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Reagan’s Failed Campaign Seen in Different Light

Book released in time to commemorate president’s birthday.

Craig Shirley can remember meeting with Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1978 in Concord, N.H. This was well before Reagan became the 40th president of the United States, and Shirley would have several more meetings with Reagan during his lifetime, but that first meeting would remain special.

Reflecting on his first visit with Reagan, he said, “We just sat and chit-chatted for the longest time. I was a 21-year-old kid and I felt like a million bucks.”

Other memories and admiration of Reagan were part of Shirley’s driving force to write his recently published book, “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.” More importantly, Shirley’s belief that this was a story that needed to be told led him to spend a year and a half writing the 160,000-word book. Add to that Shirley’s insight and access to information about the failed political campaign and you have the makings for a great book.

“This is a book of history,” Shirley said.

Even before that meeting with Reagan, Shirley was no stranger to politics. His parents, Edward B. Shirley and Barbara S. Eckert, raised their son to be politically involved from a young age. In his authors’ note, Shirley talks about how his parents were charter members of the New York State Conservative Party.

“They were foot soldiers in Upstate New York, and they dragged my brother and me to every political event you could imagine. They attended every Conservative state convention as delegates. Fundraisers for Barbara Keating, Paul Adams, John Jaquith, Jim Buckley and others became a rite of passage for New York conservatives at the Shirleys’ modest suburban home in Syracuse. Every night over dinner our family had extended political debates and discussions ranging from the Vietnam War to the environment to race relations to unions. They went on and on. Here, my brother and I developed our conservative philosophies through argument and discussion.”

It was in 1965 that Shirley’s father brought home a recording of Reagan’s speech titled “Rendezvous with Destiny;” it was the speech he gave in October, 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Shirley said that after listening to the speech, his father said, “This man Reagan himself should be President.”

SHIRLEY CONTINUED to be politically active as a young man, volunteering on the Gerald Ford campaign while attending Springfield College in Massachusetts

“When I got back to college, I volunteered on the Ford campaign in Springfield, Mass., where we did lit drops, registered voters, and whatever we could with the meager resources provided to Massachusetts by the national campaign. As one can imagine, since the Bay State was the only state George McGovern carried against Richard Nixon four years earlier; it was not a top priority for Ford,” Shirley said.

In 1980, Shirley ran his first independent campaign in support of Reagan; he ran another one in 1984. During this time, he became acquainted with the primary players in Reagan’s inner circle; this helped him in writing his book. He had access to former aides and journalists active during the Ford and Reagan campaigns. He had an hour and half interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was chief of staff during the Ford administration; appropriately that interview took place the morning of Reagan’s memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda. He also purchased a collection of Reagan photographs from a UPI photographer that had never been seen before; some of those photographs appear in the book.

In “Reagan’s Revolution,” Shirley talks about how Reagan captured the hearts of Americans. What most people didn’t know was that this revolution began long before the 1980 campaign. His concession speech to Ford at the 1976 Republican convention had people crying.

“The American public has known of Reagan for years, through his movies, on television in the 1950s, as a governor and as a Presidential candidate. But these remarks, broadcast live on all three networks, constitute his first real introduction to the American people. They like what they see,” wrote Shirley.

SHIRLEY’S ACCESS to key people would also help him in publishing his book. As the president and founder of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs, Shirley’s clients include many prestigious businesses. He approached one of those clients, Nelson Current, about his idea for a book.

“They thought that [the idea] was interesting, and asked me to send a treatment,” Shirley said.

They liked what they saw and gave Shirley an advance. With money in hand, he began writing. For the next year and a half, Shirley said that he worked 24/7, writing the book and continuing to run the firm. He originally intended the book to be 83,000 words. It turned out to be 167,000 words, edited down to 160,000.

Shirley said that he wrote non-stop, while Andrea Hedberg, Shirley’s research coordinator, went around the country doing research. Since the publisher wanted to release to book to coincide with Reagan’s birthday, Feb. 6, there was a push to get it finished. Shirley said that he and the publisher started working on the final rounds of edits one morning at 4 a.m. and finished 11 hours later. The book was released last week.

A copy of the book has been sent to Nancy Reagan and Shirley has received some coverage from C-Span, The Weekly Standard, Roll Call and others. He is scheduled for several radio and television appearances and has book signings scheduled as well.

He is considering writing two more books on Reagan — one on his successful 1980 campaign and one about Reagan’s tenure as head of the Screenwriters Guild.