My mother’s brothers served in Europe and Korea. Both my grandmothers were Rosie the Riveters in World War II. One tested machine guns — and the other was a bomb inspector.

More recently, our son Andrew was a Navy Corpsman during the Iraq War — and our nephew Nathan, a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marines drove a tank in the Iraq War, moving from Kuwait to Bagdad and all the way to Tikrit, traveling farther and faster than any tank unit in American history.

Bravery and heroism transcend generations and surpass time. John Kennedy, in his inaugural address in 1961, said that, “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.” He said further that “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” It’s a wonderful testament to our Judeo-Christian heritage. We don’t embrace Empire — we don’t conquer. We liberate, and when we are done, we sometime ask the country we saved for a bit of land on which to bury our dead, as General Colin Powell once sagely observed.

American men have fought and died and suffered for others and those principles, men who have sacrificed their all for loved ones and for strangers, for their neighbors and for the neighbors of others. They fought, sweated, and bled together. “Nothing, in truth, can ever replace a lost companion,” said French aviator and World War One veteran, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “Old comrades cannot be manufactured. There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories, so many bad times endured together, so many quarrels, reconciliations, heartfelt impulses. Friendships like that cannot be reconstructed.”

Families were made among soldiers — and inseparable brotherhoods are forged in the fires of war. Scripture tells us this importance: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The theme of sacrifice and selflessness are prominent throughout Judeo-Christian theology and culture — Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, Moses not being allowed into the Promised Land. Today, the men and women on the frontlines who don uniforms for our great country exemplify that selflessness for their fellow brothers and sisters.

“In war there is no substitute for victory,” General MacArthur announced in his retirement, ending a half-century long and distinguished career for the people of his country and the world. The men who fought in war brought that victory. They more than anyone are the backbone of this nation and of the free world. We mourn them and thank these men and women for all their heroism — for all time. They have touched the face of God.

As Holmes once said, “But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

And to the men and women here who have served in the wars after, America and the world thank you. For your service, for your sacrifice, and for your love of freedom.

A debt is owed which can never be repaid, a cherished memory which will never be forgotten.

Thank you.


The Democrats’ Long History of Blaming Others for Election Losses || Lifezette

The Democrats’ Long History of Blaming Others for Election Losses

For 50 years liberals have been cooking up reasons for their defeats, when they only have themselves to blame

by Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer | Updated 29 May 2017 at 4:13 PM

It’s human nature to assign blame in situations that go wrong. Sometimes, we look for problems in others. Too rarely, we look for problems in ourselves; especially, it seems, for those on the political left.

For the Democratic Party, at the loss of every presidential election cycle for almost 50 years, it’s been the former. They have historically looked outward, not inward, blaming the GOP for some dirty tricks, a fast shuffle, a quirk, a happenstance, or an accident of history, rather than examining their own policies and candidates. In short, they don’t blame themselves.

In 1968, former Vice President Richard Nixon successfully ran against Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. While the popular vote was less than a percentage-point difference, the electoral vote was a washout: 301 for Nixon, 191 for Humphrey, and 46 for George Wallace. Nixon largely appealed on a platform to end the Vietnam War. It was a “Secret Plan,” many asserted. Except, there was no plan, at least on his campaign platform. He explicitly had “no gimmicks or secret plans” to end the war.

However, even today, many believe this “Secret Plan” led to his victory in the election. “Even though Richard Nixon didn’t have one, the notion that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War helped him win the presidency in 1968,” said Walter Wells in 2006. Yet there was sharp division of the Democratic Party at that time. Segregationist George Wallace was chosen as the nominee for the American Independent Party, and he took many southern Democrat votes, and ultimately won 10 million of the 73 million votes cast. It may be this division of the Democratic Party, along with the association of the Democrats with the Vietnam War under the Johnson administration, that led to Nixon’s victory.

Skip ahead to the election of 1980. Former governor of California Ronald Reagan won by 10 points and 8 million votes over incumbent president Jimmy Carter. What caused such a landslide? To some liberals, Ronald Reagan and his staff struck a secret deal with Iran to hold off the release of 52 American hostages before the election, a major source of contention with the Carter administration and the American people. The thought was that if Iran, with the support of Reagan, could hold off the release of hostages, then that would keep the American voters unhappy with Carter, guaranteeing a victory for the Californian.

A lot of paranoid liberals have dined out on this “October Surprise,” even as the phrase was originally coined by Reaganites, fearful that Carter would negotiate a last-minute deal to get the hostages home before the November elections. There was a lot of evidence that Carter had already politicized the crisis.

Lyndon LaRouche started this conspiracy mere months after the election, and it was touted by some in the media, including Gary Sick in a 1991 editorial in The New York Times (natch) in which he said he conducted “hundreds of interviews, in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East” to substantiate this story. Nothing else came of it, and there was no proof beyond hearsay. A 1993 House report stated “there is no credible evidence” behind it, and thus it did not help the GOP nominee’s chance of winning. For one, Reagan’s popularity did not jump ahead of Carter’s until after their sole debate on October 28, 1980, only a week before the election. Reagan’s attitude to American exceptionalism, his promise to be tougher with the Soviets — that’s what appealed to the people.

Because Carter lost does not mean that there was a grand conspiracy to contact foreign governments to change the election. It was Carter’s incompetency as president, coming in as an outsider to clean up D.C. only to be entangled in it; it was the downward spiral of the economy (with the portmanteau “stagflation” coming into popular use); it was détente’s failures in the wake of Soviet aggression; it was all of these and more that led to Carter’s loss.

Reagan’s eight years as president were effective and for the most part popular, so it is no surprise that, in the 1988 election, Reagan’s VP, George H.W. Bush, was elected with a landslide victory in both the electoral and popular vote. At one point during the campaign, supporters of the Bush campaign ran an ad criticizing Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis about convicted murderer Willie Horton.

Horton, who was released on a “weekend pass” as part of then-governor Dukakis’ rehabilitation of criminals, ended up kidnapping a couple and brutally raping the wife. It was an effective though controversial campaign ad. However, they ignored the basic fact that Dukakis just didn’t have the backbone — nor the enthusiastic support of Reagan’s Democratic supporters that Bush did. They ignored Reagan’s legacy, the strong economy, the strong national identity, and Bush’s eight years as Reagan’s veep.

In the 2000 election, it came down to Florida and the recount. Fewer than 600 votes initially placed George W. Bush ahead of Vice President Al Gore, putting Bush just one electoral vote over the necessary to win the election. When the Supreme Court ultimately settled in Bush’s favor, protests erupted — and erupted up to the inauguration. Thousands protested in D.C., chanting “not my president” and “Bush stole the election.” Signs calling him a racist and illegitimate lined the streets. One said, “Restore Democracy and Count all Votes.”

Rows of police in riot gear had to hold back protests. As NBC’s Maria Shriver reported live on the news, she saw “very few actual pro-Cheney signs or pro-Bush signs here … Quite an angry crowd.” It was a major protest that many reporters hadn’t seen before in an inauguration. Later studies show that Bush still would have won with both a full and limited recount. But the real issue was that Gore lost much of the Midwest and South, including his home state of Tennessee. Gore seemed to have ignored in his campaign the middle-class American, whom Bush successfully wooed.

The 2004 election with Bush and John Kerry, while not nearly as close, also had purported trouble with vote counting, as a recount was ordered after a plethora of issues in Ohio. It’s possible Kerry’s failure to forcibly confront the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth allegations of his Vietnam service distortions was enough to tip the scales. For years, Democrats have convinced themselves that Ohio voting machines were rigged, thus delivering the state and the national election to Bush.

And now moving to the 2016 election.

Rumors abound and will continue to abound for the foreseeable future about Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia and Vladimir Putin. From conspiracies of voter fraud and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee to Russia having supposed compromising material on the 45th president, all hear about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton herself, in mid-December, said: “This is not just an attack on me and my campaign, although that may have added fuel to it. This is an attack against our country. We are well beyond normal political concerns here. This is about the integrity of our democracy and the security of our nation.” One can imagine at a 2016 Trump campaign meeting someone shouting out, “Hey, let’s call the Russians! They know all about American campaigns!” Only a deeply disturbed paranoiac would suggest such idiocy.

It all distracts from the actual problem of this highly contested, highly divisive election: There was a deep-rooted frustration in America that was not touched on in the Democratic platform. Pennsylvania had three counties that previously voted for Barack Obama vote for Trump. In Wisconsin, that number was 22; Michigan, 12, and in Iowa, nearly a third of the counties went from Democratic last election to Republican. The number of red-to-blue counties was inconsequential.

See a pattern here?

In 1968, they blamed Nixon’s supposed Secret Plan. In 1972, George McGovern lost because someone broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. In 1980, it was a fake back-door deal to keep the hostages in Tehran, delivering the election to Reagan. In 1998, it was Willie Horton ads. In 2000 and 2004, it was Florida and Ohio polling stations. In 2016, it’s the Russians. All of these look outward, not inward, to the problem of Democratic losses. A moment of self-reflection can do wonders for an individual — it can do even more for a political party.

Craig Shirley is the author of the new book “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980,” and three other books about former President Ronald Reagan. Scott Mauer is his researcher.


"There are no easy answers' but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." – The Gipper