Bring GOP convention back to Kansas City — and Reagan

May 7, 2014

ford -- crunched

The Republican Party is now going though its quadrennial debate to select a city for its presidential nominating convention. The finalists are likely to be named next week. The site selection committee has reportedly narrowed the choices to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dallas, Las Vegas and Kansas City.

This decision is important because it helps set the theme and encapsulate the philosophy that the party wants to communicate to voters across the nation. Stagecraft often becomes statecraft.

As a longtime foot soldier for the GOP’s conservative movement, I have visited all these cities. Each has a case to be made, but none possesses the symbolism or history of Kansas City. (Besides being the best place in the country to get a good steak.)

The 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City was where candidate Ronald Reagan lost the nomination battle but set the modern GOP firmly on a  path to electoral victory — and changed American politics in the process.

reaganThe GOP in 1976 was at a crossroads metaphorically, and Kansas City was — and is — at the junction opening up America from east to west, from north to south. If the Republican Party chooses the city as its 2016 convention site, it may again be opting for a path through the wilderness back to the future — and ultimately to the White House.

Reagan lost out to President Gerald Ford, who then chose Senator Bob Dole of Kansas as his running mate. These three men may well have saved the party, setting it on a course to Reagan’s historic 1980 win, his success thereafter and where it needs to be in 2016 if it is to again govern the nation. For Kansas City represented a clear break with the GOP’s troubled Nixonian past.

The GOP had been badly damaged by the scandal of Watergate. But Ford, Dole and Reagan represented everything Richard M. Nixon was not. All were considered ethical politicians and Reagan, in particular, was regarded as a sunny, genial personality. He was the opposite of a hater.

Ford and Reagan, representing, respectively, the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP, had fought a protracted nomination battle. When the dust settled, Ford narrowly defeated the former California governor by 57 delegate votes. Ford realized he needed to stitch the party back together. He did two things to accomplish this.

First, he chose Dole,  a tough, smart, Midwestern conservative with a tender heart beneath a battle-scarred surface.

reagan pointingSecond, Ford asked Reagan to join him at the rostrum the night of his nomination and address the crowd. Ford’s goal of bringing the party together was also Reagan’s. The two men may have not liked each other but both believed in the Republican Party.

Reagan’s comments at the convention stirred Republicans — and the nation. He spoke of the future, about a letter he was asked to write for a time capsule, wondering what the world would be in 100 years and if it had avoided nuclear war. “Those who read this letter … will know whether those missiles were fired,” he said. “They will know whether we met our challenge.”

He concluded, thundering “We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory.”

After that Kansas City convention, it was clear that the Republicans had finally moved beyond the Nixon scandals to create a new version of the GOP.

Now, Kansas City may again be the right venue to launch the 21st-century model of the Republican Party.


PHOTO (TOP): President Gerald Ford, the Republican nominee, shakes hands with nomination foe Ronald Reagan on the closing night of the Republican National Convention, August 19, 1976. REUTERS/Ford Library

PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Ronald Reagan waving to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. REUTERS/Joe Marquette

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Ronald Reagan addressing a news conference in Washington, October 19, 1983. REUTERS/Mal


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Republicans will have their steak, the cholesterol that come with the steak. and death.

Democrats will have their salad and yogurt, go for a swim or bike ride, and enjoy life.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

I always associate Reagan with the beginning of serious homelessness in the streets of all major US cities. It has never changed since the early ’80’s. Tourists are amazed how Americans talk and how the streets actually are.

Posted by Mandingo | Report as abusive

Yes, evoke the spirit of Reagan. Sell some long-range missiles to Iran, arm up Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, increase deficits 200% more, get home mortgage rates back up to about 13.4%. Good times. If you have dementia :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

“Stagecraft often becomes statecraft.”
That’s the problem with the Republicans. Stagecraft is ALL they have, stagecraft and abuse of our Constitution, like making it harder for people to vote and gerrymandering, which robs Americans of proportional representation in government.

The GOP is bankrupt of ideas. They offer nothing new and block Democrats from trying anything new, yet change is what Americans long for. So here we have, once again, a Republican turning to Ronald Reagan to help sell their party, a product with zero nutritional value, simply because he is popular with almost all Republicans, even though today his policies would have gotten him kicked to the curb by even mainstream Republicans, much less Tea Partiers. Today’s GOP offers nothing by obstruction and special favors for the very rich.

The Republicans offer no solutions to the challenges facing our nation. During the 2008 Presidential election healthcare was often cited as the number one issue with Americans. What was the Republicans’ response? Make sure nothing gets done and make sure Obama and the Democrats fail at responding to what the American public wants. Thank goodness it was the Republicans who failed.

Likewise on the issue of gun control. An overwhelming majority of Americans favor universal background checks on gun purchases, yet the Republicans make sure it doesn’t happen. When 90% of the public can’t have it’s way, it means our democracy no longer serves us and change is not just something to be desired. It’s something we must force upon those who are supposed to be representing us. Since the Republicans no longer govern, they have no business in our government.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

Not that I care what either of the idiot political parties do, but harkening back to Reagan seems like a sure-fire way to assure a Demo victory. The Reagan legacy has not withstood the test of time and history very well….

Posted by Twain | Report as abusive

excellent summation by carnivalchaos above

Posted by thinker72 | Report as abusive

Revisionist effort in favour of Ford, Dole and Bush I feel. The Republican establishment couldn’t stand Reagan and tried to thwart him at every turn. However at the end of that convention, accurately highlighted by the writer in regards to Reagan’s effect on the convention, most felt they had chosen the wrong candidate. Reagan also commented, for the benefit of the totalitarians that are so prevalent today “the platform of the opposing party which is nothing but a revamp and a reissue and a rerunning of a late, late show of the thing that we have been hearing from them for the last 40 years” that he understood the situation and what the American people wanted, conservatism and common sense.

Posted by ANZUS | Report as abusive

Reagan? Isn’t he that old actor guy that increased the national deficit 189% with trickle on you economics? Cut and ran in Beirut when 241 Marines were killed, but did heroically beat the living tar out of flea speck Granada. Well I guess the wealthy love him, he and his party of the rich singlehandedly shifted their tax burden onto the middle class which they had a great laugh and greatly enjoy to this day. You mean that guy? Maybe not, maybe the fools paradise Vegas would be more appropriate location.

Posted by JRuss42 | Report as abusive

Reagan. Good one. Yes, we need to sell Iran some more long-range missiles.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Kansas City has been a political mountain for years. Sure will make a good show. Nixon used to come there regular saw him standing on the side of the street as he came in many time. Only town that is divided between two states right in the middle. sure causes you to wonder where you are when one side of the street is Kansas and the other is Missouri.

Posted by tommelba | Report as abusive

JRuss42: Of course you’re right about Reagan. He will go down in history as the President who led us down the path that devolved our democracy into a plutocracy. To be fair, it wasn’t Reagan alone. He was just the first President to begin convincing the American people that favoring the rich at the expense of the Middle Class is actually in our best interest, calling it supplyside economics or Reaganomics. (Known to the more intelligent as trickle down economics.)

Obviously Ronny was wrong. He ran up the deficit to record heights, putting us on the path to our current extreme national debt, threw the mentally ill out on the streets of America, began deregulating our industries, started the dismantling of the labor unions, and of course cut taxes for the rich. It’s been downhill ever since.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

ALEC, the organization that wants to return America to medieval times, enthroned Ronald Reagan and told him what to say and do which led to the near extinction of democracy in America. NO republicans/libertarians/tea party members or people posing as democrats and independents for any elected office in land. gislative_Exchange_Council

I wonder how many people know Ronald Reagan had solar panels ripped off the roof off the white house. That action was as foolish as the old actor was.

Posted by njglea | Report as abusive

Reagan was great for Wall Street. He opened the way for the super rich to amass more weath and pay alot less taxes. He also ran up the country’s debt.

Reagan is what America needs…….

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive