An angel shows up

Published March 27, 2024

By Carter Wrenn


Reagan’s voice turned softer, the room fell silent, people leaning forward on the edge of their chairs to hear – remembering the ‘tap, tap, tapping’ of Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella on the cobblestones of Munich Reagan said détente was a mistake – like appeasement had been a mistake.

Sitting in the White House Gerald Ford went right on pushing détente – that left Reagan facing a hard choice:  Should he run against Ford? It looked futile. He had little or no chance of winning.  But believing détente was wrong he ran.

Ford crushed Reagan in the first five primaries.  Then Reagan upset Ford in North Carolina, won Texas, beat Ford in primaries across the south and west. But he also lost to Ford in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio – and arrived at the Republican National Convention trailing Ford by a hundred delegate votes.

Sitting in the convention the first night, behind me, a brawl broke out between Reagan North Carolina and Ford New York delegates. Chaos erupted. Two nights later, delegates voted – and Ford won. The next night, standing on stage after making his acceptance speech, as people cheered, Ford waved to Reagan to come up onto the stage to join him.

Reagan smiled, politely shook his head. Ford waved again. People started chanting: Speech, Speech. Reagan slowly rose to his feet.

In campaigns proud men tell themselves they hold the power in their hands to win elections. But they don’t. That’s vanity. And the hardest decision a man has to make in a campaign is the choice to do what is right – when he knows it can lead to his defeat. Reagan did what he believed was right, lost, and when he walked onto the stage, standing in the ashes of defeat, an angel showed up and saved him: Ford pointed to the microphone and the speech Reagan gave that night put him on the road that led to the White House four years later.