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How Ronald Reagan Stole The 1980 Presidential Election From Jimmy Carter By Betraying America

I haven’t since 2008, but in 1980 I was still voting for the lesser evil. I didn’t hesitate to vote against Ronald Reagan— so for Democrat Jimmy Carter. Reagan brat him pretty handily— 43,904,230 (50.8%) to 35,481,115. Carter took 4 die-hard Democratic states, Maryland, West Virginia, Rhode Island and Hawaii plus his and Mondale’s home states, George and Minnesota (and DC)— 49 electoral votes to Reagan’s 489. Is it possible that Carter would have won had he been able to free the hostages in Iran? Reagan certainly thought so— and his campaign took action to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

10 states would have almost certainly gone for Carter rather than Reagan if the 52 hostages were freed before the election:

  • Alabama (17,462 votes and 1.3% separated them)- 9 electoral votes

  • Arkansas (5,123 votes and 0.5% separated them)- 6 electoral votes

  • Delaware (5,498 votes and 2.3% separated them)- 3 electoral votes

  • Kentucky (18,857 votes and 1.4%% separated them)- 9 electoral votes

  • Massachusetts (3,829 votes and 0.2% separated them)- 14 electoral votes

  • Mississippi (11,808 votes and 1.3% separated them)- 7 electoral votes

  • New York (165,459 votes and 2.7% separated them)- 41 electoral votes

  • North Carolina (39,383 votes and 2.1% separated them)- 13 electoral votes

  • South Carolina (16,647 votes and 1.5% separated them)- 8 electoral votes

  • Tennessee (4,710 votes and 0.3% separated them)- 10 electoral votes

That’s 120 electoral votes, not enough to have flipped the election. However there were another 8 states where Reagan had less than 50% and where it was possible that Carter could have turned the election around in them— Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, another 103 electoral votes. That would have changed history, with Carter reelected (272 electoral votes to Reagan’s 266).

I could be wrong about my assumptions of states switching— or not. Gerald Rafshoon, who was Carter’s communications director, told Peter Baker last week that any interference may have changed history. “If we had gotten the hostages home, we’d have won, I really believe that,” he said. “It’s pretty damn outrageous.” But what we all did know at the time, was that Reagan— through Bill Casey, a slime bucket of the day— persuaded the Iranians not to release the hostages. Everyone knew it; but there was no proof. Now there is. Over the weekend Peter Baker reported how former Texas House Speaker Bene Barnes has come clean with what actually happened.

The hit man was conservative scumbag and former Texas governor, John Connally, who had switched from Democrat to Republican and was hoping for a top job in the Reagan administration, emitter Secretary of State or of Defense.

43 Years ago Connally took Barnes with him “to one Middle Eastern capital after another that summer, meeting with a host of regional leaders to deliver a blunt message to be passed to Iran: Don’t release the hostages before the election. Reagan will win and give you a better deal. Then shortly after returning home, Barnes said, Connally reported to William Casey, the chairman of Reagan’s campaign and later director of the Central Intelligence Agency, briefing him about the trip in an airport lounge.”

Carter’s camp has long suspected that Casey or someone else in Reagan’s orbit sought to secretly torpedo efforts to liberate the hostages before the election, and books have been written on what came to be called the October surprise. But congressional investigations debunked previous theories of what happened.
Connally did not figure in those investigations. His involvement, as described by Barnes, adds a new understanding to what may have happened in that hard-fought, pivotal election year. With Carter now 98 and in hospice care, Barnes said he felt compelled to come forward to correct the record.
History needs to know that this happened,” Barnes, who turns 85 next month, said in one of several interviews, his first with a news organization about the episode. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel like we’ve got to get it down some way.”
Barnes is no shady foreign arms dealer with questionable credibility, like some of the characters who fueled previous iterations of the October surprise theory. He was once one of the most prominent figures in Texas, the youngest speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and later lieutenant governor. He was such an influential figure that he helped a young George W. Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard rather than be exposed to the draft and sent to Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson predicted that Barnes would become president someday.
Confirming Barnes’ account is problematic after so much time. Connally, Casey and other central figures have long since died and Barnes has no diaries or memos to corroborate his account. But he has no obvious reason to make up the story and indeed expressed trepidation at going public because of the reaction of fellow Democrats.
Barnes identified four living people he said he had confided in over the years: Mark K. Updegrove, president of the L.B.J. Foundation; Tom Johnson, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson (no relation) who later became publisher of the Los Angeles Times and president of CNN; Larry Temple, a former aide to Connally and Lyndon Johnson; and H.W. Brands, a University of Texas historian.
All four of them confirmed in recent days that Barnes shared the story with them years ago. “As far as I know, Ben never has lied to me,” Tom Johnson said, a sentiment the others echoed. Brands included three paragraphs about Barnes’s recollections in a 2015 biography of Reagan, but the account generated little public notice at the time.
Records at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum confirm part of Barnes’s story. An itinerary found this past week in Connally’s files indicated that he did, in fact, leave Houston on July 18, 1980, for a trip that would take him to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel before returning to Houston on Aug. 11. Barnes was listed as accompanying him.
Brief news accounts at the time reported on some of Connally’s stops with scant detail, describing the trip as “strictly private.” An intriguing note in Connally’s file confirms Barnes’s memory that there was contact with the Reagan camp early in the trip. Under the heading “Governor Reagan,” a note from an assistant reported to Connally on July 21: “Nancy Reagan called— they are at Ranch he wants to talk to you about being in on strategy meetings.” There was no record of his response.
Barnes recalled joining Connally in early September to sit down with Casey to report on their trip during a three-hour meeting in the American Airlines lounge at what was then called the Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport. An entry in Connally’s calendar found this past week showed that he traveled to Dallas on Sept. 10. A search of Casey’s archives at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University turned up no documents indicating whether he was in Dallas then or not.
Barnes said he was certain the point of Connally’s trip was to get a message to the Iranians to hold the hostages until after the election. “I’ll go to my grave believing that it was the purpose of the trip,” he said. “It wasn’t freelancing because Casey was so interested in hearing as soon as we got back to the United States.” Casey, he added, wanted to know whether “they were going to hold the hostages.”
None of that establishes whether Reagan knew about the trip, nor could Barnes say that Casey directed Connally to take the journey. Likewise, he does not know if the message transmitted to multiple Middle Eastern leaders got to the Iranians, much less whether it influenced their decision making. But Iran did hold the hostages until after the election, which Reagan won, and did not release them until minutes after noon on Jan. 20, 1981, when Carter left office.
John Connally III, the former governor’s eldest son, said in an interview on Friday that he remembered his father taking the Middle East trip but never heard about any message to Iran. While he did not join the trip, the younger Connally said he accompanied his father to a meeting with Reagan to discuss it without Barnes and the conversation centered on the Arab-Israeli conflict and other issues the next president would confront.
“No mention was made in any meeting I was in about any message being sent to the Iranians,” said Connally. “It doesn’t sound like my dad.” He added: “I can’t challenge Ben’s memory about it, but it’s not consistent with my memory of the trip.”
Sispicions about the Reagan camp’s interactions with Iran circulated quietly for years until Gary Sick, a former national security aide to Carter, published a guest essay in the New York Times in April 1991 advancing the theory, followed by a book, October Surprise, published that November.
The term “October surprise” was originally used by the Reagan camp to describe its fears that Carter would manipulate the hostage crisis to effect a release just before the election.
To forestall such a scenario, Casey was alleged to have met with representatives of Iran in July and August 1980 in Madrid leading to a deal supposedly finalized in Paris in October in which a future Reagan administration would ship arms to Tehran through Israel in exchange for the hostages being held until after the election.
The House and Senate separately authorized investigations and both ultimately rejected the claims. The bipartisan House task force, led by a Democrat, Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, and controlled by Democrats 8 to 5, concluded in a consensus 968-page report that Mr. Casey was not in Madrid at the time and that stories of covert dealings were not backed by credible testimony documents or intelligence reports.
Still, a White House memo produced in November 1991 by a lawyer for President George H.W. Bush reported the existence of “a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown.” That memo was not turned over to Hamilton’s task force and was discovered two decades later by Robert Parry, a journalist who helped produce a Frontline documentary on the October surprise.
Reached by telephone this past week, Sick said he never heard of any involvement by Connally but saw Barnes’ account as verifying the broad concerns he had raised. “This is really very interesting and it really does add significantly to the base level of information on this,” Sick said. “Just the fact that he was doing it and debriefed Casey when he got back means a lot.” The story goes “further than anything that I’ve seen thus far,” he added. “So this is really new.”
Michael Zeldin, a Democratic lawyer for the task force, and David Laufman, a Republican lawyer for the task force, both said in recent interviews that Connally never crossed their radar screen during the inquiry and so they had no basis to judge Barnes’ account.
While Casey was never proved to have been engaged in any October surprise deal-making, he was later accused of surreptitiously obtaining a Carter campaign briefing book before the lone debate between the two candidates, although he denied involvement.
…Barnes said he has no idea of the purpose of the Middle East trip when Connally invited him. They traveled to the region on a Gulfstream jet owned by Superior Oil. Only when they sat down with the first Arab leader did Barnes learn what Connally was up to, he said.
Connally said, “Look, Ronald Reagan’s going to be elected president and you need to get the word to Iran that they’re going to make a better deal with Reagan than they are Carter,’” Barnes recalled. “He said, ‘It would be very smart for you to pass the word to the Iranians to wait until after this general election is over.’ And boy, I tell you, I’m sitting there and I heard it and so now it dawns on me, I realize why we’re there.”
Barnes said that, except for Israel, Connally repeated the same message at every stop in the region to leaders such as President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt. He thought his friend’s motive was clear. “It became very clear to me that Connally was running for secretary of state or secretary of defense,” Barnes said. (Connally was later offered energy secretary but declined.)
Barnes said he did not reveal the real story at the time to avoid blowback from his own party. “I don’t want to look like Benedict Arnold to the Democratic Party by participating in this,” he recalled explaining to a friend. The headlines at the time, he imagined, would have been scandalous. “I did not want that to be on my obituary at all.”
But as the years have passed, he said, he has often thought an injustice had been done to Carter. Discussing the trip now, he indicated, was his way of making amends. “I just want history to reflect that Carter got a little bit of a bad deal about the hostages,” he said. “He didn’t have a fighting chance with those hostages still in the embassy in Iran.”

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