Tyrus W. Cobb: The Gipper and the Manogue Miner
When Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981, a young Brian Sandoval was finishing his season as a Manogue Miner star basketball player. While at University of Nevada, Reno, Sandoval became active in Republican politics and an ardent supporter of the 40th president.
While they followed different paths to becoming governors of neighboring states, the “Gipper” and the “Miner” also have a number of experiences and backgrounds in common. Reagan gave up a successful film and speaking career to challenge a sitting president for that office. Reagan assumed the presidency at a time when the nation was in serious financial distress, suffering from a deep “sense of malaise” (to use President Carter’s term), and fearing that America’s best days were behind it.
Sandoval became governor of Nevada, himself giving up a secure lifetime appointment as a federal judge, to take the helm of a state facing the worst fiscal crisis in its history and dispirited from years of contentious and unproductive fighting between the executive and legislative branches. Like Reagan, who became president with both houses of Congress under the control of the opposite party, Sandoval became the state’s chief executive with both the Assembly and the Senate in Democratic hands. In both cases, the lower house solidly in the control of the opposition.
Reagan embarked on a very unpopular course, challenging the unions early on (firing the air traffic controllers after the union voted to strike), calling for deep tax cuts, and demanding reductions in the role of government and it’s out of control spending habits. Similarly, Gov. Sandoval is calling for reforms of government employee compensation and bargaining rights, no raise in taxes, and deep spending cuts.
President Reagan disarmed his opponents by his great sense of humor, his perpetual optimism, and the ability to conduct difficult negotiations in an atmosphere of civility. Sandoval, too, exudes good will, an optimistic outlook despite the overwhelmingly difficult financial situation, and is eminently cordial in his dealings with political opponents.
When Reagan found his budget chief, David Stockman, straying from the reservation in criticizing the president’s economic policies, he famously took the OMB Chief “to the woodshed.” Well, kinda – he brought Stockman in for a friendly chat, at the end of which Stockman did his public “mea culpa.”
When Sandoval found Republican legislators straying from his “No new taxes, no matter what” line, he called them in for “consultations.” No dressing down, no threats. It worked and the recalcitrants have since toed the line.
Sandoval is barely two months into his governorship, but already there are indications that he is a rising star in the Republican national arena. Veteran political observer Fred Lokken reports that Sandoval is being discussed as a possible Secretary of the Interior after the 2012 elections, actually regardless of which party wins. There are other indications that he also is in the mix of potential Republican vice presidential nominees. Young, handsome, Hispanic, and a son of the West, Sandoval must be considered a viable contender for these national positions.
Reagan faced several dispiriting moments in his two terms. I recall things being so bad in 1983 with respect to the economy, a sense of Soviet advancement in the world, and disunity within his own ranks, that it appeared he would be a one-term president for sure. It got even worse after the Iran Contra fiasco in 1986. But Reagan held firm to his principles, never doubted that he could guide the U.S. to be that “Shining City on the Hill,” and that it was truly “Morning in America.”
Gov. Sandoval might keep that in mind when things get real difficult, as they will.
• Tyrus W. Cobb served as Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs