Hello and welcome to another edition of the presidential election series as I’ll be discussing the Election of 1980, Jimmy Carter’s presidency has been struggling for the last four years as he faces not only a divided party and conflict overseas but a charismatic former actor who wants him out of office…

    Jimmy Carter’s Presidency 

    After his narrow victory over Gerald Ford in the previous election Jimmy Carter, the former Governor of Georgia turned President of the United States had to deal with a host of issues both at home and abroad while also making steps to heal the nation following a decade of uncertainty.

    In terms of his successes, President Carter granted amnesty to draft dodgers in the Vietnam War, he recognized and later began diplomatic negotiations with the People’s Republic of China, protected areas of land in Alaska as part of his environmental efforts and signed two acts in 1977 and 1978 that paved the way for the Department of Energy and the Department of Education which soon became the newest additions to the president’s political cabinet.

    Carter also negotiated and signed an international treaty that attempted to bring peace between Israel and Egypt known as the Camp David Accords, he returned the Pamana Canal back to the Panamanian people, and signed an arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union which at first ease tensions during the Cold War.

    Despite all of this, Carter’s time in office was marred by low economic growth, an energy crisis and a continuing bout of stagflation in the United States while also failing to pass reforms and work programs to help decrease the problem due to the president’s poor relationship with Congress including those in his own party. He also faced embarrassment and scandal thanks to the antics of his brother, Billy and his relationship with the Libyan government, plus there were corruption charges against the president’s Budget and Management Director, Bert Lance which led to his resignation although he was cleared of all charges

    Abroad, Carter’s issues ranged from the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan which led to the previously mentioned arms treaty not be ratified, a grain embargo that lost Carter support with farmers and finally his decision to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow was controversial to some.

    But the biggest problem the president had when it came to foreign relations could be traced to the Middle East of more specifically…Iran.

    The Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis

    So if you’ve read the election article I made about the 1956 presidential race, then you might remember that during my recap of President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office, I mentioned how Ike allowed the CIA to overthrow a number of elected leaders from foreign nations with the most prevalent to this story being Iran’s former Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh.

    Following a combined effort from British forces and the CIA, Mosaddegh was removed from power via coup d’état in the early 1950’s thus leading to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi becoming the new Shan of Iran with the support and backing of the United States.

    Well, fast forward to the late 1970’s and the people of Iran decided to rebel against the Shan which led to the Iranian Revolution which saw everything from flags burnings, riots and the ousting of the Shan in favor of religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.

    The people of Iran soon entered the U.S. Embassy and capture several American diplomats and citizens which sparked the Iranian Hostage Crisis with the idea being that the hostages would be released if the U.S. returned Pahlavi back to Iran to answer for his actions as he had escaped to the U.S. for medical treatment.

    When the former Shan of Iran died in July of 1980 however, any and all attempts of settling this crisis diplomatically were gone and following a failed attempt at rescuing the hostages in Operation Eagle Claw, it soon becomes clear that the problems within Iran among many other things will be a major issue for the President Carter, right around the same time his running for re-election,

    Carter vs. Kennedy

    As domestic and foreign conflicts continue to be a problem for the president, Jimmy Carter at first looks like he’ll be the Democratic Party’s unquestioned pick for nominee for the 1980 election, but those plans are quickly thrown out the window when on November 7th 1979 Massachusetts Senator and leader of the liberal wing of the Democrats, Ted Kennedy announces his run for the party’s nomination for president.

    Due to Carter’s fiscal conservatism and unpopularity, many Americans and those in the Democratic Party want a candidate who will both excited the base and be able to work well with Congress. What follows is a back-and-forth contest between Carter and Kennedy for the nomination, but also leads to massive divisions within the party that could handicap either candidate upon winning the nomination going into the general election.

    While some in the party tried to convince the Secretary of State, Edmund Muskie to run as a compromised candidate in order to keep some unity in the party, it doesn’t work and Carter decides to use The Rose Garden Strategy during his fight with Kennedy which leads to his polling numbers increasing and helps carry Carter into victory in the early primaries.

    By August of 1980, Jimmy Carter and Vice President, Walter Mondale get enough delegates to become the nominees for a second time, but the divisions are still running strong in the party as Kennedy (who gave his concession speech a day earlier) is asked to come back and hold Carter’s arm as a symbol of unity in the party, but instead he returns and shakes Carter’s hand before congratulating him and then quickly getting off the stage which shows the problems within the party are still there.

    Reagan For President

    With divisions among the Democrats plus a sense of malaise and instability in Carter’s Presidency, the Republican Party was were feeling confident going into the next election and a number of candidates ran for the nomination:

    • Howard Baker- Senate Minority Leader & former Senator of Tennessee
    • George H.W. Bush- Former CIA Director and Chairman of the RNC
    • Bob Dole- Senator of Kansas 
    • John B. Anderson- U.S. Representative from Illinois
    • Ronald Reagan- Former Governor of California

    Reagan, who was seen as the front runner throughout the GOP primaries didn’t attend the Republican Party’s debate in Iowa which led to Bush winning the primary in that state and having ‘The Big Mo’ or the big momentum going into New Hampshire.

    Upon realizing that Bush could potentially usurp the former governor as the front runner and win the nomination, Reagan decides to debate Bush one-on-one before the New Hampshire primary and even offers to fund the entire thing, however unbeknownst to Bush and his campaign team Reagan has also asked the other Republican candidates to join in and this causes Bush to go from building momentum to be relegated to into the background.

    Due in no small part to Reagan’s performance in the debate, he regains the lead and soon cruises to victory in New Hampshire and several other dates primaries ensuring Reagan the victory and becomes the GOP’s nominee for president.

    The biggest question going into the convention is who will be Reagan’s running mate on the ticket? Some believed that former VP and President, Gerald Ford would be offered the job, but following an interview in the convention where Ford talked about a co-presidency if offered the job leads to Reagan instead choosing George Bush as his running mate.

    Anderson Goes Independent

    While Reagan and Bush are the main focus when it comes to the GOP nomination, John Anderson soon gets the attention of many due to his responses during the debates arguing GOP policies like lower taxes, balancing the budget and increasing defense spending couldn’t happen all at once.

    Eventually, Anderson decides to drop out and leaves the Republican Party to begin his run as an independent in order to appeal to voters who felt Reagan was too conservative but were also not satisfied with Carter and the Democrats.

    Anderson ran on a platform that called for opposing the military draft, cutting taxes on social security while also raising the tax on gas prices for environmental reasons and cut down on America’s usage of gasoline; He also proposed tax cuts small businesses and supported the Equal Rights Amendment which was an amendment that would’ve given equal rights to women.

    He chose Patrick Lucey, who was the former governor of Wisconsin and Ambassador to Mexico in Carter administration as his running mate. Anderson polling numbers saw him pulling in around 26-22% with some wondering if he might just spoil the election like so many other have done in previous elections.

    The Campaigns

    As general election gets underway, Reagan runs his campaign with a sense of hope and optimism for the future while also promising smaller government and more military spending to win the Cold War.

    Carter’s campaign was more negative as they attacked Reagan for his far right conservative policies and claimed that Reagan would roll back the advancements made in Civil Rights and the New Deal.

    Reagan uses his charm to win over voters while Carter attempts to balance the growing issues both at home and aboard, however Reagan’s ill-fated jab at Carter regarding the KKK turned a few Southerners against him and his proclaimation that trees cause pollution made him look very ill-informed with crowds of people chanting “Educate Reagan” as a result.

    Meanwhile John Anderson continues to see success with his campaign and his numbers are so good that he ends up making history as he become the first third party candidate to be involved in the Presidential Debates.

    President Carter decides not to attend the debate because of Anderson’s involvement so the first debate sees Reagan and Anderson going at it; While his performance good, it wasn’t enough to get him out of his position in third place in the polls, in fact his poll numbers would drop in the months that follow right up until election day.

    The Final Debate & Carter’s Decision

    Following his no show at the first debate and the second/ VP debate getting canceled due to Bush and Mondale no showing, Jimmy Carter decides to debate Reagan in the third and final debate on October 28th 1980.

    Right before the debate, the Reagan campaign team get some important documents that detail President Carter’s response to questions for the debate, while it’s unclear who sent the documents to the Reagan team, it’s wildly speculated that Paul Corbin, a loyal aid and associate to the Kennedy family got a hold of the documents and sent them to the Reagan campaign team with the end game being Reagan elected president in 1980 only for Ted Kennedy to oust him out of the White House in 1984.

    While it’s unclear if Reagan’s knowledge of Carter’s debate strategy helped it him out in the debate, by the end, it almost doesn’t matter as Reagan wipes the floor with Carter which could be punctuated with Reagan’s response to Carter’s attack on him with the phrase “There You Go Again” and his final statement with the phrase “Are You Better Off than You Were Four Years Ago”.

    With just a two days left before the American people go out and vote, the Carter administration are given a chance to turn things around when the Iranians propose a deal that in exchange for the hostages there will be no more American influence in Iran, eight billion dollars in assets will be unfrozen, the money that once belonged to the Shan of Iran will be returned and immunity for their actions.

    Despite his refusal to their offer and his administration’s attempt to convince the President to use this moment as a final ditch effort to save his candidacy, Carter decides the issue of the hostages returning to the U.S. shouldn’t be political and refuses to go along with it…Now let’s look at the results.

    The Results and Aftermath

    As you can see from the electoral map above, Ronald Reagan easily trounced Jimmy Carter to become the 40th in U.S. History. Reagan received astounding 489 electoral votes and 50.8% of the population vote; Reagan’s win in the electoral vote is largest win for a president elected for the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and this win also made Reagan the oldest man ever elected president at just 69 years old.

    Jimmy Carter finished with 49 electoral votes and 41% of the popular vote; Carter’s loss in the electoral vote is the worse showing for a president seeking re-election since Herbert Hoover and he also became the first one term U.S. President post World War Two.

    In third place, John B, Anderson received no electoral votes but pulled 6.6% of the popular vote; A disappointing finish, but it was the best performance in terms of the popular vote for a third-party candidate since George Wallace in 1968.

    On Inauguration Day January 20th 1981, reports come in that a plane carrying the hostages are pulling up at the runway and when they emerge from the plane, they are greeted by loved one, cheering Americans and of course the newly elected, President Reagan.

    The timing of this release coinciding with Reagan’s swearing in ceremony left many even today very suspicious with claims that George H.W. Bush used his connections in the CIA to stop the release of hostages long enough to prevent Carter from winning re-election.

    Even as recently as March of 2023 former Lieutenant, Governor of Texas, Ben Barnes discussing a mission he was on in the Middle East in the Summer of 1980 when he and his mentor/former Democratic Texas Governor, John Conally used a back channel to convince the Iranians to hold off on freeing the hostages until the new guy is charge and they could offer them a better deal.

    In return, Conally hoped this would allow him to become the new Secretary of State or Defense in the Reagan Administration, instead he was offered the Secretary of Energy position to which, Conally refused.

    In closing, that’s the election of 1980, Reagan has sweeped his way into the White House and now his looking to bring America and the 1980’s back into a period of free market conservatism…But that’s for next article.

    Be sure to follow me on X @FullertonHakeem for more articles just like this and you can follow this site also on X, @Distorti0nMedia…and I will you see next time