When Ronald Reagan Endorsed Ron Paul

Ben Smith of Politico has identified what he predicts will be the "best campaign ad of 2012." It will be a Haley Barbour spot featuring something any GOP hopeful would kill for: Ronald Reagan's endorsement, which he bestowed during Barbour's 1982 Senate campaign. Here's Reagan:

I'd like to take a moment to talk with you about our country's future and a very special leader - Haley Barbour. The problems of the 1980's are rapidly changing and demanding new solutions and fresh vigorous ideas. I've learned first hand that Haley Barbour has the intelligence, courage and experience to make a great United States Senator. These are difficult times but slowly and surely we are making America prosperous again. With leaders like Haley Barbour we can look to the future with confidence and hope.

I agree that will make a compelling ad. But I wouldn't award the Oscar just yet. That's because the 2012 GOP primary will quite possibly feature two Reagan-endorsed candidates, and just as many Reagan endorsement ads.

Who is the other fortunate endorsee? Ron Paul. While reporting this Paul profile last year, I paid a visit to his media consultant, Mark Elam, who gave me a tour of his political memorabilia. The collection included a vintage early '80s videotaped commercial ("The Ron Paul Story") that featured a glowing endorsement from Reagan. As Elam explained, Paul had been locked in a tough primary battle and his isolationist foreign policy had come under attack from Republican rivals trying to paint him as weak. Paul had been an early Reagan supporter and led the Texas delegation for Reagan at the 1976 Republican convention. So when he needed some help, Reagan was happy to reciprocate. As I describe in the piece, videotapes of the subsequent ad were sent to every Republican in Paul's district and featured this endorsement from The Gipper:

Ron Paul is one of the outstanding leaders fighting for a stronger national defense. As a former Air Force officer, he knows well the needs of our armed forces, and he always puts them first. We need to keep him fighting for our country.

Paul won the primary and returned to Congress. And, happily for political junkies, "The Ron Paul Story" has been preserved for future generations--and presidential campaigns?--on YouTube. I'll post it here for anyone interested (the Reagan endorsement comes just after the 7:00 mark):




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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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