“The Reagan Revolution, ” declared U.S. News & World Report after the Republican nominee's victory in the 1980 election. As the tall, handsome Californian rode into Washington, he and his supporters aimed to end the pessimism of the late 1970s and bring about a rebirth, sunshine, what Reagan called “Morning in America.”
The campaign had been focused on the stagflation economy, which in 1980 suffered over 7 percent unemployment, 12 percent inflation, and a prime interest rate of 15 percent. Reagan promised to “move boldly, decisively, and quickly to control the runaway growth of Federal spending, to remove the tax disincentives that are throttling the economy, and to reform the regulatory web that is smothering it.” He pledged to rescue the nation from “economic chaos.” His campaign battle cry was effective: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
The Republican also pledged to “restore our defenses, ” which most citizens felt was necessary. In November 1979 Iranian radicals took 53 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While the Islamic militants burned Old Glory in front of television cameras, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to keep a friendly communist regime in power on their southern border. During the election year Carter responded to the hostage crisis with a helicopter rescue mission, which ended in disaster: television showed scenes of burning choppers in the desert. He responded to the Soviet invasion by reviving draft registration, which sent fears across campuses; embargoing grain sales to Russia, which cut prices for American farmers; and by boycotting the summer Moscow Olympics, which outraged sport fans.
Reagan beat Carter, winning 44 states and 51 percent of the vote, including every southern state except Georgia. His strongest supporters