The Right’s Reagan Worship a Relatively Recent Development, Plotted Primary Challenge in 1984

Steve Kornacki has an article at Salon about liberal disappointment with President Obama and calls to support a challenger to him in 2012 in which he uncovered an article from 1983 that I just want to highlight because I think it is interesting:

Hard-line conservatives will meet this weekend in Dallas to discuss complaints against the administration and perhaps lay some groundwork for challenging President Reagan if he seeks re-election in 1984.

“We’ve either got to fish or cut bait,” said Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus. “Either we get some changes out of the administration or we have to go in a different direction.”

Phillips said the purpose of the Dallas meeting of about 20 conservatives would be to “see if there is a consensus among conservatives about where we go from here.”

Phillips and conservative publisher and fund-raiser Richard Viguerie are openly urging Reagan not to run again in 1984.

“I would think the conservative cause and the Republican Party would be better served if the president doesn’t run for re-election,” said Viguerie.

“If the president is not off the dime to turn this thing around in the next several weeks, I think there will be an all-out effort to persuade him not to run in 1984,” said Phillips.

To hear the Religious Right tell it now, Ronald Reagan was the greatest president this nation has ever known … but at the time he was in office, he was such a disappointingly feckless compromiser that conservatives weren’t even sure they could support him if he ran for re-election:

Not all conservatives happy with Reagan
16 August 1984
The Dallas Morning News


[Cal] Thomas said that Reagan has surrounded himself with too many pragmatists “who believe in government by negotiation rather than by leadership.’


“To get any lasting changes, the president must be more forceful in asserting his views and his policies,’ Thomas said. “I would like to see it change, but the whirlpool of pragmatism is very strong.’

[Paul] Weyrich said that Reagan has “started down the right road, but we haven’t gotten very far.’

He said that although the GOP has great expectations for a second term, it won’t continue to enjoy widespread support from conservatives unless the party takes action on anti-abortion legislation and school prayer, and does more things for families.

“The allegiance they (Republicans) have is more in contrast to whom the opposition is,’ he said. “Reagan has been a disappointment, but we have to re-elect him because Mondale would be a disaster.’

Weyrich said conservatives are hopeful that if Reagan wins the election in November, the cast of characters in the White House will change. That would help, he said, because Reagan is very much a product of the people who surround him.

“It is not unreasonable to suggest that he will change,’ Weyrich said. “It is not beyond the realm of possibilities.’

Richard Viguerie, a New Right fund-raiser and publisher of Conservative Digest, said the New Right was much quieter this year than four years ago, before Reagan was in the White House, but said the relative quiet should not be interpreted as a sign of reduced effectiveness.

“I think my organization has been significantly enlarged and strengthened,’ he said. “We will mail out twice as many letters as we did four years ago and I’m working to increase the assets and resources of the movement.’

Viguerie said the major complaint with Reagan and the Republicans is that on many issues, their policy isn’t that much different from the Democrats’.

“The only real difference is in rhetoric,’ he said. “On issue after issue, they (Republicans) are arguing about the last 5 to 10 percent of the budget instead of fighting against the program itself.’