Election of 1984: The Test of the Reagan Revolution

Republican Party: Ronald Reagan (California) and George H.W. Bush (Texas)
Democratic Party: Walter Mondale (Minnesota) and Geraldine Ferraro (New York)
Election Results:
Reagan/Bush: 525 electoral votes, 54.4 million popular votes
Mondale/Ferraro: 13 electoral votes, 37.5 million popular votes

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 was a strong boost of confidence for American values and America’s role in global politics. After the Carter Administration and its castigation of Americans as part of the problem, Reagan encouraged Americans to be part of solving America’s woes. His conservative ideology manifested itself in massive tax cuts, increased military spending, cuts in domestic spending, and a re-evaluation of the New Deal. Reagan and his advisors leaned on “supply side” economics, which relied on putting money back into the hands of the consumer in order to spread money down to lower income brackets through consumer purchases. The buildup of military technology and increased military personnel was the greatest peacetime buildup in American history. Reagan, with an increasingly moderate to conservative Congress, wanted to dismantle the welfare state and return power to state and local governments to protect the public from an overzealous federal government.

Reagan was a “big picture” president, leaving many of the details of his grand schemes to his advisors. Ronald Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin only three months after his inauguration and public sympathy with the increasingly popular president allowed him more berth on his agenda. Congressional approval of his economic plan was nearly unanimous in the years to follow. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), commonly referred to as “Star Wars,” was an attempt at creating a missile defense shield against possible Russian attacks on the United States. SDI, as well as America’s increasing involvement abroad by proxy against Communism, were lampooned and criticized by Reagan opponents but played a significant role in ending the spread of communism outside of Russia and Eastern Europe. The Reagan years involved creating a distinct separation between good and evil, capitalist and communist, freedom and suppression.

The economy dipped in the middle of Reagan’s first term, as the tax cuts of 1981 combined with military spending created record budget deficits. However, the economy started to round out by the time the 1984 presidential election came around. Economic improvement and the general popularity of Reagan as president promised a tough task for the Democrats in the presidential election. Former vice president Walter Mondale defeated Reverend Jesse Jackson and other party regulars to win the nomination, though the platform was lined with strong liberal ideas. Mondale created some controversy and excitement by naming New Yorker Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, the first woman to be part of a major party ticket. However, Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad campaign, which propped up American prosperity, as well as Mondale’s failure to outspeak Reagan in debates and campaign appearances strengthened Reagan’s mandate. The Reagan Revolution continued for a second term, winning a few more states than in 1980 and isolating the Democratic Party as a party of out of touch liberals for at least another election cycle.

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