Tag Archives: Nancy Reagan



By Craig Shirley | March 11, 2016

Nancy Reagan did sacrifice herself for Ronald Reagan, but it was willing and loving. She devoted herself to his career and his legacy, but also set the tone for the modern First Lady. She was pretty, dignified but also modern in her views and charitable works. She took a more direct interest in his well being after the assassination attempt and she worried more, but also loved more and cried more when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“On behalf of a grateful nation.” With those measured words, the commander of the USS Reagan, Admiral James Symonds, handed the flag, which had covered the casket of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan in early June of 2004.

Only then, did she begin weeping. She’s been strong and stoic the entire week of the funeral but now, at the last, she was just another lonely widow, surrounded by her small family, the picture of acute sadness.

Now, twelve years later, she has joined her beloved “Ronnie” in eternal bliss. Their marriage was not supernatural but it was a true American romance. It certainly was one for the history books of White House marriages. Some White House marriages were more business deals than undying love. The marriage of FDR and Eleanor comes to mind, as does the betrothal of Bill and Hillary Clinton. There was never any doubt about the love and devotion of Ronnie and Mommy for each other.

She was once described as a “Metternich in Adolpho dresses.” Metternich was, of course, the famous and successful Austrian diplomat who got things done. Nancy certainly got things done. She did not, as has been erroneously reported, end the Cold War or make Reagan, somehow, more moderate. But she had keen political insights, as she demonstrated during the now famous Nashua debate in 1980, when her husband followed her advice and won the day, won the primary and won the election.

She did sacrifice herself for him, but it was willing and loving. She devoted herself to his career and his legacy, but also set the tone for the modern First Lady. She was pretty, dignified but also modern in her views and charitable works. She took a more direct interest in his well being after the assassination attempt and she worried more, but also loved more and cried more when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

She took his pain and suffering upon herself but is now free of that, just as he is also free of earthly pains.

In the end, the two were greater than the sum of the parts and now, in eternity, they are with a greater power.

Nancy Davis Reagan, RIP.

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His latest book is Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan. Mr. Shirley is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

Nancy Reagan, Guardian of a Legacy

Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan” is the latest Reagan book written by Craig Shirley, a Republican political consultant-turned-historian. His previous two Reagan books were detailed accounts of the 1976 and 1980 campaigns. In this one, the star of the show is mostly off-stage: Aside from occasional flashbacks, the action takes place in the week after Reagan’s 2004 death.

Its main theme is the disconnect between how elites saw Reagan and how the man and his presidency were viewed by rank-and-file Americans. I interviewed Shirley, an occasional contributor to RealClearPolitics, on his way to California for Nancy Reagan’s funeral.

Craig, let’s get this question out of the way: The preface to this book was written by Reagan biographer and RCP West Coast columnist Lou Cannon. Why?

Simple. Lou is first among equals. Your dad set a standard no one will meet, but all celebrate. Plus, I deeply admire Lou. We’ve been friends for more years than we like to think, but over time, that friendship and mutual respect has only deepened. One hundred years from now, when historians want to know about Ronald Reagan, they will go first to Lou’s books. Then, hopefully, mine too. Other books, like Bill O’Reilly’s, will be used to start fires.

The opening of this book is hair-raising: I’m not talking about Reagan’s death. I mean when you reprise some of the ugly things said by many Democrats—and even a few Republicans—when Reagan died. You name names. Who offended you the most?

Where do I begin? The Washington establishment, led by the Style section and editorial pages of The Washington Post, were awful to Reagan. So was the New York Times, to the point of being unprofessional. Paul Krugman was especially despicable, going so far as to making things up about Reagan. David Broder was magnificent—as were Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi. Surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal was also reserved in some of its commentary and editorials about Reagan. But that is easily explained; the barons of Wall Street were always chary about the populist Reagan and he was equally standoffish about them. They’d supported Ford over Reagan in 1976 and, take your pick: George Bush, John Connally and Howard Baker over Reagan in 1980. Reagan never bailed out Wall Street.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were gracious, as was the entire Bush clan, the Fords, the Cheneys and the many children of presidents and first ladies. Bill Clinton nodded off during the ceremonies and Hillary Clinton had a scowl on her face the entire time.

Al Felzenberg, in a tribute to Nancy Reagan in the Weekly Standard this week, recalled Nancy saying, “My life did not begin until I met Ronnie.” And that Reagan himself once said of Nancy: “I cannot imagine life without her.” So it was a real love story. In researching this book what surprised you most about how Nancy handled Reagan’s death?

With grace, terrible grieving, but the knowledge that he was no longer in pain. She was with him at the very end, as his breathing shallowed, his pulse grew fainter, his eyes suddenly opened wide. They’d been closed for three weeks. He opened them and they were clear and blue and sharp, not hazy. He looked right at her, with recognition. And he then passed away. Weeping, Mrs. Reagan said, “That’s the greatest gift you could have given me.”

She was stoic and strong the entire week of the funeral, only crying in public at the end, at the graveside in Simi [Valley] as the commander of the USS Reagan, Adm. James Symonds, handed her the flag which had been placed over his coffin and whispered the words so many other widows of fallen heroes had heard, “Mrs. Reagan, on behalf of a grateful nation…”

There has been a lengthy reevaluation of Nancy Reagan. Excoriated by much of the media in Sacramento and in Washington, she won over her former critics with how bravely she handled her husband’s long death struggle with Alzheimer’s. Revisionist historians, some of them feminists, have in recent years lauded Nancy for having a moderating influence on the Reagan presidency, too, in areas ranging from dealing with the AIDS crisis to Soviet relations. Is there a consensus forming among presidency scholars about her tenure as first lady?

Not yet. Some are foolishly saying she somehow won the Cold War. She had a deft hand, but confined it mostly to politics and personnel, not policy. She had a simple rule. You were there to help Ronnie and if you weren’t, changes had to be made.

How about Reagan himself? In the light of the records of his successors, have the academics who so relentlessly criticized Reagan relented in their judgments?

Some have, but many haven’t. And some have become harsher and more biased. I’ve noticed an uptick in the past several years of inaccurate stories and columns about the Reagans. We push back when we can, but it takes a lot of time. What’s that old adage: “A lie can make its way around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on”? Still, as Shakespeare said, the truth will come to light. And the truth about Ronald and Nancy Reagan is coming to light.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Because we can no longer trust liberals and hacks to record history accurately. Can you imagine Bill O’Reilly or Evan Thomas or Kitty Kelley writing this book? We can’t trust the books editors at the Weekly Standard or The Washington Post to determine what is important and what is not important.

It’s your third Reagan book; what was the biggest surprise?

How kind many liberals were and how harsh some conservatives were. Ralph Reed was especially hard on the Reagan legacy. But some liberals, such as Harry Reid, were very kind. Many people turned out in Simi Valley, along California Highway 101, in Washington— hundreds of thousands of people viewed the bier and wept. Even Mikhail Gorbachev cried!

How will you remember Nancy Reagan?

With great fondness. She took a real interest in my books. From the beginning, she told the Reagan Library to open up sealed files and boxes for me to go through exclusively, even though they had not yet been catalogued. I would send her flowers for her birthday and she’d write me a note. I’d speak at the library and she’d send me a note. I’d send her books and she’d send me a note.

My wife, Zorine, and I saw her at the 10th anniversary of Reagan’s passing. Lou and I had participated in a panel with several other Reagan scholars and then there was a wreath-laying at Reagan’s tomb. Afterwards, Zorine and I were invited to see Mrs. Reagan off. She was in a wheelchair, but the eyes were blue and bright, there was a joy in her smile and when I bent down to wish her well, she patted my hand and said, “Thank you for all you are doing for Ronnie’s legacy.” Then she was wheeled onto the elevator and was gone. I think Zorine and I choked up a bit.

The Reagans’ friend Jimmy Stewart once ruminated that if Ronald Reagan had met Nancy Davis before he married Jane Wyman, Reagan never would have gone into politics. “She would have seen to it that he got all the best parts,” he said, “won three or four Oscars and been a real star.” It’s a nice line, but I wonder if Stewart was kidding on the square.

Oh, I don’t know. The arc of his career generally went up after he met her. After Hollywood, there was the General Electric speaking tour, his columns and radio broadcasts, the California governorship and the presidency. Now, he is beloved and historians regard him as one of America’s greatest presidents. I doubt he would have reached such heights without her. One thing is for sure: Reagan himself believed he never would have done all that he did without Nancy.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

How Nancy Reagan helped save her husband’s career in NC

Charlotte Observer

MARCH 8, 2016 6:59 PM


The late Nancy Reagan played a lot of roles during her 94 years: Hollywood actress, first lady, presidential confidante.

But it was her small role in North Carolina political history that had major consequences for her husband, and later for the nation.

Reagan, who died Sunday, will be buried Friday alongside the former president at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Her footnote to N.C. history came 40 years ago this month.

It was in 1976, the last time North Carolina held a March presidential primary. That contest, like this year’s, featured a populist outsider against an establishment candidate backed by Washington and by most political insiders.

President Gerald Ford, who’d assumed office two years earlier after the resignation of Richard Nixon, was fighting for the Republican nomination.

He faced a strong challenge from Ronald Reagan, the former California governor backed by the party’s conservative wing.

With the advantage of incumbency, Ford had defeated Reagan in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and gone on to win the next four primaries.

Reagan’s campaign was on the ropes. According to “Reagan’s Revolution,” Craig Shirley’s account of the 1976 campaign, Ford started March with $1 million in the bank. Reagan had a six-figure debt. His campaign was laying off staff. Aides were talking about a graceful exit.

Ford’s allies tried to pressure Reagan into withdrawing. N.C. Gov. Jim Holshouser, a Republican, went on TV and read a letter from fellow governors calling on Reagan to quit.

Reagan wanted none of that. Neither did U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and Tom Ellis, a Helms operative and founder of the National Congressional Club, a conservative political machine.

“The people in the White House seem to think I should be withdrawing,” Reagan told a crowd of supporters at Raleigh’s airport. When people shouted “No” and “Stay in,” Reagan said, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Ellis, who feuded with Reagan’s advisers on issues and tactics, took over the Californian’s campaign in the state and sought to mount an aggressive media campaign.

Believing Reagan was his own best salesman, he badly wanted a video of a 30-minute speech the former governor had made in Miami. If N.C. voters could hear the candidate himself, Ellis thought, they’d pull the lever for him.

But back in the days before email and streaming, Reagan’s advisers balked. They thought nobody would watch a 30-minute video. Ellis disagreed.

So Helms intervened. He called Nancy Reagan. A copy of the 30-minute speech soon arrived.

Ellis watched it at a Raleigh TV studio with two colleagues, including Carter Wrenn. The campaign raised the money to air it on TV stations across the state.

“The Reagan national campaign said 30 minutes (of air time) was a waste of money,” Wrenn recalls. “Ellis stuck to his guns. And at the end of the day we raised the money to air it.”

Helms was a vocal advocate for Reagan. He touted his status as an anti-Washington outsider, just like a Democratic governor that year, Jimmy Carter. Ellis mounted an aggressive ground game. But he always considered Reagan’s 30-minute speech instrumental in winning support.

Reagan himself spent the entire week before the primary campaigning in North Carolina, often with friends like actor Jimmy Stewart. He hit Ford on foreign policy issues such as a budding detente with the Soviet Union and threats of relinquishing control of the Panama Canal.

On March 23, Reagan beat Ford 53 percent to 47 percent. That was enough to jump start his campaign and take it all the way to that summer’s convention in Kansas City.

“Had Reagan lost North Carolina … his revolutionary challenge to Ford, along with his political career, would have ended unceremoniously,” Shirley wrote. “He would have made a graceful exit speech … and faded into oblivion.”

This month The Jesse Helms Center in Wingate is marking the 40th anniversary of the primary. On March 23, it will release newly found video as well as excerpts from the 30-minute speech.

The speech that might not have been seen in North Carolina had it not been for Nancy Reagan.

Nancy Reagan’s Passing: A Reminder of the Reagans’ Undying Devotion to Each Other

CNS News

By Craig Shirley | March 8, 2016 | 11:59 AM EST

She used to dream of him, in all seasons, in all manner of things. Now Nancy Reagan is together again with her Ronnie, forever in eternity.

Their marriage is one of the great love stories in the history of the White House. We’ve had presidents and First Ladies who were in love, weren’t in love, who were indifferent to each other, and some presidents who couldn’t keep their marriage vows.

No one, except the most rabid Reagan hater, has ever suggested credibly that Ronald and Nancy Reagan were not deeply in love, mad for each other for over fifty years.

It was said that if Reagan wanted to be a shoe salesman, she would have made sure he was the best shoe salesman in the world. It just so happened Reagan wanted to be a national political and world leader, so she did her best to make sure he was the best.

Very few First Couples were not only in love, but in like too as best friends and soul mates. It was clear from the beginning of their storybook marriage that she did not want to be the star, the candidate, the president. Not every First Lady understood the country only wanted one president at a time and at least one tried to con the American people with a “two for one” pitch. The American people never bought it.

The true measure of a good marriage is not how things go in good times, but more importantly, in bad times. Nancy and Ronald Reagan pledged for better or for worse, and her commitment and love came shining through many times, as his career sunk  in Hollywood, as he lost his GE career, as he lost the 1976 GOP nomination.

And, at the last, during the Alzheimer years. For those ten years, she was there all the time, rarely leaving his side, almost never leaving California and then only to inspect a new statue of Ronnie or accept a new award on his behalf. Keeping his legacy alive was very important to Mrs. Reagan and to the American people.

She sacrificed herself for him, eating rarely, not getting enough sleep, thinking of him, praying for him. She could have had him put in an hospice but it never crossed her mind. She was going to care for him, be near him, a part and parcel of a “long goodbye.”

Nancy was there in the beginning, even before the beginning. They both said their lives began when they met each other. No one ever doubted it. No one ever doubted their undying devotion to each other.

And no one doubts they are now together again – “Ronnie” and “Mommy” – in loving eternity.

Craig Shirley is the author of two bestselling books Ronald Reagan’s campaigns and is now working on several more including Last Act, about Reagan’s final years. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, December 1941, and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.

Nancy Reagan: Condolences Pour in for ‘Tower of Strength’ First Lady

NBC news

by MAR 7 2016, 9:32 AM ET

The news of Nancy Reagan’s death Sunday at the age of 94 brought a flood of tributes, condolences and reminiscences.

Many noted the substantial impact she left on the country and the world, and the deep commitment and love shared between the former first lady and her late husband, President Ronald Reagan.

“Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice,” President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement.

“We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren. And we remain grateful for Nancy Reagan’s life, thankful for her guidance, and prayerful that she and her beloved husband are together again,” the first couple said.

Obama twitter

“Nancy Reagan defined grace, courage, and loyalty. An accomplished actress, First Lady of California, and First Lady of the United States, she understood public service is a noble endeavor,” said Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden in a statement.

“And together, she and our 40th president gave meaning to a poet’s words: Come live with me and be my love/And we will all the pleasures prove,” the Bidens said. “Nancy and Ronald Reagan proved those pleasures for more than half a century. They are now together to prove them once again.”

“My mother had been in poor health for quite a while, and recently had gotten markedly worse, so this wasn’t a surprise. That said, death always feels like a surprise,” said Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, 63. She thanked those who offered condolences, and said the family would honor her mother publicly and then move on to grieving privately.

Reagan’s son, Ron Reagan, 57, said his mother “was a woman who was totally dedicated to her husband.”

“She loved her husband more than anything in the world,” Ron Reagan said on TODAY. “He meant everything to her.”

“The Ronald Reagan that we all came to know would not have existed without Nancy Reagan,” he added.

“I am saddened by the passing of my step mother Nancy Reagan … She is once again with the man she loved. God Bless,” wrote Ronald Reagan’s adopted son, Michael Reagan, 70.

Michael Reagan twitter

Former President George W. Bush lauded Reagan’s work to raise awareness about drug abuse and breast cancer. “Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband, and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting,” he said in a statement.

His mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, said Reagan was “totally devoted” to her husband.

“We take comfort that they will be reunited once more,” Bush said. “George and I send our prayers and condolences to her family.”

President Bill Clinton said he and Hillary Clinton were “deeply saddened” to hear of Reagan’s death. “Nancy was an extraordinary woman: a gracious First Lady, proud mother, and devoted wife to President Reagan—her Ronnie,” Clinton wrote. “Her strength of character was legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the President, and throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s.”

Hillary tweet

“My thoughts & prayers are with Nancy Reagan’s family and friends. Very sad to learn of her passing,” Chelsea Clinton tweeted.

President Jimmy Carter said: “Rosalynn and I are saddened by the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan. She will always be admired for her strength of conviction and her lifelong devotion to her husband.”

President Richard Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon, said Reagan was “a constant source of support for our parents and our family.”

“Her love for her husband and our nation endeared her to people of all walks of life, while her crusade against drugs and dedication to bettering the lives of young people everywhere changed millions of lives,” they said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Reagan left an “indelible impression” on the country. “President Reagan was one of our country’s greatest optimists, whose courage and foresight helped win the Cold War, and Nancy was his partner and confidante, helping guide him through his years in public office and beyond,” he said in a statement.

“No matter your party or political ideology, this is a sad day for America,” said Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady. … Nancy Reagan had a good heart, and she will be dearly missed.”


McCarthy twitter

“Nancy Reagan, the wife of a truly great President, was an amazing woman. She will be missed,” said GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said the Reagan family was in his prayers. “Nancy Reagan will be remembered for her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband, Ronald,” he said.

“President Reagan has been reunited with his wife and partner but America and the Reagan family have lost a woman of grace and strength,” said Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “Nancy Reagan’s dedication to our country was matched only by that of her husband. Theirs was one of our nation’s great love stories and a model of shared devotion to our country. America is stronger and better for their service.”

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Reagan was “a true example of integrity and grace.”

New Jersey Gov. and former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said Reagan “embodied grace and poise for generations of Americans.”

“Nancy Reagan was the rock behind one of the greatest leaders of our time. She was her husband’s greatest source of strength through the toughest decisions he made as president,” Christie said.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said even those who weren’t “Reagan Republicans” admired and respected the former first lady. “She was a tower of strength alongside her husband, had strong beliefs, and was not afraid to chart her own course politically.”

“She persuaded her husband to support the Brady Law, and their advocacy was instrumental in helping us pass it,” Schumer said, referring to the pivotal gun safety measure.

Former Republican presidential candidate — and recent newsmaker arguing for bringing class back to politics — Mitt Romney said in a statement that Reagan’s passing marked the end of “the days of Ronald Reagan.”

“With charm, grace, and a passion for America, this couple reminded us of the greatness and the endurance of the American experiment,” Romney said. “God and Ronnie have finally welcomed a choice soul home.”

“Ronald Reagan could not have accomplished everything that he did without his wife Nancy,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “She loved her husband, and she loved her country. This was her service. It was her way of giving back. And all of us are very grateful.”

“President Reagan was famous for his smile, and Nancy was usually the reason he was smiling. During her husband’s presidency and the difficult years that followed, Nancy Reagan was a rock of strength and unconditional love, and a leader in her own right on matters close to her heart,” said former House Speaker John Boehner. “May they now both rest in peace in God’s loving arms, reunited for eternity.”

“Nancy Reagan was an example to us all of graciousness, loyalty and dignity in good times and bad. She was an exemplary First Lady, and a generous friend. I will always be grateful for her and her husband’s many kindnesses to my family.,” said Se. John McCain, R-Ariz. “And I will always remember her as a dear friend and patriot and as one-half of a love story that Hollywood couldn’t have written any better.”

McCain twitter

House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that Reagan “touched the heart of a nation and made the world a better place.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted the bond between Nancy Reagan and her husband. “In many ways the Reagan love story was classic Hollywood, but it was unmistakably human too,” he said in a statement. “Hands intertwined, Nancy and Ron rose to the pinnacle of political power, weathered cancer and personal heartbreak, and braved the depths of Alzheimer’s cold embrace — always together.”

“Our loss is heaven’s gain. First Lady Nancy Reagan will be remembered for her bravery & integrity,” said House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Reagan was a “dear friend.”

“I will miss her but never forget all that she meant to me. Her spirit will live on in all who learned from her and loved her,” Rice said.

Pete Souza twitter

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Reagan one of his “heroes.”

She served as First Lady with unbelievable power, class and grace and left her mark on the world,” Schwarzenegger said. “She’s with her Ronnie now, but those of us she left behind will miss her dearly.”

Maria Schriver, who, like Reagan served as first lady of California, noted on MSNBC that Reagan was “deeply devoted to her husband.”

“She served our country and the state of California with class,” Schriver said in a statement.

“We’re saddened by the loss of Nancy Reagan,” said a tweet from NASA, accompanied by a picture of the former first lady admiring a space shuttle.

NASA twitter

The Girl Scouts of America said in a statement that Reagan would be remembered for her “courage, confidence and character” in service to America and the Girl Scouts. Nancy Reagan served as the honorary national president of the Girl Scouts from 1981-1989.

Girl Scouts twitter

“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer condolences to the Reagan family and the United States following the death of Nancy Reagan,” said Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Nancy and Ronald Reagan were one of the great love stories of the American presidency,” said Craig Shirley, a Ronald Reagan biographer, who has written three books about the late president. “Nancy Reagan was not only the First Lady; she was a Great Lady.”