Remembering Lyn Nofziger

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Mar 26, 2007 5:45 PM

Tomorrow marks one year since the conservative movement mourned the loss of a truly great man, former Reagan communications director, Lyn Nofziger (he passed away on March 27, 2006).

Lyn Nofziger was the man who addressed the press – and kept Americans calm – after the assassination attempt on President Reagan (Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, was shot in the attempt).

Lyn was a personal friend of mine.  He always went out of his way to mentor young conservatives. And, at the age of 81, he was a blogger.  Seriously, he maintained a blog for years (though he called it his “musings.”)

And while a lot of people don’t know this, Lyn Nofziger was one of the most important men responsible for starting the modern conservative movement (The Heritage Foundations Lee Edwards recounts the story here).

Though I learned a lot about life from Lyn, I also learned a lot about politics from him. Here are a few things he taught me:

1. On the press: "... anyone can lie to the press, but confusing them with the truth is an art I am proud to have mastered."

2. On hardball: "I don't know why, but an awful lot of Republicans look on politics as the British look on cricket -- as a gentleman's game. It ain't; it's more like mud wrestling."

3. On campaigning: The "Nofziger thesis" states that, "... winning an election does not mean catering to the press. Winning an election means doing the things and having your candidate do the things that he can do most effectively and that will influence the most votes."

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4. On staying "on message": "Most candidates have a compulsive urge to answer a question. It was my job, it is always someone's job in a campaign, to keep the candidate and the campaign on track. Otherwise, the other guy wins."

5. On frequent press conferences: "They convince the media that he's not afraid of them and that he may even, perish the thought, have their best interests at heart. They mean any person holding frequent press conferences doesn't have to remember so much or have to be briefed so thoroughly before each press conference. They mean the media has fewer topics about which to ask which again means the public figure has less to be concerned about..."

6. On campaign leadership: "One thing you quickly learn in politics is that, while the United States is a democracy and must be, campaigns cannot be. Somebody has to be in charge and the fewer who think they're at least somewhat in charge the better off the campaign is."

7. On delegating: "Reagan was the best candidate I have ever known because he instinctively knew what a candidate's role should be, just as later he instinctively knew the proper role of a president. He interfered only when these same instincts told him someone was making a wrong decision. "

8. Maybe his best line: At the '76 convention, "... an old-line Reaganite from San Mateo, called out, 'What should our demeanor be?' Without thinking, I replied, 'Da meaner da better."

9. On political "insiders": "While the party leaders may support a candidate for his dedication to and work in the party, most persons who vote in a primary don't give a hoot about the wishes of the party leaders."

10. On titles: "... out in the real world there is something special about the term "special assistant." It has a more important ring than just plain "assistant" and nobody ever heard of a deputy assistant."

11. On holding their feet to the fire: "I'm not even going to let them get away with the truth" (a witty comeback to President Nixon's instructions to him "Don't let them get away with any lies.")

12. On gimmicks: "Self-important people in the White House use two gimmicks to let us know they are important. One is to have their secretary tell your secretary that 'the White House is calling.' The other is to say, 'The president wants this done."

13. On political courage: "I learned from him, them, something I should have known all along: there are different types of courage. Leo was a brave flier and a brave prisoner, doing things in battle and enduring things as a POW that make me shrink to think of. But he lacked political courage."

14. On ground rules: "... never never talk to a reporter without setting the ground rules. If you don't, and he writes a story, you have only yourself to blame."

15. On debates: "There are a couple of rules regarding political debates that presidential candidates violate at their peril. One: it is almost always a mistake for an incumbent to debate unless he thinks he's going to lose."

***Note: These quotes come from the book, Nofziger (which I highly recommend). If you are interested in learning more about Lyn Nofziger, I also recommend Bare Knuckles and Backrooms and Reagan's Revolution...