Reagan was also clearly aware of the power of his charming personality. When on the phone with Iowa delegates, he took kindly to being called “Dutch,” his nickname when he was a Des Moines sports caster. He had a long conversation with a farmer about the Reagan ranch in California to prove his agricultural bona fides. In June, Reagan flew to district conventions in Iowa and Washington to personally appeal to the delegates. “In primaries where Democrats can cross over,” Reagan said, “I have won without fail.” Many delegates were so captivated by Reagan’s personality that Baker’s persuaders were no match for it. One delegate, for example, had at first been blown away by his visit to meet Ford. “Here I am, a young lawyer,” he said. “Imagine! I spent an hour in the Blue Room with the president. I asked the president a question and eyeballed him while he answered. He didn’t waiver. I was impressed.” But after Reagan talked to that delegate on the phone, the delegate threw his support behind Reagan.
The search for delegates went right into the convention. The New York Times’ Joseph Lelyveld noted that a bulletin board in the White House press room, which featured a list of Cabinet members so that reporters could sign up to meet with them, was rendered pointless. Lelyveld reported that all the Cabinet secretaries were “too busy chasing Eldon Ulmer, Eliza Sprinkle, Hannibal Tavares, and other uncommitted Republican delegates who were enjoying, or at least enduring, national celebrity because they couldn’t make up their minds.” One delegate at the convention hurt her leg badly after falling off the wooden platform that covered up the television and lighting wires. As she lay there in pain, White House adviser Tom Korologos recalled in an interview, administration officials were desperate to get her back in the game—because her alternate supported Reagan. So they found a congressman from Kentucky who was also a doctor to hastily make a splint out of convention programs. This allowed the wounded delegate to stay on the floor until the first ballot was over.
In the end, Ford was able to capitalize on the power of the White House to outflank his opponent. Reagan also made a devastating mistake when he announced before the convention that his running mate would be Senator Richard Schweiker, a moderate Republican who received support from the AFL-CIO and seemed to defy every conservative principle that Reagan stood for. The play didn’t work. Rather than building support at the last minute, it turned some of his true believers off.
But Ford only won the first ballot by an extraordinarily narrow margin of 1,187 to 1,070. The process left most Republicans unnerved as they realized how close the vote had been.
This time around, the political horse-trading would be unlike anything that Ford or Reagan ever considered. While Ford had the power of the presidency at his disposal, Trump has the wealth and chutzpah to throw endless riches at the delegates. Cruz, with the fervent support of the anti-Trump campaign, including wealthy backers, will be prepared to do the same. Recently, while blasting a “corrupt” process, Trump simultaneously sent a not-so-subtle signal: “Look, nobody has better toys than I do. I can put the delegates in the best planes and bring them to the best resorts anywhere in the world. Doral, Mar-a-Lago. I can put them in the best places in the world.”