1976, a footnote

Scott has already linked to and engaged Michael Barone’s column comparing this year’s presidential election to the one in 1976. At the end of that column, Michael suggests that the McCain team give a call to Doug Bailey, Mal MacDougall or James Baker, all of whom were deeply involved in the ad campaign that fueled Ford’s comeback.

The McCain campaign might also call Vice President Cheney. Cheney served as Ford’s chief of staff and, if I’m not mistaken, his campaign manager. He has said that, of all the presidential campaigns he’s been involved with, his best memories are of 1976. Cheney cites the obstacles the campaign had to overcome — a bruising contest for the nomination with Ronald Reagan, a 30 point deficit to Carter in the polls, etc — and Ford’s amazing comeback. He also looks back fondly on working with Robert Teeter, the campaign’s pollster. The fact that Cheney was a young man and involved at this level for the first time may also be a factor.

I remember the 1976 campaign pretty clearly, though I regret to say I didn’t vote in it. Barone is correct that Ford’s comeback had much to do with doubts about Carter, an unknown who seemed a bit strange (even then) as he became better known. The other factor, I believe, was that Ford was able to sell the view that, whatever the nation’s problems, things were moving steadily in the right direction thanks to the fact of his presidency (after Nixon) and the job he was doing.

This pitch is not available to McCain because (a) few believe we are moving in the right direction and (b) McCain hasn’t been in charge. On the other hand, fact (b) makes it less imperative that people believe the premise contained in statement (a).

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