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Famed Curson Commercial Defined Reagan

March 30, 2011

There is one thing in common among the cadre of Republican presidential candidates as they begin hitting the 2012 campaign trail in an effort to make President Barrack Obama a one-term President.

Each GOP candidate invokes the name of former President Ronald Reagan as often as possible in hopes they will be viewed as the Gipper’s heir-apparent.

They spare no time and effort in quoting him, referring back to his policies, liking themselves to him, and they take every opportunity to remind everyone if they once worked with him while he was President.

Unfortunately, few of them, if any, are doing a good job of emulating President Reagan; he was someone who knew where he stood on issues, and rarely, if ever, was forced to back off or amend his position.

Already we’ve seen numerous GOP candidates backed into a corner by the media to re-explain a statement, or clarify what they meant in response to a question. The latest was former Speaker Newt Gingrich who seemed to say multiple things about U.S. involvement in Libya.

President Reagan spent years honing his political philosophy, and he did not take his cue on issues from cable news commentators, pundits, or political opposition. He knew where he stood and couldn’t have cared less what others thought about his stated positions.

The former President always set the agenda and did not fall into the trap of allowing others to determine what the primary issue of the day might be.

For example, he warned everyone for years about the military buildup going on in the Soviet Union, and felt it was a serious threat to the security of our country.  Many others did not see it that way, and some rushed to proclaim Reagan a “war monger” for having such a hard-lined position.

Part of Reagan’s greatness resulted from the fact that he did not change or waver from his political viewpoint when he was attacked in the press or by his political opponents.

Nowhere was this more evident than during the 1980 presidential primary campaign when Reagan lost Iowa, the first primary state, and New Hampshire wasn’t looking much better. Short on money, and falling in the polls, Reagan took to the airwaves with a simple and direct message.

Working with his Philadelphia media advisor Elliott Curson, and consultant Jeff Bell, a series of simple television commercials were crafted. They were designed to promote tax cuts and fixing the military imbalance with the Soviet Union.

The spots were only 30 seconds in length but they were vintage Reagan; sitting alone in front of the camera, talking directly to voters.

Announcer: “Ronald Reagan spoke out on the danger of the Soviet Union arms buildup long before it was fashionable. He’s always advocated a strong national defense and a position of leadership for America. He has a comprehensive program to rebuild our military power.”

Reagan: “We’ve learned by now that it isn’t weakness that keeps the peace. It’s strength. Our foreign policy has been based on the fear of not being liked. Well, it’s nice to be liked. But it’s more important to be respected.”

Curson’s famous television commercials played exclusively in the remaining 12 Republican primary states, and Reagan decisively won them all to clinch the Republican nomination.

The theme of the commercial was Reagan advocating for a strong military defense. Yet the point he made went beyond the issue itself; the spots gave voters a glimpse of Reagan the man, and they liked what they saw.

The ability to tell a story about the candidate is hard to do in 30 seconds, yet Curson was able to find a way to accomplish this with Reagan.

In 2012, Republican candidates are finding it difficult to maintain a consistent political philosophy. They often “play to the host” and into the hands of the atmospherics of the 24/7 cable news cycle, which is designed to change daily if not by the hour.

To be “Reaganest”, these candidates should look no further than having a simple and consistent message. One which tells voters what they believe, but also who they are.

This was the political secret to Ronald Reagan; he and his message were one and the same.