Bill Steigerwald

Q: Do you remember specifically what kind of arguments you used?

A: It was that the Republican Party should take a more vigorous stand on military policy, build up our military forces and also that on economic policy -- and particularly domestic policy -- that we should limit the growth of government and limit the growth of federal spending.

Q: Is it fair to say that you were taking a high-minded, ideological approach?

A: I think that the Reagan position espoused a more conservative philosophy for the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan presented a philosophical argument for supporting him. There was a major effort to get a number of the delegations -- particularly Southern states that appeared to be more agreeable to this philosophy.

Q: If the public had been able to witness what went on behind the scenes or behind closed doors in Kansas City, would it have been outraged?

A: I don’t think so, because it was pretty much an upstanding-type of persuasion on the issues rather than any backroom political deals.

Q: Were you Reagan people out-gunned from the start because Ford had presidential powers and perks at his command?

A: Yes. They had considerable advantage because of his incumbency and they were able to use that very effectively. At the same time we felt that there was a good deal of sentiment toward changes in some of the policies, particularly in regard to the Soviet Union, that it was worth the battle.

Q: Even though you didn’t get the big prize, you felt that you had some victories?

A: We had a number of victories. For one thing, several of the state delegations did in fact support Ronald Reagan and that led to more conservative leadership in the Republican Party in those states, as well as making some major changes in the party platform.

Q: Martin Anderson, Ronald Reagan's policy adviser in 1976 and 1980, was at the convention and he said the Ford-Reagan fight created a lot of bitterness in the Republican Party that continues to this day. Do you agree?

A: I’m not sure I’d agree with that. I don’t think that there was any more bitterness then as a result of that than there had been prior to that time. There have always been differences of opinion across a broad spectrum of views within the Republican Party, going all the way back to Taft and Eisenhower in the '50s, and Rockefeller and Nixon in the '60s. So this is nothing new to have some philosophical differences.

On the other hand, I think Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 pretty well dissipated any bitterness and provided a basis for unity, which in addition to Ronald Reagan winning big in 1980 resulted in the Republican Party taking the Senate leadership (in the 1980s) and then in 1994 ultimately getting both houses of the Congress.

Q: The last effects of the 1976 convention were that … what?

A: The lasting effects were that many more people saw Ronald Reagan as a national political figure and I think it paved the way for his victory in the primaries of 1980 and ultimately his election that year.

Q: How disappointed was Ronald Reagan with the results of the 1976 convention?

A: I think he naturally was somewhat disappointed that he had not been successful, but it was not a kind of disappointment that lingered, because he was pretty accepting of whatever happened. When he left the convention he wasn’t sure whether he would run again. But he was actually relatively cheerful, considering ... . He was never really down and was never really disappointed for very long. He just accepted that as what was going to happen and then left open the decision about what he did next.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..