The Cheerful Reaganite
Lyn Nofziger, 1924-2006.
Apr 10, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 28 • By PETER HANNAFORD
IT'S A GUESS, but about now I imagine Lyn Nofziger may be regaling St. Peter with some of his best puns. He certainly had a great store of them and was always adding to it. It may come as a surprise to political opponents who thought of him as a fierce conservative, but mirth was a large component of Lyn's life. He understood human folly and realized that there wasn't much one could do to stop it, so he decided to enjoy the amusing side of it. And whether it was over a cup of coffee or a Bombay Gin martini, an hour or so spent with Lyn involved a lot of laughter, interspersed with wise observations about the issues and politicians of the day.
I remember when he published a book of poetry under the pseudonym "Joy Skilmer," a takeoff on the name of the "Trees" poet, Joyce Kilmer. It was fun to read those innocently titled verses that turned out to skewer, in rhyme, political sacred cows and those who championed them.
But when we first met over 30 years ago, poetry was far in Lyn Nofziger's future. He was a consultant to Ronald Reagan when I joined the then-governor's senior staff. As the years went on, he was always part of the small circle of aides and advisers around Reagan, but he predated the rest of us. He was there first, as press secretary in Reagan's first campaign in 1966. Having left journalism to join the advocacy side, he brought with him a journalist's dose of skepticism to any political initiative or proposal being considered. He provided the reality check to a lot of ideas the rest of us floated.
Lyn always had strong views of the role government should play in the life of the citizenry. ("No man, his home, or his family is safe when the legislature is in session" was one of his favorite lines.) He thought the liberal notion that government was the most honest, surest way to accomplish any purpose was nonsense. And he didn't hesitate to criticize conservatives when they strayed from such basic principles as limited government and self-reliance.
He defined his place on the political spectrum very nicely when he said, "I am a Republican because I believe that freedom is more important than government-provided security. Sometimes I wish I were a Democrat because Democrats seem to have more fun. At other times I wish I were a libertarian because Republicans are too much like Democrats. What I am actually is a right-wing independent who is registered as a Republican."
Although Lyn did a stint in the early Nixon White House, it's Ronald Reagan who was his real political hero. He worked the grassroots for Reagan, and loved it. In 1976, after that roller coaster ride through most of the primaries, he dropped off the campaign trail to go back to California to organize Reagan's campaign there, to ensure a large victory on primary day in June--and produced it.
I remember that spring, when the campaign was interrupted for a few days to plan and produce a nationally televised talk by Reagan (which I was coordinating). Lyn called me--it must have been three or four times--to remind me to make sure we included "a strong beggar" at the end of the talk. By that, he meant a strong appeal for funds. He was right. The "beggar" brought in over a million dollars.
Lyn deserves the credit for creating an organization that played an important role in Ronald Reagan's road to the White House in 1980. I'm referring to Citizens for the Republic (CFTR, as we all came to know it). I remember--as if it were yesterday--the day we learned in late 1976, to our surprise, that the campaign that year ended up with a surplus of $1.5 million (there had been days when we were unsure there was enough money to get the campaign plane off the ground). Lyn's ingenious and farsighted plan for spending the money was to create a multicandidate political action committee, CFTR.
Reagan could not receive any contributions from CFTR, but it could make contributions to candidates favorable to him. He would become the chairman of the organization, which proceeded to conduct weekend grassroots political workshops all over the country. Reagan was the keynote speaker. Those attending spent the rest of the time in sessions on practical matters such as how to get out the vote, run phone banks, do local campaign advertising, and so forth.
The idea was to create a national network of potential Reagan presidential campaign volunteers. That's exactly what happened. By 1980, Candidate Reagan had a ready-made grassroots network of prodigious size.
Ronald Reagan had a great affection for Lynwood (as he usually called him). He liked his tactical astuteness, his loyalty, his advice, and his irreverence--from the rumpled look to his habit of breaking up a serious conversation with a quip (after all, Reagan was known to do the latter, too).