This is from Rachel Maddow's book "Drift-the Unmooring of American Military Power"
"Once he had made an emotional commitment to this or that policy or story,"Reagan's most sympathetic biographer,Edmund Morris,would write,"no amount of disproof would cause him to alter his belief in it." Facts and contrary evidence did not get in the way of a good story-especially one that appeared to set his audiences' heads to bobbing in knowing assent.
Reagan did this on the primary campaign trail with stories about welfare and welfare queens who drove Cadillacs and bilked the government out of $150,000 a year and Harlem public housing that featured luxury apartments with 11 foot ceilings,swimming pools and 20 ft balconies.
Reagan was losing the fight for the Republican nomination to Ford. Reagan believed Ford made America appear weak in the eyes of the world. Ford was about to give away the Panama Canal.
Reagan began pushing the idea we were giving away sovereign American property(untrue).
"The Canal Zone is not a colonial possession. It is not a long-term lease. It is sovereign United States territory every bit the same as Alaska and all the states that were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase. We should end those negotiations and tell the general (Panamanian leader Gen. Torrijos):
We bought it,we paid for it,we built it,and we intend to keep it!"
The crowd went wild over that line. Reagan's numbers started to rise in the primary polls. So he doubled down.
"Wrong-headed as it is," wrote Time magazine, "Reagan's jingoism on the canal has apparently struck a nerve among parts of the electorate,arousing post-Vietnam sentiments that the U.S. should not be pushed around in it's own hemisphere by, in Reagan's words, 'a tinhorn dictator.'
Insists Reagan,"The Latin American countries have a respect for macho. I think if the United States reacts with firmness and fairness,we might not earn their love,but we would earn their respect."
Barry Goldwater called out Reagan for being dishonest on the issue,journalists took him to task about his fabrication of the US Canal Zone being sovereign US territory as fact,but Reagan had hit a gold mine with audiences and he wasn't going to alter a winning strategy.
Reagan bought a half-hour of primetime television and told the viewers that Ford had endangered our national security. He claimed Ford had stayed idle while Castro infected Puerto Rico and Angola,among other places, with Communism. He said Ford gave away Taiwan to Communist China. He claimed that under Ford's watch the Soviet military,nuclear missiles and armament had outnumbered ours in every area. (all false).
"Our nation is in danger,and the danger grows greater with each passing day."
Even with his pitch to fear for our nation's survival if Ford was elected, Ford got the nomination anyway.
But Reagan had hit upon a winning theme Support for the Panama Treaty = unAmerican.
William F. Buckley and John Wayne (the actor) campaigned full-on for the ratification of the Panama Treaty.
Reagan said in one of his weekly radio addresses:
"The loss of the Panama Canal would contribute to the encirclement of the U.S. by hostile naval forces,and thereby (threaten) our ability to survive."
John Wayne sent Reagan a private note offering to show him "point by goddamn point in the treaty where you are misinforming people," and offering fair warning that it was time for the Gipper to shut his piehole.
"If you continue to make these erroneous remarks,someone will publicize your letter to prove that you are not as thorough in your reviewing of this treaty as you say or are damned obtuse when it comes to reading the English language."
But Reagan was on a roll - he elaborated that Castro's Communist minions were stationed in the fields of Panama even at this moment. He cited "intelligence experts' and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs who said surrendering the Canal would permit the Soviets to have control over the Canal.
Behind the scenes - Reagan was much more accommodating. In his private correspondence with Bill Buckley he ventured to say the canal could be internationalized. Never heard a whisper of that to his audiences. Instead he told them we would be the laughing stock of the world if we gave away the Canal.
"I think we cloak weakness in the suit of virtue. I think that the whole world would see it as,once again,Uncle Sam putting his tail between his legs and creeping away rather than face trouble."
It should have been a "technocrat nonissue". Instead it was made into an ideological fight to the death.
The Conservative Caucus sent out million direct mail appeals to prevent this world catastrophe,the American Conservatives Union put out a "documentary" called,
"There Is No Panama Canal….There Is an American Canal in Panama".
Moderate Republicans were targeted - Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker was warned that a vote for the treaty would cost him any chance at the GOP nomination in 1980.
The Treaty won by 1 vote.
Democrats lost Senate seats in the next two elections due to the anti-Treaty sentiment that had been stirred up.
From the National Conservative Political Action Committee ad:
"Now that all of the shouting is over,
Remember the Panama Canal,built with American blood and treasure.
xxxx voted to give it away."
Moderate Republicans also lost - old seasoned hands lost to the likes of light weights like Dan Quayle.
The condemnation was that they were not "Republican enough".
In 1980,Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since 1954. But this was not the Old Guard Republicans.
"The Senate newbies were amped up,doctrinaire,undistracted by facts on the ground,and primed for a fight in which America would prove itself mighty once again.
And at the head of the parade was the new president elect, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Is the Panama Canal even a thought now a days?
But that Canal birthed a movement that has given us a Trump