Reagan decided to make a run for the Republican nomination in 1976, but he didn't want to look too eager in trying to become the nominee. Reagan actually took a mini-gig on CBS Radio, where he had a daily five minute editorial (pictured: Reagan giving one of radio addresses). Those radio addresses kept Reagan in the public eye; Reagan preferred radio because he thought people would tire of him on television. The major reason was, perhaps, that Reagan thought TV would magnify is age.
Reagan had no policy agenda beyond his basic conservative principles, which were anchored by his beliefs that the federal government was too large, taxes needed to be reduced, and that the US should stop "playing nice" with the USSR. Reagan expected events to provide opportunity and direction for a political comeback, and that occurred with the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. Reagan blamed a lack of leadership in the federal government for South Vietnam falling to the North Vietnamese communists. Not long his radio addresses on Saigon, Reagan started to question the wisdom of detente with the USSR.
Reagan was appointed to the Rockefeller Commission (Nelson Rockefeller was President Gerald Ford's Vice-President), which was investigating the Central Intelligence Agency's actions. However, Reagan attended less than half the committee's 26 meetings. At the end of the investigation, Reagan signed the committee's report, which was no more than a "slap on the wrist" to the CIA.
However, another investigation, the Church Committee, chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church of Idaho (pictured to the left, with Republican Senator John Tower of Texas to the right), uncovered CIA shenanigans. The Church Committee outlined CIA activities in Iran in 1953 (the Shah of Iran was brought back to power), Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961, and assorted attempted assassinations. Conservatives like Reagan didn't want any sunshine on the CIA, which in their view could only weaken a part of the government that needed to stay viable and effective against foreign threats.
It was a long shot for Reagan to defeat Ford for the Republican nomination; as President, Ford had vast power within the party machinery compared to Reagan. Reagan also risked being blamed for splitting the Republican Party, and if Ford lost the General Election, Reagan would face even more blame. On 20 November 1975, Ronald Reagan formally declared himself as a candidate for President at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Reagan and his campaign staff knew they had blown it in New Hampshire, and were unable to effectively compete in the next five primaries, losing to Ford in all of the contests. Each loss in a primary eroded Reagan's credibility in the Republican Party, and Reagan was pressured to drop out of the race, and support Ford as a loyal Republican. Reagan responded that he would battle all the way to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City.
(R; NC) was able to arrange a 30 minute television broadcast, where Reagan espoused his conservative bona fides, and where he also was able to re-introduce himself to the American South.
Reagan attacked President Ford for "giving away" the Panama Canal, something over which Ford had no influence or control, other than to continue what had started in the 1960s. But Reagan's attack struck a chord, and Reagan stunned Ford and the Republican leadership by winning North Carolina 52% to 46%. North Carolina had their delegates committed proportionately, so Reagan only garnered 28 delegates to Ford's 26. But the flow of campaign money increased, and Reagan was able to continue . . . Ford and his staff cast Reagan as a Republican Party "wrecker".
Reagan captured more Southern primaries, as well as Indiana, California, and Nebraska. The Ford team had a modest lead over Reagan in terms of delegates heading into Kansas City, Missouri. But the decision was made to bring James Baker (pictured above) to the Ford campaign, an organizing genius with legendary political connections, to insure that the Republican National Convention would not descend into chaos, which would benefit Reagan.
Reagan's defeat was sealed as a result, with Ford capturing 1187 delegates to Reagan's 1070. Despite the totals, conservative Republicans stayed with Reagan. Ford didn't ask Reagan to be his Vice-President, and Reagan never offered to be Vice-President. According to James Baker (Reagan's future Chief-of-Staff and the Secretary of the Treasury), had Reagan been asked to be the VP, he would have done so out of a sense of party loyalty . . . but if that would have occurred, it would have been very unlikely that Reagan would have been elected President in 1980. (pictured above: Reagan shaking hands with President Ford on the stage in Kansas City, with V.P. Rockefeller in the background).