Reagan Campaigns for Truman

Future President Ronald Reagan listens to President harry Truman make a campaign speech at Gilmore Stadium, Los Angeles in 1948. The top of the heads of fellow Democrats Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall can be seen, seated between Truman and Reagan.

Thirty-two years before he was elected as the most popular Republican President since Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan was out campaigning for one of his favorite Presidents – Democrat Harry Truman. In his capacity as President of the Screen Actors Guild, the then-actor Reagan joined other Hollywood actors at a rally for Truman’s 1948 presidential election campaign. The event took place at the open-air Gilmore Field Auditorium.,

Reagan making his campaign speech for Truman.

Reagan also delivered a radio address, not only making the case again for  Truman’s election, and then-Congressman Hubert Humphrey, (“my friend,” Reagan called the famous Minnesota liberal), in his race for the U.S. Senate. In the process, Reagan attacked Standard Oil Company‘s margin of profit, defended labor unions and attacked Republican tax cuts, pointing out the struggles being faced by the working poor. Here is that radio address:

Throughout Truman’s second term, as his popularity dropped radically to one of the lowest approval ratings of an incumbent President, Reagan remained a stalwart defender of the President and stalwart Democrat.

June 6 1952. As Reagan (far left) speaks, Truman (far right) listens.

Four years later, Reagan came at his invitation to host the annual reunion of Truman’s U.S. Army 35th division of World War I veterans, in Springfield, Missouri.  Joining Reagan (left) speaks at the Springfield, Missouri Shrine Mosque at the annual national reunion of the World War I veterans of the 35th division.

Two years later, Reagan vigorously campaigned for Helen Gahagan Douglas in her famous race against Richard Nixon for the U.S. Senate seat from California. Two years after that, in 1952, however, Reagan came out for the Republican presidential ticket of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.

In the 1960 presidential election, Reagan served as chairman of “Democrats for Nixon,” and opposed John F. Kennedy. He had become increasingly disenchanted with the Democratic Party, and in his capacity as a spokesman for General Electric, began criticizing the Kennedy Administration‘s support of Medicare and civil rights – not on the value of either but as a form of government intrusion into individual right of choice.

Truman with his beloved and defensive daughter Margaret in their Missouri backyard at summertime.

He officially switched his partisan allegiance to the Republican Party in 1962, and won his own first political election as Governor of California in 1966, going on to win two terms as President in 1980 and 1984. What the salty Truman, then a former President (he died in 1972), thought of Governor Reagan‘s political switch is unknown, but Reagan often said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party – the Democratic Party left me.”

Sixteen years after former President Truman’s death, however, the now-President Reagan caused something of a rift between himself and the late President’s daughter when, while campaigning for his Vice President George Bush’s presidential bid in 1988  in Truman’s hometown of Independence, Missouri,  he declared that ”today Harry Truman’s party is the Republican Party.”

In reaction, old friends of Truman took out a full-page ad in the Kansas City Times which read: ”We knew Harry Truman, Mr. Reagan. And George Bush, as sure as hell, is no Harry Truman. Harry Truman’s party believed in working Americans and in keeping America’s defenses strong, and yes, in ‘one nation under God. ‘

The real bite, however, came from former First Daughter Margfaret Truman, who barked,  ”It was stupid. ‘I’m furious. Dad would be all for [Democratic presidential and vice [presidential lcandidates] Governor [Michael] Dukakis and Senator [Lloyd] Bentsen.”Democrats have called me and said they were angry. My children are extremely upset.”

Reagan, however, never lost his personal admiration for Harry Truman. On his desk in the Oval Office he kept a quote displayed he’d heard attributed to Harry Truman – although the origins of it have been traced to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “”There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Categories: Hollywood, Politics, Presidents, Presidents on Presidents, The Reagans, The Trumans

7 replies »

  1. Wow! Reagan’s speech could be given by a Democrat in the current campaign as an indictment of the policies advocated the Republican Party. The issues have not changed much.

  2. Tremendous photo of Truman and his daughter in the garden. I feel like I’m there.

  3. Outstanding article, Carl! I love the final quote. Just posted it on Facebook!


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