Reagan biographer Craig Shirley’s newest could give GOP a roadmap to the White House

ReaganBy Paul Bedard | September 8, 2014 | 10:21 am

Noted Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley has a tentative deal with Random House to publish his fourth and possibly most significant book on the Gipper, detailing his “wilderness” years from 1976 to 1980, when Reagan cemented his positive conservatism for his winning White House campaign and governing philosophy.

Shirley said that during those four years “Reagan changed completely,” and the period produced “the Reagan we all know.” During that time, Reagan developed his upbeat outlook that gave him a theme to run on instead of just bashing then-President Jimmy Carter.

Wilderness has been in the works for years and complements his other two best-selling Reagan bios, Rendezvous with Destiny, about the winning 1980 campaign, and Reagan’s Revolution, on the losing 1976 effort. He also just completed Last Act, which covers for the first time Reagan’s post-presidency.

Shirley, who heads Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria, Va., said the new book probably will be released during the 2016 presidential campaign season. He hopes the eventual Republican candidate cribs heavily from it.

“I think it would be useful in the 2016 campaign,” he said. “The Republican Party has gone into retrenchment, it’s become anti-Obama, and that’s not enough,” said Shirley, adding, “It’s not a governing philosophy. Reagan did show that conservatism could be pitched as a popular governing philosophy.

While the Reagan expert defers to celebrated former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon as the nation’s No. 1 Reagan biographer, Shirley has become a dominant Reagan story-teller.

And now he also has his eyes set on Edmund Morris, the official Reagan biographer and author of the oft-ridiculed Dutch.

“Lou Cannon is at the pinnacle of all Reagan biographers. But I would like to take a crack at what Edmund Morris failed to do which is to write the definitive biography of Reagan, from birth to death,” said Shirley, who has a new book coming out soon on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich titled Citizen Newt.

Reagan is a popular topic and Shirley’s books a gold mine of information. So much so that a new book about Reagan and Richard Nixon borrowed from Shirley, who charged that he didn’t get proper credit.

He cited 45 cases of alleged plagiarism by Rick Perlstein, author of, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. The author has dismissed the charges.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” columnist, can be contacted at [email protected]