Reagan didn’t wait long to place the “race card” in that Carter was a Southerner that was liberal on Civil Rights. The issue on which Reagan focused was forced (school) busing, which had become an incredibly contentious issue in cities such as Boston. Jordan warned Carter that his Southern base would become shaky when the average Southern voter realized that Carter was more liberal on social issues than he/she.
Another flash point on which Reagan took advantage was affirmative action, which was a clash between overriding racial discrimination versus rewarding individual merit, which pitted two of Carter’s support groups against each other. African-American supporters of affirmative action were in opposition to white working class voters trying to move up the socioeconomic ladder. In essence what Reagan did was to draw Nixon’s “Silent Majority” into his fold in 1980 away from Carter, who had only partially drawn that huge voting bloc to his corner in 1976.
A brief that Carter approved was submitted to the Court, arguing that race could be a factor in college admissions, but not the only factor. Carter also recommended that the case be sent back to the California courts. The
8 - 1 Supreme Court decision in 1978 in favor of Bakke didn’t really settle the issue in that the eight justices in favor had different points-of-view and justifications; affirmative action to this day remains a political and legal conundrum.
Carter was affected in that yet again nobody was happy with the President on the issue. Civil Rights activists wanted the government to promote opportunities for minorities, while the white middle class believed they were getting squeezed out by government actions that promoted minorities over them. All of that scurrilous hoo-haw undermined Carter’s white support nationwide as well as significant numbers of African-American voters.
Complicating matters on the religious front for Carter was Roe v. Wade (1973) and the resulting “Pro-Life” movement which did not see any acceptable exceptions for abortion. Carter believed the issue was mostly a woman’s choice, but he opposed Medicaid spending for abortions; even so, Carter was directly in the crosshairs of the “Pro-Life” movement.
By 1979, the Reverend Jerry Falwell had created a Political Action Committee (PAC) linked to the “Moral Majority” movement which served as a huge engine linking and mobilizing secular conservatives with conservative evangelicals in support of Reagan. The agenda of Falwell’s PAC even included building the B-1 bomber. Falwell wasn’t nationally-known until 1979, and it was during that year where he took to the airwaves (especially radio) and branded Carter as a traitor to the South, and that the President was no longer a Christian.
Falwell often misquoted Carter in order to shape his agenda, and he only backed off when there was definitive proof (e.g. tapes) that showed Carter said nothing of the sort . . . but the political damage Falwell inflicted on Carter was severe. Reagan saw political opportunity and pounced, embracing the Moral Majority’s agenda. A month before Election Day 1980, Reagan spoke at Falwell’s college in Lynchburg, VA (Liberty University), which in essence cemented the evangelical voting bloc in Reagan’s corner.
The media swarmed to Plains GA since Billy was great copy, and the spotlight became greater as did Billy’s consumption of alcohol. Billy loved his older brother even though he was jealous, and he campaigned for Carter in the South. However, Billy consistently became a liability to his brother when his efforts were not campaign-related, such as in 1978 when Billy made a highly-publicized trip to Libya with Georgia officials and business leaders eater to make deals with Ghadafi.
To repay the hospitality of the Ghadafi, Billy hosted a delegation of Libyans in Atlanta, and when the media asked why he was doing so, Billy stated that there were far more Arabs than Jews, and that the Jewish media consistently “tore up” Arab nations. Billy also stated that compared to other dictators, at least Ghadafi admitted he sponsored terrorism. Hamilton Jordan was convinced that Billy had a perverse need to hurt his brother, in large part because the family business had been placed in a trust when Carter became President, which meant that Billy was out of a job.
The avalanche of disastrous news kept falling on Carter when the Mariel Boatlift Crisis with Fidel Castro occurred, and that human rights dilemma became a political nightmare for Carter in an election year. By the end of May 1980, 94,000 Cubans had landed in the US, mostly in Florida. As a result of the tens of thousands of Cuban refugees landing on US shores, the impression was that Carter had allowed into the US hordes of dangerous illegal immigrants. The Cuban-American community in Florida gave zero credit to Carter for doing the best he could in a no-win situation, and that bloc voted overwhelmingly for Reagan.