Reagan delegates see their candidate as 'inspiring' leader
Detroit — Down here on the covention floor the crush of the crowd requires stepping over wires, chairs, and feet to move even an inch or two. And in the roar -- between speeches from the podium, delegate conversations, and news-media interviews -- it takes a bellowing baritone to be heard.
"You just go down to Iowa and turn right," yells one delegate, interrupted for directions as yet another convention speaker is making a pitch from the podium for "bold and confident" Republican leadership.
So it is that when you ask Reagan delegate Clyde Smitherman of Pfafftown, N.C., just how he's taking to what he hears in the series of Republicans-can-do-no-wrong and Democrats-can-do-no-right speeches, his broad smile answers best.
"It's inspiring -- it gets your patriotism up," he insists.
His only suggestion for improvement is that the speakers could be a little more specific in their attacks on the Carter administration. Still, this delegate is clearly enjoying every convention moment and will be right here with his delegation during every session up to the closing benediction.
Mr. Smitherman is one of many Reagan delegates here who say they first really noticed Ronald Reagan's special leadership abilities when he made commercials in the 1960s on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
Finding a "typical" Reagan delegate at this convention is far from easy. They come from every conceivable job and economic background. Some are eager to make a special splash in this sea of delegates by covering every inch of their clothing with pro-reagan buttons or, for quick state identification, by sporting blue cowboy hats as Texas delegates, gold southwester hats as the Maine delegates, or prominent purple shoulder-to-waist sashes as most Californians. Others wear only a modest convention button or two.
But what almost all of these Reagan delegates share is a very strong conviction that their candidate has the optimism and the leadership to improve US morale, strengthen national defense, stand up firmly to Moscow, and net the US the respect from its allies it deserves and, in their view, has not been getting.
Mr. Smitherman, for instance, feels as strongly on this subject as any of the four Reagan delegates chosen at random and interviewed at length by the Monitor. He describes himself as favoring military supremacy for the United States, whatever the sacrifice involved for citizens in the buildup process.
Rick Schmidt, a commercial airline pilot and a Reagan delegate attending his first GOP convention from Federal Way, Wash., argues similarly that America has a decided obligation to take a stronger leaders role in the world: "We have to re-establish ourselves as the leader of the free world -- we're the only ones with the economic and technological base to do it."
Frank McGinnis, a San Francisco real estate broker who headed up the fund-raising effort for the Reagan campaign in that region, says he thinks Mr. Reagan has the right economic philosophy to curb inflation and increase national productivity. The candidate also can provide the kind of stable leadership needed to strengthen America's role in the world and its self-respect, says Mr. McGinnis.
"I think we're in terrible shape -- the morale of this country is at an all-time low. We badly need a president who can inspire us, and I think Mr. Reagan can do it."
Russell A. Austin Jr., a lawyer and state legislator from Seattle and a Reagan delegate attending his fourth GOP convention, agrees: "I feel sure that Reagan would bring back some of the prestige we've lost over the last four years."
Does he think the GOP platform is such this year that it will broaden the party's appeal? Mr. Austin says he has not yet had time to read it but that he thinks the party's "reach out" opportunities lie in holding firm with GOP principles rather than in "taking phony positions because it will bring somebody in."
"The party's here and it's wide open -- anyone's welcome," says Mr. Austin. "I'll solicit people for votes, but not to become Republicans."