How Jesse Helms Gave us Reagan

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jul 05, 2008 12:59 PM


"The George Bailey test" is a way of measuring the impact a person has had on the world.  It comes from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," of course, which starred Reagan's friend Jimmy Stewart.  The test asks the question; what would the world be like if you had never been born?  When you ask that question regarding Jesse Helms, you begin to see what a dramatic impact he had on the U.S. -- and the world.

A lot has been written about Jesse Helms' senate career these last couple of days, but it should also be noted that without Helms (and the support of his friend Tom Ellis), we quite possibly would never have had a President Reagan. 

In 1976, Jesse Helms (then the junior Senator) first helped persuade Reagan to seek the presidency, and then engineered a stunning come-from-behind victory for Reagan in North Carolina.  This was Reagan's first victory over Ford, and it probably kept Reagan from dropping out of the race.  What is more, the win led to more wins and gave Reagan the momentum to go all the way to the convention, nearly wresting the GOP nomination away from sitting President Gerald Ford

Because of Helms' support, Reagan left the '76 campaign with the momentum and clout that would propel him to win the nomination in '80.  The truth is, we owe a debt of gratitude to Helms for everything Reagan was able to accomplish.

In fact, his early support of Reagan was so significant that even if you put aside his entire Senate career and accomplishments -- which were substantial -- Helms legacy would still be remarkable.  Without Helms' support in '76, we likely wouldn't have gotten Reagan in '80.

Another interesting thing to note about Helms is that he started out as a reporter.  Interestingly, Paul Weyrich -- a founder of the modern-day conservative movement -- also started out as a reporter.  It is ironic (but probably not surprising) that these men -- along with a movie star president -- were able to take on the media elites in the 60s, 70s, and 80s -- and often win.