Secrets of Past Elections Revealed! (1984)


After every presidential election since 1984, Newsweek has printed the best gossipy stories, revealing all the whining and backbiting of America's greatest spectacle. Linda Rodriguez has gone through Newsweek's archives to pick out some memorable moments from recent elections, and we'll be posting her stories throughout the week.

The 1984 election had all the makings of an historic moment. We had the first candidate of color to go as far as the Rev. Jesse Jackson did, and the first woman to be nominated vice president. But in the end, a recovering economy and a sense that America was entering a kind of golden era of world power and influence kept voters supporting President Ronald Reagan, who, despite being the oldest president in history, offered hope and vision for one more term. In 1984, a Gallup Poll found that roughly 50 percent of Americans felt satisfied with the direction their country was taking "“ and you can't argue with those kinds of numbers. Reagan won 49 states in a 525-13 electoral college thumping.

(As an aside, this was an historic election, but it was not the first time in history that a woman and a black man were part of the quest for the presidency "“ in 1872, a suffragette Victoria Woodhull was nominated by the Equal Rights Party. Her running mate? Frederick Douglass.)

The Gipper was sentimental

Ronald Reagan had become incredibly sentimental in his old age, despite his decidedly unsentimental economic policies: He wrote letters and sometimes checks to strangers whose stories he'd seen on 60 Minutes; while staying at Camp David, he'd gather nuts to bring back to White House squirrels; once, after reading a newspaper article about starving deer in Utah, he sent a $100 check to a fund to save them. He even cried when his team showed him an 18-minute long infomercial about him, specifically the part showing him eulogizing the men who had fallen at Normandy on D-Day.

Mondale wimps out

Walter "Fritz" Mondale was extraordinarily cautious and plagued by the Wimp Factor. Once, during his 1976 campaign, Mondale ate an ice cream cone with a knife and fork rather than risk a shot of him with ice cream on his chin. That kind of an image dogged Mondale throughout his 1984 campaign.

Things didn't tend to go well for Mondale in general. Once, while on the campaign stump in New York, he and running mate Geraldine Ferraro found themselves waving and smiling at an empty avenue in Manhattan. The candidates had shown up early for a Labor Day event "“ a little too early, because no one was there.

It's in the stars

Throughout Reagan's political career, Nancy Reagan's role was a large one. She made decisions about Reagan's workload, vetted his evening briefings, and even controlled his television appearances "“ the last on the advice of her astrologer. Nancy routinely changed the president's television appearances so that they would coincide with more auspicious star and planetary alignments.

Jesse Jackson can cure cancer

A well-worn tale around the Jackson camp was that during a rally in Virginia, a terminal cancer patient had asked to be unplugged from his life support and taken to Rev. Jesse Jackson's rally, so that he could see the candidate once before he died. According to the story, after the rally, the man's cancer had gone into remission. Jackson's run for the Democratic nomination was so historic and had made him something of a star; one of Jackson's advisors claimed that it was as if the candidate were Michael, Reggie and Jesse Jackson all in one. Of course, many Jewish Americans didn't feel this way "“ earlier in his candidacy, Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies" and to New York as "Hymietown" during a chat with a Washington Post reporter.

The signature moment

Reagan's underwhelming performance in the first debate led some to believe that, at 73, he was too old for the rigors of the presidency. But in the second (and final) debate, Reagan zinged Mondale with the soundbite that will be replayed before every presidential debate for as long as there are presidential debates:

Tomorrow: 1988