On March 30, 1981 at precisely 2:27 pm, six gunshots rang out just outside the VIP entrance to the Washington Hilton. Moments later, as three felled men lay bleeding on the ground outside the hotel, an armored limousine carrying the President of the United States raced away from the scene. Though it wasn’t immediately apparent, the president had been shot. Ronald Wilson Reagan was just weeks into his first term in office when he was struck in the side by a deflected bullet fired by a mentally deranged would-be assassin. Most Americans are aware, of course, that Reagan survived this attempt on his life and went on to become one of the most effective, conservative, and beloved presidents in US history. What many Americans do not know is how close he came to dying that day, and how a series of split-second decisions by secret service agents and medical professionals saved Ronald Reagan’s life.
Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan is the recently released, definitive account of what happened on that harrowing Monday afternoon three decades ago. Author Del Quentin Wilber, a Washington Post reporter, uses information gleaned from trial transcripts, declassified reports, a remarkable audio recording from inside the White House situation room, and more than 125 interviews to paint a vivid and meticulously-researched picture of the chaotic scenes at George Washington University Hospital and the White House. The story that emerges is an extraordinary testament not only to the professionalism and heroism of those who cared for our 40th president, but to the sunny nature, bravery, and indefatigable spirit of the man himself. I spoke with Wilber on my radio show last weekend. A partial transcript of our fascinating discussion appears below:
GB: Of course, we now know what happened that day – thank God – Ronald Reagan survived. In fact, [Press Secretary] Jim Brady survived…and within weeks [Reagan] goes back to Congress to this, as you put it, ‘rafter-shaking’ ovation that he receives when he addresses the country…
DQW: It was amazing.
GB: And he goes on to have, many conservatives would argue, one of the greatest presidencies in US history.
DQW: I don’t think it’s just conservatives. I think that if you put away your ideology and you just look at the success of a person – whether he got his agenda through, and whether his goals were met – it was a successful presidency.
GB: Yeah. No doubt. But at the time, the country, as you said, was starting to have doubts. It’s very early on…
DQW: Right, it’s so early in his term; low approval rating…
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