Reagan’s Message…

by Bill Blake, President of The Lincoln Society


On August 19th, 1976, after narrowly losing a hard fought battle for the Republican nomination, Ronald Reagan delivered a brief, impromptu address before the convention and the television networks. That speech is a timeless reminder of the obligation we must meet in November.

But, before you watch the clip, put history in perspective…

Going into the primary season, President Ford was considered a historically weak incumbent. Having been appointed to fill the vice-presidency, President Ford had never stood for national election. For this reason, the political strategists believed him to be vulnerable. President Ford had pardoned President Nixon, which emboldened the various opposition factions to unite behind a Democratic nominee. And, within the Republican party, many of the conservatives were unhappy with President Ford over what was perceived to be his desertion of South Vietnam. The President’s signing of the Helsinki Accords was regarded by conservatives as appeasement to the Soviets, effectively handing over Eastern Europe to Soviet domination.

Having just completed two terms as the Governor of California, Ronald Reagan became the voice and embodiment of the conservative movement. Reagan was a gifted speaker. And, he had the conservative credentials of having been a prominent supporter of Senator Goldwater twelve years before. Reagan’s speech, “A Time for Choosing,” delivered on Goldwater’s behalf in October 1964, is still regarded as a paramount conservative address.

Despite this, Gerald Ford was still the incumbent, a sitting president. He narrowly carried Iowa and New Hampshire, but more widely carried Florida, Vermont, and Illinois. Many pundits declared that the conservative movement had ended before it began. However, in the North Carolina primary, Reagan connected with the conservative groups led by Senator Jesse Helms and defeated the President. While Reagan lost the next two moderate-leaning states, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Texas came to his rescue. All 24 Congressional districts elected Reagan, delivering him all 96 delegates plus 4 more selected at the state convention. Texas inspired conservatives in Georgia, Indiana, and Nebraska to rally for Reagan.

What followed was a battle in which the President took the northeast and the union states while Reagan took most of the south and the west. By the time the primaries were complete, the President had won 26 states plus D.C. to Reagan’s 24; and, the electoral map looked like this…


There were 2,259 delegates to the 1976 Republican National Convention. A candidate needed 1,130 to clinch the nomination. However, neither candidate had the magic number: Ford 1,121 (9 short) to Reagan 1,078. As the Republicans gathered in Kansas City, the scramble to win over unencumbered delegates began. Reagan gambled on the selection of Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker to help make inroads into the moderate northeast. Ultimately, few moderates were won over and the selection cost Reagan some influential delegates, notably among the Mississippi delegation.

By the time the ballot was cast, the President picked up 66 delegates while Reagan lost 8… 1,187 to 1,070. The President clinched the nomination and, true to tradition, concluded the convention by giving his acceptance speech. However, the convention would end with a highly unusual surprise. The President’s campaign understood that the party remained divided and the general election would be difficult. After finishing his own speech, the President called for Mr. Reagan to say a few words to the convention. By all accounts, Mr. Reagan’s short, impromptu address vastly overshadowed the President’s speech.


Kansas City
Conclusion of the Republican National Convention, August 19th, 1976, following Ronald Reagan’s speech encouraging party unity.

While all of this makes for great political history, the lesson Mr. Reagan imparted was timeless. Forty years later, the essence of Ronald Reagan’s message is a reminder to Republicans–conservatives, particularly. We have an obligation to defend against the opposition as they seek to assault liberty and economic freedom. We have a responsibility to work to defeat Hillary Clinton. Ronald Reagan lost the nomination by a razor thin margin. Yet, he understood the responsibility for Republicans to unite…

Would you like to see the entire speech or read the transcript?

Click here.

Don’t forget to read the policy papers of this year’s Republican nominee.