Two days after the Iowa caucuses, the press is waiting for Ronald Reagan in the Aloha Lounge at O’Hare airport, a room decorated with orange, yellow, and pink pineapples and volcanoes. Advance men have hung a red, white, and blue “Reagan 80” banner from the wall, and there are a number of good-looking men in three-piece suits with wires running out of their ears and bulges on their hips.
Reagan appears in a dark blue checked suit, a blue necktie, and shoes like mirrors. Whenever he speaks at press conferences, he places both hands on the lectern, and occasionally cocks his right foot and points a toe on the floor. This afternoon, he seems . . . bleak is too strong a word; subdued will do.
The press wants his thoughts on two battles, Afghanistan and Iowa. The invasion of Afghanistan, he says, represents “a new arrogance on the part of the Soviets. . . . It is time the U.S. takes a position. I’ve recommended bases in Oman and Somalia. I’ve recommended arms, possibly an American presence, in Pakistan. It’s time to have a plan.”
But the press is more interested in Des Moines than Herat. Reagan fields the questions, by turns gracious to enemies, protective of underlings, defensive of himself. “I’m quite sure George Bush succeeded in the strategy he aimed at. We knew he had a great organization” (all the bitter words Reagan has ever said about fellow Republicans could probably be inscribed on one of his three-by-five cards; over the next three days, Bush will be “George,” or, at moments of exceptional stress, “George Bush”). No, Reagan has not lost faith in his planners. “If I did that, I’d lose faith in myself. We’ve been campaigning harder, working harder than some of you have been suggesting in your stories. These trips have been organizational — getting in to stimulate the local organizations. It gets pretty hairy.”
Is Bush now the front-runner? “Why don’t we wait and see the polls?” Do you regret not going into the Puerto Rican primary? “No.” How do you expect to do in the Arkansas caucuses? “I don’t know. I did pretty well in Arkansas in 1976, but they’ve gone back to guys in a room sitting down and picking” (he evidently suspects he might do badly).
An aide announces the press’s thanks, and Reagan is off, through O’Hare in a brisk wedge of secret service men (heads turn, who’s that? must be somebody famous), into a motorcade. The cars pull out from the black glass buildings, beneath the planes dropping in like bats, into a slate and orange colored sunset. Flat buildings, flatland-corporate headquarters, suburban ranch houses, ghosts of barns. State police cars with gumball machines flashing block every intersection as the motorcade passes. In 45 minutes, the cars come to the Pheasant Run Inn in St. Charles, Illinois — “The midwest’s finest resort hotel.”
Reagan is addressing a $50-a-plate fundraiser for Representative Tom Corcoran of Illinois’ 15th District. He sits at a head table with Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran, the chief operating officer of Aurora Industries, and eleven Republican county chairman. While the waitresses pass around a Grand Old Party dessert — ice cream with strawberry sauce and American flag pins — the dinner chairman introduces Corcoran, Corcoran introduces Reagan (citing his “ability to articulate Republican principles of government”). Reagan returns the compliments, gives some GOP rah-rah, then goes into a full-length speech.