It was supposed to end at the party convention. The nominee was chosen, and his opponent – a well-known elected official whose campaign wreaked havoc inside the Republican party – grudgingly stepped aside. Yet the charges that the challenger wasn’t helping the campaign and was only providing token support persisted. Finally, after a long campaign that fall, the Republican ticket came up short and a Democrat with almost no experience was elected. As party stalwarts looked to the reasons why they came up short, blaming the challenger became a common theme. Tempers flared, fingers were pointed, and wounds were inflicted that took years to heal.
No, this isn’t yet another story about Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli. It’s about Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
Since the nonsense between Bill and Ken began last year, we’ve seen Lieutenant Governor Bolling – a good man, a good conservative and a good Republican – get excoriated by folks on the Republican side of the aisle for his actions before and after the Republican nomination for Governor. He’s been called every name in the book, from traitor and backstabber to RINO moderate and everything in between. He’s been accused of not doing enough to support the ticket in November. He’s endured a level of vitriol we usually reserve for Democrats or people who have actually switched parties. He’s been accused (falsely) of even endorsing the Democratic candidate for Governor and cutting commercials for him. People have written his political epitaph and the eulogies have been gleeful.
But as is often the case, history provides us with a parallel that shouldn’t be ignored.
This is reminiscent of the same kind of attacks that were levied at Ronald Reagan by Gerald Ford and his supporters, both before the Republican convention in 1976 and after Jimmy Carter defeated him in November. Ford supporters blamed Reagan for his loss, especially with polling data that indicated that 41% of Reagan voters would vote for Carter if Ford were the nominee (the reference is in this video from Face the Nation, listen to Scheiffer at the 1:05 minute mark). That turned out to be false, with only 11% of Republicans actually defecting to Carter (which is likely true for Bolling/Cuccinelli too), but the belief that Reagan cost him the election endured in Ford’s mind. Ford even thought Reagan should stand aside to allow him to run against Carter again in 1980. Ford held this grudge against both Reagan and Nancy for decades.
But we all know how that story turned out. Jimmy Carter’s presidency was one of the worst in modern times, and paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution, that led to three straight Republican victories, as well as control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in forty years in 1980. And while I am not comparing Bill Bolling with Ronald Reagan (someone in the comments will inevitably say Bill Bolling is no Ronald Reagan), the parallel is clear – before we start putting awl to granite engraving Bill Bolling’s political gravestone, we should think a minute about what has happened in the past. And the Ford/Reagan issue is quite similar to the Bolling/Cuccinelli one.
Yes, a lot of folks are angry at Bill Bolling right now. That’s understandable, even if misguided. A lot of folks were angry at Ronald Reagan after we lost in 1976. That, too, was understandable. Nobody likes losing and there’s always plenty of blame to go around, even if there shouldn’t be. But the time for hate is over, and it’s time for us to start mending the party’s wounds. Forgiveness is a virtue, and one that has fallen by the wayside in politics lately.
Republicans forgave Ronald Reagan for what they accused him of in 1976, and he not only won the Republican nomination in 1980, he was elected twice and became one of the greatest Presidents we’ve ever had.
One can only hope that those who hate on Bill Bolling are as willing to forgive and forget as those who were hating on Ronald Reagan were after 1976. Because it would be a shame if a man like Bill Bolling, who has demonstrated solid competence in governance, unquestioned ethics and an ability to articulate Republican ideals to a wide swath of voters, be forever banished from public life because of accusations that he didn’t do enough to help the party’s nominee win in November.
Imagine how different the world would be if Ronald Reagan hadn’t been forgiven. Think about that the next time you see somebody bashing Bill Bolling.