updated 6/9/2004 2:26:58 PM ET 2004-06-09T18:26:58

Guests: Larry Sabato, Laurence Leamer, Ed Rollins, James Dobson, Carl Bernstein

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, as President Ronald Reagan‘s wisdom was often doubted by the media, 20 years later, we have the benefit of hindsight, and we‘re going to be showing you how a great man‘s vision of the world has been vindicated.  And we‘re going to be talking about that with Reagan‘s director of political affairs, Ed Rollins, and veteran White House reporter Carl Bernstein. 

Then, Ronald Reagan was a deeply spiritual man.  How did his faith affect his life and the presidency?  We‘re going to be asking Dr. James Dobson, who advised Ronald Reagan on family issues during the 1980s. 

And, of course, the passing of Ronald Reagan is a loss for the entire nation.  But nobody feels that loss more deeply than his devoted wife.  Tonight, we take a look back at the lifelong love affair between Nancy and Ronald Reagan.  

Welcome to our show tonight.  I‘m Joe Scarborough. 

I‘ve got to tell you, obviously, Ronald Reagan meant the world to me and a lot of my friends that came in, in the class of 1994.  In fact, we recalled Reagan‘s children, because so many of us—I‘d say out of the 73 freshmen Republicans who helped take over Congress in 1994, probably about nine out of 10 of us got into politics for one reason, and that was because of Ronald Reagan. 

Well, while most of Americans are celebrating the life of Ronald Reagan this week, there are a lot of liberal elites who are getting their last shots in at Ronald Reagan.  But you know what?  History‘s verdict was in a long time ago. 

It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Before Ronald Reagan, American conservatives were thought of as a nasty, brutish and grim lot.  You know, they seemed to focus on the worst in human nature and they believed that mankind was incapable of greatness.  In short, they seemed to be everything that liberals are today. 

But Ronald Reagan made America believe again that its greatest days really did lie ahead and that the USA could reach goals that naysayers dismissed as utopian.  So it was with the defeat of communist Russia.  Paraphrasing a columnist today, you could wallpaper the Berlin Wall with newspaper articles and editorials that called Ronald Reagan an idiot for believing the Soviet Union could be defeated. 

But since Reagan‘s critics were the ones on the wrong side of history, you can‘t wallpaper the Berlin Wall because it no longer exists.  And that, my friends, is because of Ronald Reagan.  Now, the usual suspects are still trashing Ronald Reagan, even as his body lies in state and even as America thinks about Nancy and the family. 

And one critic today even spoke of Reagan‘s awful legacy of SDI?  Awful?  Really?  How awful can Reagan‘s program be and that legacy be if it brought the USSR to its knees?  You know, a former Soviet general said that it was Reagan‘s determination to keep pushing SDI that caused them to raise the white flag and surrender to America and the Gipper. 

You know, it seems like “The New York Times” editorial page, Danny Glover and a cast of thousands will never grasp the real secret in Reagan‘s success.  It was that secret, unlike them, where Reagan believed that America‘s greatness was really enough to help us move forward not only into the 21st century, but even beyond.  In so believing that, Ronald Reagan freed a continent and he changed the world. 

And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

You know, Reagan fans call the late president a visionary.  Critics, including, of course “The New York Times,” say he was lucky.  I asked “Vanity Fair”‘s Carl Bernstein and Republican strategist Ed Rollins whether Reagan was lucky or a visionary. 


ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  He came along at the right time. 

He came at a time after five failed presidencies, one being assassinated, unfortunately, two being driven from office, two being voted out of office after one term.  And Americans didn‘t think the presidency could work.  The economy was a mess.  Our military, after the post-Vietnam, we had ships that wouldn‘t sail, planes that wouldn‘t fly, and military guys who had to go get food stamps. 

So Ronald Reagan came in, and if that‘s lucky inheriting all that, I think the country was lucky to have him.  And, you know, he rose to the occasion, still had a Democrat Congress, drove through legislation with the help of some Southern Democrats and changed history. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is funny.  You read “The New York Times” in talking about how lucky he was and you look at the situation that he did inherit in 1979, 1980.  It was absolutely awful. 

But, Carl Bernstein, I want to play you what Ronald Reagan had to say when he shared his approach towards the Soviet Union with the British Parliament in 1982. 


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I‘m describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term.  The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism, Leninism on the ash heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.


SCARBOROUGH:  And soon after that, this is what Arthur Schlesinger had to say about Ronald Reagan‘s view of the Soviet Union.

He said: “Those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink, are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves.”

And, Carl, in fact, a lot of people didn‘t see in the Soviet Union what Ronald Reagan did as early as 1982, did they? 

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST:  He was a visionary about the collapse of the Soviet Union.  There‘s no question. 

And right before that speech to Westminster, he had visited with the pope.  And one of the reasons he was a visionary—and I wrote a biography of this hope, his holiness—and one of the reasons that he was a visionary is, he understood that this pope and Poland were the crack in the Soviet empire and the solidarity movement. 

But when I wrote the book on the pope, I went to see Mr. Reagan—he had left office—in Beverly Hills, and I said, Mr. President, tell me how it is that everybody came to you and told you about how—the Schlesinger view, essentially—how the Soviet Union was growing at 4 percent in GNP in its economic might and it would never dissolve.  How did you know?  And you‘d throw him out of the office, say, I don‘t want to hear that.  He said, you know, it was really easy.  I watch television. 

And I said, yes, you watch television?  And the president, said, I see all these cars, all these limousines and all these fancy black cars coming in and out of the Kremlin.  And I knew they belong to the nomenklatura and nobody else.  And I was surprised myself he had used the word nomenklatura.

And then he says, it was easy to tell they were falling apart because I knew that it took 10 years to get a car for the average Soviet citizen.  And any country that takes 10 years to get a car is falling apart.  Well, there was a particular genius in that.  I have told Ed Rollins this story in the past.  And the genius was, the academics were wrong and Reagan‘s instincts were right. 

And he had some great instincts.  His instincts were not as great in terms of his domestic record.  Reaganomics were disastrous in some ways.  His view of America, as one of his aides, John Sears said, had been formed in the ‘30s.  His view was about the best of America, a smalltown America.  But it no longer existed.  So he had trouble believing there were problems with racial relations. 

He had trouble believing there were problems with the environment.  He was out of touch.  He did mythologize things.  But he also had—Churchill talked about great men have an air of mystery.  Reagan had that air of mystery.  I don‘t think we can say the same about many of our contemporary presidents. 

He was a great man in many ways.  But this prescience about the Soviet Union and its imminent collapse and having policies to help bring about that collapse, you know, he, Gorbachev and the pope together, I think you can say, hastened the demise of communism definitively. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Ed Rollins, he did have this moral clarity about the Soviet Union.  And this is what he had to say when he spoke to the National Association of Televangelists.  Take a listen.


R. REAGAN:  Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness.  Pray they will discover the joy of knowing God.  But, until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course, he was speaking to these‘s evangelicals.  And that just absolutely enraged—talking about evil and the evil empire enraged an awful lot of people in academia.

I want to read you what one Princeton Sovietologist had to say about that speech.  He said: “All evidence indicates that the Reagan administration has abandoned both containment and detente for a very different objective, destroying the Soviet Union as a world power and possibly even its Communist system.  This is potentially fatal form of Soviet phobia.”

Wasn‘t that the whole idea with Reagan?  He wanted to destroy the Soviet Union.  And he didn‘t care what the academics thought about it.

ROLLINS:  Actually, if you go back and you see some of the early writings, which are becoming very—more prevalent through the efforts of people like Martin Anderson at the Hoover—Reagan in 1962 wrote a paper on how to do in the Soviet Union, basically to starve them economically.  But you had to basically regroup militarily. 

And in the end he said, when they have crumbled, we‘ll reach a hand of friendship out to them.  Martin talked about this recently on a show I was on.  Reagan was a man who thought on paper.  And if you go back and read his writings, I mean, obviously—people want to diminish his accomplishments and people want to diminish his abilities.

And a lot of his own staff people, basically, took credit where they didn‘t deserve credit.  This was a guy who had thought through—and Carl, he may have started in the ‘30s, but he continued to think through the ‘30s, the ‘40s, the ‘50s, the ‘60s, and by the time he came into office in the ‘80s, he moved this country in a massive direction and he did make people think good about themselves again.  And, obviously, that‘s the beginning of restoring a confidence in our country. 

BERNSTEIN:  Well, I agree totally about the psychological effect on many people in this country of Reagan‘s presidency.  It did make them feel good about the country again. 

I think, Joe, you‘re making a little bit of a mistake in your description and kind of making liberals the enemies here of Reagan or of—saying, you know, the theory of containment was—and it goes back to the Truman administration.  The theory of containment was that eventually we would contain the Soviet Union to the point where it did collapse, where it did implode. 


BERNSTEIN:  Reagan, by his prescience of understanding where the Soviet Union was in its failed development, was brilliant about hastening that demise.  But you make a mistake to say that George Kennan, for instance, who thought and devised the theory of containment in the Truman administration, what we see with Reagan is even a brilliant finish of the theory of containment. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  You‘re misunderstanding me.  I have two pictures of two presidents in my office, Harry Truman—and the same thing in Congress—Harry Truman.  He had the guts to stand up to the Soviet Union with containment, especially ‘47 and ‘48, and Ronald Reagan. 


SCARBOROUGH:  He had the guts to move past detente, which, hey, that was not a Democratic idea.  That was not a liberal idea.  Of course, as you know, that was an idea of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. 

BERNSTEIN:  Detente was about Nixon and it was about Brezhnev.

But, no, you had used the word containment before and that what I was referring to.

ROLLINS:  But the failure was, in the late ‘70s, we were not containing them, Carl.  They were on the move.  They went into Afghanistan.  They were all over Central America.  We had basically laid down our arms in the post-Vietnam period.  And, as I said earlier, we had a military that couldn‘t function anymore. 

And I think, to a certain, extent if Reagan—four more years of Carter—people talk about luck.  But four more years of Carter, I guarantee, the Soviets wouldn‘t have stopped and they wouldn‘t have crumbled today.  Reagan had the guts and the courage to go to the American public, go to the Congress and push for defense reform. 


ROLLINS:  A lot of it came about because the Iranian hostage and we were humbled for 444 days.  And so that timing may have been correct.  But he had the guts and the foresight to do that. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Much more with Carl Bernstein and Ed Rollins in just a minute.  And later on, we‘re going to have Dr. James Dobson with us.  He worked with President Reagan on social issues and family issues.  And he‘s going to be here to talk about how Reagan‘s values influenced our cultural definition of the American family and what the government should do about it. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Does George Bush owe his presidency to Ronald Reagan more than his own father?  We‘re going to compare the current White House resident with the man who propelled the Republican revolution—coming up next.



SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re back with Carl Bernstein of “Vanity Fair,” and also have Ed Rollins with us, obviously a Republican strategist. 

Let me start with you, Carl. 

Over the past several years, people have been comparing Ronald Reagan and George Bush.  Of course, “The New York Times” magazine even had Bush on the cover and said that he was Reagan‘s son, so to speak.  Do you agree with that analogy? 

BERNSTEIN:  Not at all. 

I think Ronald Reagan was an infinitely more complex man.  I think he‘s going to be regarded as a much greater president.  I think he had a real compassion for people that George Bush perhaps lacks.  Most important, I think, let‘s look at the biggest story in the news today, outside of Reagan‘s death, and that is that this administration quite obviously approved guidelines for torturing prisoners. 

Hypotheticals don‘t usually work, but this is one I think we can say -

·         and Ed Rollins, tell me if you think I‘m wrong—I don‘t think there‘s a chance in the world that Ronald Reagan would ever approve torture of prisoners in any form.  And the other thing, you know, Ronald Reagan picked the right target in the Soviet Union and the right target in Poland, and knew to exploit it. 

George Bush has picked the wrong target in Iraq.  He has produced a catastrophe.  And Reagan had the ability to know when he had made a mistake and pull back.  Witness what he did in Lebanon after the killing of 241 Marines in terrorist attacks there.  George Bush, as the conservative columnist George Will has noted, seems to have no ability to think things through a second time and reevaluate them. 

And that‘s part of the reason we‘re in this catastrophe and it‘s a big difference from Reagan. 


BERNSTEIN:  Let me add one more point.  And that is that when Iran-Contra erupted, Ronald Reagan had the decency to say, well, you know, let‘s look and see what mistakes have been made, and if I made them, I don‘t think I traded arms for hostages, but let‘s see.  Let‘s have a real investigation.  And Republicans led the way to have that investigation with Democrats on the Hill. 

And this administration will not allow an investigation of torture.  And I think that‘s a real difference and that there is going to have to be a real investigation of policies regarding torture. 

Do you think I‘m right on that, Rollins? 

ROLLINS:  You‘re totally right.  Obviously, Reagan would go through—never approve anything like that. 

BERNSTEIN:  It‘s a difference of character. 

ROLLINS:  Well, I think there‘s a significant difference. 

And I think to a certain extent, what George Bush has inherited and some of the mannerisms that he tries to copy is, he‘s inherited Reagan‘s party.  It wasn‘t his father‘s party.  His father got Reagan‘s third term and basically undid the three principles of the Reagan two terms.

One is, Reagan cut taxes and he spent more on defense and he basically tried to get government to deregulate far more.  Bush Sr. basically raised taxes, started cutting spending dramatically in defense, and started reregulating again.  So he lost 29 percent of Republicans in 1992 to Perot and Clinton.  It was Republicans who defeated George Bush. 

So I think young Bush came in and basically built a model to where we couldn‘t lose our political base and I think that‘s—the mantra today is strong national defense, taxes, what have you. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Hold your base.

But hold on.  Ed Rollins, though, you know, a lot of things that Carl was saying about George W. Bush right now, people were saying about Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s regarding him confronting the Soviet Union.  Now, I‘m certainly—I‘m not comparing the two.  I think there‘s a big difference between them.  But, again, just like with Reagan, we had to wait seven or eight years to see whether his policy, his foreign policy on the Soviets was correct. 

ROLLINS:  Well, I think there‘s no question.

We‘re in Iraq.  Whether we should go in or shouldn‘t have gone in, we‘re in Iraq.  We have to finish the job.  We cannot cut and run.  I do think that it‘s absolutely critical that the president or someone make a statement that the policies that were implemented, where people were tortured, where we got to the level of other countries that we‘ve despised, that we have to apologize for that somewhere along the line, whether it‘s Rumsfeld or the president himself or what have you.

And to basically try and justify it is—you know, there are people who weren‘t guilty of terrorism that were mistreated and what have you. 




BERNSTEIN:  One of the bases of going after Saddam Hussein...


SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second, Carl.  I don‘t want to debate Iraq.  I don‘t mean to be rude. 

BERNSTEIN:  OK.  No problem.

SCARBOROUGH:  Because I know you can wax much more poetically on the next question I‘m going to ask you. 

And that has to do with the fact that Ronald Reagan was sort of considered an amiable dunce for years and years.  And then this book came out a few years ago that had Reagan‘s writings.  And overnight—and I‘ve talked to people I would consider liberal journalists, moderate journalists, conservative journalists.  Their views about Ronald Reagan changed overnight and they realized the man was much deeper than they saw during his presidency. 

Were you struck by that after reading, going through his writings and saying, hey, wait a second, this is a man that actually did think through foreign policy and domestic policy years before he entered the White House? 

BERNSTEIN:  No, I wasn‘t surprised. 

I did a cover story for “The New Republic” magazine a—quote—

“liberal” magazine, at the end of the Reagan first term.  And a good deal of it dealt with the fact that he was not an amiable dunce, that he was a man capable of very sophisticated thought. 

Yes, he gave way to mythology.  He forgot some things.  He believed in his anecdotes, many of which were not true.  But, no, this was an able man.  This was a man who thought things through.  This was a man clearly of great eloquence.  Look at his speeches.  Look at—that Westminster speech is one of the great speeches of the 20th century.  He was capable of great eloquence, another difference, I think, between him and George W. Bush, who is not capable—can‘t bring great eloquence to the office. 

ROLLINS:  Reagan had spent a long—I go back to the point.

And I watched Reagan as a young governor when I worked in the legislature.  I watched him from a different point of view.  And I watched him be totally underestimated by even the Republicans.  I worked for the Republican speaker.  But he grew.  He learned the mistakes early on in his governorship, and he learned how to deal with Democrats. 

But all the way through he had this core, this set of principles.  You may disagree or agree with those principles, but they were his.  He developed them.  And the great story is, he had so much change in that White House.  There were people who came and gone all the time.  He had four or five chiefs of staff.  There were four or five political directors, as I was for five years.  There were three or four, maybe five national security advisers.  The game stayed the same.  It was still Ronald Reagan. 

And it was his core.  And what‘s now coming out—and the guy was never a self-promoter.  The guy was always one of these who believed that you can get anything done if you don‘t care who gets the credit.  And he never tried to take the credit himself.  And you back and—but it was his philosophy, and he wrote it out.  He thought on paper.  It was not something done quickly.  It was done over a long period of time. 

When he came in—you‘re talking about the State of the Union speech.  The State of the Union peach was written by Ronald Reagan weeks and weeks in advance.  The economic speech that he went to the Congress two weeks later on was a 16-page draft that he wrote out in long hand.  So there‘s a lot of thought process that this guy had that no one was willing to give credit at that point in time. 


SCARBOROUGH:  One final question, though, Carl. 

BERNSTEIN:  Go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  What was it about Ronald Reagan that we haven‘t seen since he‘s left office?  I mean, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr. all have been fairly decisive people—even though I think Bill Clinton actually went to school on Ronald Reagan and his mannerism, the way he spoke.

What was it about Ronald Reagan that was able to unite people?  Even if they disagreed with him, even if they voted against him, they still would respect him and still would get behind him.

BERNSTEIN:  I think real humility is right up there, a kind of optimism that was not calculating, that came through, a genuineness that came through, a set of principles that left him able to compromise and, yet, at the same time, he knew what his principles were. 

I don‘t think that this president we have today is capable of such compromise.  But I think humility is key. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I agree with you, Carl.  I think that‘s a big thing that he has that a lot of these guys that have followed him haven‘t. 

Carl, thanks so much for being with us. 

Ed, we greatly appreciate it. 

ROLLINS:  My pleasure.  Thank you very much. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family thinks the media is missing the big story, President Reagan‘s legacy to the American family.  We‘ll ask him why. 

And speaking of families, Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married for 52 years.  We‘re going to take a look back at their great romance and what made it work. 

That‘s next. 


SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Ronald Reagan‘s legacy is more than just tax cuts and the collapse of communism.  His optimism grew from a faith in America‘s values.  We‘re going to be talking about Reagan‘s legacy of values coming up next. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.



R. REAGAN:  America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening and a moral renewal.  And with your biblical keynote, I say today, yes, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an never-failing stream. 


SCARBOROUGH:  What a guy.  What a guy. 

You know, I spoke to Dr. James Dobson, who, of course, is chairman of Focus on the Family.  And he advised President Reagan on a number of family-related issues when he was president. 

I asked Dr. Dobson what he thought about the media‘s coverage of President Reagan and his passing. 


DR. JAMES DOBSON, PRESIDENT, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY:  Well, you know, Joe, for the last five days, the media has just been concentrating everything and almost overdosing on Ronald Reagan.

And I understand that, because there‘s so many people, millions of people, who loved him and appreciate his memory.  But they have been dealing primarily with the same messages over and over again, if I may be so bold.  You know, they‘ve talked about him being the great communicator.  They‘ve talked about him bringing down the Soviet Union.  They‘ve talked about his relationship with Nancy. 

But there‘s another side to him that almost no one is talking about, and that‘s your theme for tonight, at least this segment, having to do with his faith, with his commitment to the family and his commitment to the unborn child.  That‘s been underrepresented.  But that was very much a part of who he was. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What do you say to Reagan critics who are already writing and sniping about him, saying, well, this is a guy who supposedly supported family values, and yet he was divorced, this is a guy that talked about the importance of fatherhood and yet some say he was distant from his own children?  What do you say to those critics?  And I certainly disagree with them.  I‘m a huge Ronald Reagan fan. 

DOBSON:  Yes.  Well, I am, too. 

He was so endearing in his personality.  But he was not a perfect man, and he did make mistakes.  And he regretted those.  And so, you know, if you‘re waiting for a leader who has never made any mistakes, you‘re never going to find one.  I mean, there are no perfect people.  If there were, we wouldn‘t need a savior in Jesus Christ.  And so I do believe that he was very sincere about his faith and about his family. 

He did reconcile to them to the degree with which he was able, and he certainly did everything he could to preserve and protect the family.  I was by his side off and on through the ‘80s, and I saw what he cared about, and I saw what he did to try to preserve the family.  And I want to tell you, I appreciated it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You actually, of course, interviewed Ronald Reagan. 

Let‘s let our audience take a listen to that interview. 


DOBSON:  What should be the role of government in the family, in building and forging strong families? 

R. REAGAN:  Well, I think that everything the government can do, first of all, it starts with its prime responsibility, of course, of securing our freedoms and our security both against outside assailants and against the criminal elements within our own country. 

But it does not interfere and it does everything it can to strengthen the family economically.  I think the greatest social program there is in the world is a job. 


SCARBOROUGH:  James Dobson, that was radical thinking before Ronald Reagan came into office and sort of sounds a bit radical in 2004, doesn‘t it? 

DOBSON:  It does. 

And, you know, there was another sound bite there that I thought you were going to share, where he says, you can‘t have a strong nation without strong families.  And government must do what it can to protect it and not interfere with it.  I think he made references to it there. 

He also did what he could to provide tax relief for families.  And I was chairman, or co-chairman, of the Citizens For Tax Relief for Ronald Reagan.  And at that time, a family only got a $600 deduction for a dependent.  And he raised it to $2,000.  You know, he made a lot of contributions to the family in those days. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, another big issue, obviously, one of the great debates of our time has to do with abortion.  This is what Ronald Reagan had to say about abortion. 


R. REAGAN:  More than a decade ago, a Supreme Court decision literally wiped off the books of 50 states statutes protecting the rights of unborn children.  Abortion on demand now takes the lives of up to 1.5 million unborn children a year.  Human life legislation ending this tragedy will someday pass the Congress, and you and I must never rest until it does. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Dr. Dobson, again, a lot of Reagan‘s critics are now saying he never pushed that issue. 

DOBSON:  Well, he did push it.  He talked about it.  On the campaign trail, he talked about it often.  But he had a Democratic Congress. 

He did not have the support to pass legislation, and he knew it.  When he came on the scene running for the presidency, he was the first candidate ever to boldly step out and defend the unborn child.  Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, had been pro-abortion and pro ERA.  Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, had been pro-abortion and pro-ERA.

And the media was vicious in those days with regard to those who took a pro-life stance.  It took a lot of courage for him to take that position and then to do what he could, at least, as the president to promote those ideas. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dr. Dobson, you obviously have a very strong following in America and across the world.  What‘s your message to people about what the legacy of Ronald Reagan is and how he should be remembered? 

DOBSON:  Well, I think it would be to know where you‘re going and to stand by those principles. 

He was not a politician.  He was a statesman.  He was willing to take the heat and do what was right.  He didn‘t make his decisions based on polling and based on what was popular or what would be politically advantageous.  He always wanted to do what‘s right.  And I tell you, I loved that man.  I regret his passing and I believe that he made a great contribution to this country. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, I do, too. 

Dr. Dobson, and with you, I‘m so sorry for his passing.  But I‘m so thankful for all the things he did for the country and all the things that you‘re doing for the country, too.  Thanks for being with us tonight.  As always, we greatly appreciate it. 

DOBSON:  Thank you, Joe. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, theirs is a storybook romance, beginning with a blind date in Hollywood and spanning more than five decades.  Up next, a look at the love letters and the love affair of Ron and Nancy Reagan. 


SCARBOROUGH:  The marriage between President and Mrs. Reagan is truly one of the great love stories of the 20th century.  Their devotion was immortalized in the letters President Reagan wrote to his beloved wife, narrated here for the today show by the actor Hal Linden. 


HAL LINDEN, ACTOR:  “I have this problem.  I miss you when you first leave the room.  I worry about you when you go out the front door.  And without you, there would be no sun, no moon, no stars.  With you, they are all out at the same time.”


SCARBOROUGH:  Laurence Leamer is the author of “Make Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan.”  And Larry Sabato is a presidential historian. 

Larry, let me begin with you.  I mean, your book is called “Make Believe.”

I‘ve got to tell you, it sounds—this story between Ronald and Nancy Reagan has always sounded almost too good to be true. 

LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, “MAKE BELIEVE”:  There‘s nothing make believe about their love.  That was the most authentic thing in their lives.  In almost every marriage I‘ve ever seen, one person kind of makes that marriage more than the other. 

Imagine what it was like for Nancy when she marries him in 1952.  He‘s kind of—his years of stardom are all over.  He‘s kind of an aging star.  His ex-wife, Jane Wyman, was one of the great stars in Hollywood.  She has these two kids from his first marriage she has to deal with.  She deals with that and she loves him so much and she‘s totally devoted to him for all these years, as we well know.  And there really is nothing like this marriage. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Larry, would there have been a Ronald Reagan without a Nancy Reagan, because, again, as Laurence just told us, when he first met Nancy, he was sort of on his way out Hollywood?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS:  No, I think she anchored him emotionally in a profound way.  She didn‘t have any interest in policy, although when he—after 1976, when he was thinking—he was a happy man.  He could have gone back to the ranch. 

In a lot of those meetings, Nancy was sitting there and she was pushing her husband to run for the presidency again.  So she believed in him that much.  But, no, without Nancy, there‘s no President Ronald Reagan. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s listen to more of the letters from Ronald to Nancy. 


LINDEN:  Wednesday, July 15, 1953: “Dear Nancy Pants, I suppose some people would find it unusual that you and I can so easily span 3,000 miles, but in truth, it comes very naturally.  Man can‘t live without a heart, and you are my heart.”

Sunday, March 20, 1955: “My darling, it‘s time to move on to the next town now, and every move is a step toward home and you.  I love you very much, and I don‘t even mind that life made me wait so long to find you.  The waiting only made the finding sweeter.”


SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Larry Sabato, it seems the knock on Ronald Reagan personally has always been that he‘s a very difficult man to get to know, that he was always sort of, not aloof, but certainly distant.  But these letters really show a man who‘s pouring himself out totally to his wife. 

SABATO:  Well, Joe, I‘m no expert on love, but I don‘t think he needed anybody else but Nancy Reagan.  That really is the story of these two together and of Ronald Reagan‘s progression through the political system. 

I don‘t really think it‘s terribly different than George W. and Laura Bush.  Everyone says, well, President Bush wouldn‘t be in office without his father having been president.  That‘s, of course, true.  I don‘t think he would be president without Laura Bush.  Well, Ronald Reagan wouldn‘t have been president without Nancy Reagan.  That isn‘t true for every president.  Sometimes the spouses really aren‘t a critical part of the political career. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s actually let our audience hear Nancy Reagan reading a letter that the president wrote to her on their 29th anniversary, which was their first anniversary in the White House. 


NANCY REAGAN, FIRST LADY:  “Dear first lady, as president of the United States, it‘s my honor and privilege to cite you for service above and beyond the call of duty and that you have made one man, me, the most happy man in the world for 29 years. 

“Nancy Davis then went on to bring him happiness for the next 29 years as Nancy Davis Reagan, for which she has received and will continue to receive his undying devotion forever and ever.  She‘s done this in spite of the fact that he still can‘t find the words to tell her how lost he would be without her.  He sits in the Oval Office from which he can see, if he  scooches down, her window and feels warm all over just knowing she‘s there. 

The above is a statement of the man who benefited from her act of heroism.  The below is his signature, Ronald Reagan, president of the United States.  P.S. He, I mean I, love and adore you. 


SCARBOROUGH:  You know, that was written, as we just said, on their 29th anniversary. 

But, Laurence, it sounds like that letter would have been more appropriately written on their 29th day dating each other.  This love affair only seemed to get stronger the older they got. 

LEAMER:  It renewed and renewed itself. 

And I think what the great message here is that, again, it did not begin that easily.  She was a child of divorce.  Her parents divorced.  She was shuttled off to live with an aunt when she was a little girl.  And then her mother remarried Dr. Loyal Davis.  And she was in her late 20s when she met him.  She had a hard time and he had a hard time.  But out of these difficulties, they built this extraordinary love. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What was the key to that relationship? 

LEAMER:  I think the absolute trust and belief in each other.  It was difficult for those outside the sacred circle, their children.  Ron Jr.  talked in my book about what a hard time he had having intimate conversations with his father. 

They just were such a complete unit, the two of them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you talk about Ron Reagan saying that.  The first couple‘s daughter also said this about her parent‘s marriage. 

LEAMER:  Yes.  They just were alone together.  Those letters show that, the power of that love.  Imagine him sitting in the Oval Office, all the kind of issues he has to deal with, and, yet, she still—that immense love that is in a perfect way for him and that has been—as we all know, and whatever criticism there was of Nancy Reagan in the past, the way she‘s behaved this last decade is just absolutely awesome on every level. 


Larry Sabato, you know, there was criticism of Nancy Reagan.  Many said that she was too powerful, that she led Ronald Reagan around and sort of was whispering to him and pushing him around in the Oval Office.  Do you think history is going to record it that way? 

SABATO:  No, I think people‘s view of Nancy Reagan has changed a lot over the years. 

You‘re absolutely right.  Boy, she was criticized intensely.  Of course, Rosalynn Carter was heavily criticized.  More recently, Hillary Clinton has been heavily criticized.  So it comes with the territory, and it‘s such an odd job that has no pay.  It does have some staff.  It has no legal position, in a sense. 

But it‘s an important job, because it‘s pretty clear from our history that when presidents are happy and secure at home in their family unit, at least with their spouse, they have a much better chance of doing a good job. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Larry, we‘ll leave it there. 

And I think you‘re exactly right.  I think Nancy‘s support helped Ronald Reagan so much not only do a good job, do a great job over eight years.  We appreciate you both being here, Laurence Leamer and Larry Sabato. 

And coming up, President Reagan is going to be remembered in Washington with a state funeral on Thursday.  What does it mean?  We‘ll tell you when we return. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Tomorrow, President Reagan‘s casket arrives in Washington for his state funeral.  Tune in to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m., as I broadcast live from the nation‘s capital.  Then tune in from 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., when we will be reading your e-mails and taking your calls. 

So e-mail your thoughts on Ronald Reagan to Joe@MSNBC.com.


SCARBOROUGH:  Ronald Reagan is going to be the first president in more than three decades to receive a state funeral.  That may leave many of you asking, what is a presidential state funeral?

Well, presidents, former presidents and president-elects are entitled to state funerals, according to the Smithsonian.  And state funerals are a combination of military custom, political considerations, Victoria-era funeral practices, and also religious doctrine.  Now, the purpose is to give as many Americans as possible the ability to honor their deceased president, and, at the same time, considering the needs of the family during their time of grief. 

Now, the protocol for a state funeral covers just about every detail.  And the military even has a 138-page document that dictates everything from seating arrangements and flowers to the speed of the funeral procession, which is supposed to be a stately 20 miles per hour. 

Now, if you watch closely, you‘re going to even see the footsteps of the military guards are elaborately choreographed.  Only nine have been laid in state at the Capitol Rotunda and only seven have had their funeral processions travel up Pennsylvania Avenue.  The last full presidential state funeral honored Lyndon Johnson in 1973.  And 10 years ago, when former President Richard Nixon died, his family honored his wishes to hold their services in Yorba Linda, California, opting out of the traditional Washington state funeral. 

To find out more about President Reagan‘s legacy, log on to MSNBC at Reagan.MSNBC.com. 

We‘ll see you tomorrow night. 


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