The Tuesday Team: The Inside Story of the Admen Who Got Reagan Re-elected in ’84

How we faced the most high-stakes pitch of our careers

Mike Deaver had an idea.

Instead of making commercials and a convention film with the political professionals, he wanted to see what Madison Avenue could do taking on Ronald Reagan's re-election.

Not that the political pros had been slouches in 1980. That 1980 advertising had to depend, though, on media tonnage to overcome what it lacked in ideas and production. It played like one long product demo; i.e., Ronald Reagan truly served eight years as governor of California. Its success was gauged by focus groups that drove the content of political advertising then if not now. By the end of October, the people around tables chomping on sandwiches were not talking about George Gipp or the host of General Electric Theater and Death Valley Days, but someone who had indeed prepped seriously to be president.

This time, Mike Deaver wanted advertising worthy of what he saw as the triumphant Ronald Reagan years. Both he and Nancy Reagan, The New York Times reported, thought the 1980 commercials were "static and uninteresting." In the winter of 1984, he also remained wary of the Senate and House GOP defeats of the previous election and the daily attacks in free and paid media during Democratic primary campaigning.

He knew, too, that he was only deputy chief of staff and would need to pitch the team and their work to the chief of staff, James Baker, and the Reagans themselves.

His first hire was Phil Dusenberry of BBDO, agency for GE, Pepsi-Cola and Dodge. Phil had both Madison Avenue and Hollywood creds, as he ran the agency's creative department and, in his spare time, had produced and worked on the Malamud/Redford baseball movie The Natural, which was about to debut. Phil was assigned the convention film, a now-necessary form thanks to President Carter's Georgia compatriot Gerald Rafshoon, who introduced Coca-Cola sensibilities to nominating gatherings and succeeded in moving even the sleepiest of delegates and television networks.

"They got Coke," Deaver figured, "we got Pepsi and Dusenberry."

The author with President Reagan, 1984.

He then offered the task of running the advertising to Jerry Della Femina, founder of Della Femina Travisano & Partners and author of what one reviewer called the Ball Four of advertising books, From Those Wonderful People Who Brought You Pearl Harbor. The title was grabbed from a faux line Jerry once suggested in a meeting at the Ted Bates agency for new client Panasonic, whose parent company was Matsushita. 

Jerry—whose agency was known for irreverence, an understanding of contemporary consumers and a "working-class" Brooklyn wit—accepted. He told Deaver: "When I was a boy I asked my father, 'What's the difference between Republicans and Democrats?' He said: 'Democrats are for poor people like us. Republicans are for the rich.' I answered, 'I want to be rich so I'm a Republican.' "

Deaver explained to the press that Della Femina's "lack of experience in campaign advertising was an asset rather than a liability."

A very short-term asset, it turns out, as a week later Deaver asked Della Femina to come down to D.C. and told him, "Someone in the administration didn't want you." No reason given. "I was just told I was no longer being considered," Jerry says. "Later I heard rumors that someone in the ad biz had gotten an old interview I did with OUI magazine to Nancy Reagan. The article talked of drug use and 'sex contests' as an ongoing part of ad agencies, including my own. If I had known it at the time, I would have defended myself. I thought the article a hatchet job and sued them right after it ran in 1981."

Jerry went back to New York "sad and disappointed." And quizzical: Deaver ended the exit interview by asking Jerry to name his replacement. Jerry told him to get Jim Travis, the head of Della Femina Travisano's West Coast office, rather than go through interviewing more agencies. Travis wasn't a writer or producer or researcher, but if the title had existed then, it would have fit Travis: showrunner.

Deaver and Travis named it the Tuesday Team after the day of the week most people go to the polls. (One member of the team later suggested that the only way to win Washington D.C.'s electoral votes was to put up billboards all around town saying "Don't forget to vote next Wednesday.")

Travis started to build the team with account man Walter A. Carey from New York's Leber Katz Partners to run the business side of the agency. Carey recalls being offered free space in the new Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, but thought it a little showy. Instead he booked almost windowless donated offices in Rockefeller Center, entrance on the Avenue of the Americas, or Sixth Avenue, as it was referred to by the establishment wing of the GOP.

Travis and Carey then drafted writer Jim Weller (about to do Joe Isuzu, the triplicitous car salesman) and art director Ron Travisano (who had worked with Jerry Della Femina since the mid-'60s and begun a move to commercial film direction). They got Hal Riney from Ogilvy & Mather on the West Coast. Riney, a legend in San Francisco, had only recently gained national recognition in the ad business as the writer and the voice for the Gallo Wine film fests. They then signed Sig Rogich of R&R Partners in Nevada ("What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas") at the recommendation of Senator Laxalt, the legislator closest personally to the president.

Travis filled out the initial Tuesday Team roster with one volunteer: me.

Mike Deaver, Jim Lake and Jim Travis, Washington D.C., 1984

Travis and Carey cut a reel of commercials from the group. Meow Mix, Gallo Tawny Port, several beer brands, Crocker Bank, Barneys New York, Pan Am. It finished with the closest thing the group had to a political message: an attack ad to leave them laughing by MCI on its bully competitor, the former monopolist AT&T.

They took the reel down to Deaver and ran it in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, a shade august but the only room then with a monitor and tape player. The venue worked, as other White House luminaries and staffers dropped in, and a rule with showing a reel of commercials is that the larger the audience, the better the reception. Travis and Carey got smiles in the right spots and applause at the end and entrée to the next step in the new business routine—assessing the marketing problem, or as the Dale Carnegie remnant puts it, the opportunity.


The War Room

The political pros showed up at Della Femina Travisano's office (sans Jerry) for the first meeting and ran it. Pollsters Richard Wirthlin and Bob Teeter plus Roger Ailes, remembered as a key character in The Selling of the President 1968, and Doug Watts, who had managed California races, were all introduced as strategists, a title that was a first for the Madison Avenue attendees.

Roger showed a reel of political commercials dating back to the LBJ "Daisy" spot in 1964 through the Reagan ones from 1980. He interrupted the flow occasionally to comment; most important, he talked timing, the notion of "when to go positive and when to go negative." In truth, he seemed more to relish the negative despite having done a memorable positive message himself for Al D'Amato's first Senate race in which Al's mother endorsed him, the premise being his negatives were so high no other person would go on camera for him.

Wirthlin took the group through the polling he had done, national and battleground states, although "battleground" was not yet a part of the strategists' lexicon.

The polls surprised the team. They showed a nation far from the almost 60 percent of the popular vote Ronald Reagan would eventually achieve. By October, coronation was a word thrown around about the campaign; here in mid-March, it looked like the outcome was in doubt.

Jim Weller in Dallas, 1984.

The somber tone continued through Wirthlin's breakdown of the electoral vote landscape. He drifted off and looked around the table as if to say, "I know it's early and we just wanted to lay out the territory in this meeting. But if you guys have any ideas, notions, top-of-the-head thoughts of where to go, we can discuss them."

The Volunteer reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper with some typewritten words (it was 1984).

Slight pause to unfold the crumpled paper, somewhat theatrical.

He started talking, less like Don Draper reflecting on his whorehouse upbringing and more like, "I have this rough script. It kinda could be a useful template for a launch. As I recite this litany, try to picture scenes of America peaceful and prosperous and normal and happy matching up scene by scene with the copy breaks."

Another pause to unfold the crumpled paper. Even more theatrical.

"This is America, Spring of 1984. And this is America. And this. And this. And this too is America. Yet just four years ago people were saying the job of president was too big for any one man. But look around. What do we see? Jobs are coming back. Housing is coming back. And for the first time in a long time, hope for the future is coming back. And isn't it interesting that no one is saying the job of president is too big for any one man. President Reagan. He's doing what he was elected to do." (Pause) "Kind of an obvious strategy to the story here. Country's going down the tubes. Country comes back. President deserves credit for doing the job thought maybe more appropriate for two presidents," the Volunteer continued in a slight selling mode.

Ailes said, "It works. Got me to think of what could be the visuals."

Riney added: "He raised a question and answered it. Good script. I don't have anything on paper, but I do see three words: Prouder, Stronger, Better."

Nice tagline, the Volunteer thought. Talks about the country and not the person.


Sampling the Product

A week later, the group convened in the executive office building, including Ailes, who was just starting to work on Mitch McConnell's effort to upset the Kentucky incumbent senator, and with the addition of art director Barry Vetere, who got the Volunteer to work on a presentation and produce and help direct and edit commercials.

The assemblage sat at a long table (a really long table even by District of Columbia table standards)—the clients (Ed Meese, Deaver, Margaret Tutwhiler, Jim Lake, Lyn Nofziger, Dick Darman and several aides) on one side, and the Tuesday Team, now joined by White House speechwriter Ken Khachigian and pro Ed Rollins, on the other.

As Deaver starts to talk, the almost floor-to-ceiling 14-foot doors open and Ronald Reagan enters. He is followed by two military cameramen snapping potential 2016 selfies for each member of the team as the president walks around the table shaking hands with everyone.

When he finishes his circumnavigation, he looks at the room and says, "I figured if you're going to sell soap, you ought to see the bar."

As the laughter quiets down, he asks the assemblage if they have any policy questions or things he can clear up.


"Well, I am going to go now. Before I destroy the illusion."

And the doors reopen and close behind him.

Fade to black.


The Pitch

James Baker now enters the picture. He is the White House chief of staff, and he sits in the center of the table looking to see if these advertising people and Mike Deaver know what they are doing.

First up is Hal Riney. 

He brings a monitor and does a calm introduction to what he will show. "It's a representation," he says. "The pictures are stock, and the music is only there as an example. Two elements representing a finished product are the script and the voice."

He turned the monitor on. It popped from black to light and then white, and a harbor shot appeared. Music came up, and the voice (Hal's own) began: "It's morning again in America."

It's not often that you know in the first few seconds of a presentation that you have the account, but right away it was clear that this rough film, with finely chosen scenes and music and an ethereal voice, had won the audience: James Baker. It was already a classic, iconic commercial and it hadn't run or even come close to finishing its 60-second rough track.

While he had them in his sights, Riney also showed a foreign policy spot ("The Bear") using a simple metaphor as an argument for a strong defense.

"Now we'll turn it over to Barry Vetere, who has some additional stuff to show," Jim Travis said, and Vetere rose now in the unenviable spot of following a tour de force of a presentation.

One of the team's old storyboards

Barry knew how to shuffle along, though. He had co-founded an agency in Chicago in the '70s and was about to open another one in Manhattan. So he fell back on the oldest way of boasting: humility. "This spot is represented here with some simple pasteboards. We call them storyboards, but this one has a combination of drawings, by me, and some photos I grabbed from a stock photo book.

"The copy is denotive, and each vignette in the script is matched by one visual in the board. It opens with a simple farm truck leaving a farm house encircled with the flowers of early spring in the morning and ends with the same truck returning home at night."

He then read the script that the Volunteer had read in the first meeting.

More things were presented, some of which would run in the post-convention period, but at the conclusion of the "creative" presentation, Baker extolled the videos he had seen from Hal Riney "…and that pasteboard stuff. Very good. We should go with it." He looked across at Mike Deaver and seemed to say in a Princetonian way, "Hey, you were right, man."

Doug Watts and Wally Carey had the idea of breaking the campaign with roadblocks of network television. That was possible then, as the networks in question numbered only three. But the idea ensured that after a couple of days the advertising would be seen by as large a part of the nation as possible. If there is a difference between media planning and buying by the pols and consumer agencies, it is that the politicos believe in massive spending over short periods and regard the media weight that products and services put to their brands as piddling and powerless to move poll numbers rapidly.


On Location

On the West Coast, Hal Riney hired John Pytka, a top director of photography and commercial director, to take over the town of Petaluma, California, and capture the people and backgrounds that make Americana Americana.

On the East Coast, Barry Vetere went to director Tibor Hirsch, a Hungarian émigré who had lived under the Nazis and the Communists and hated them both. He was a backer of Ronald Reagan and worked for union scale. 

Phil Dusenberry separately wrote a scenario for the convention film. He planned to use footage those guys came back with, plus he would film the president with a crew in Normandy for Reagan's "Boys of Pont du Hoc" speech. That speech was, in its evocation of the heroism of kids climbing a cliff to win a war, fully up to the occasion of the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

Sig Rogich thought he could get an exciting track for Phil's film, Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be an American," and began negotiating for it.

Doug Watts in Dallas, 1984.

The next locations were the dreaded focus groups for the Vetere and Riney rough cuts. Dreaded because Roger Ailes was alleged to have once defined advertising focus groups as the one medium in which amateurs tell professionals what to do. In this case, the groups were used as a disaster check, the key question being credibility. Did the commercials exaggerate the recovery and Ronald Reagan's participation in it?

Today, you watch groups "live" on your computer in the comfort of your home or in a cushy corner of your office. In 1984, the researchers and account people attended as many as possible and got tapes from the other ones. Wirthlin and Teeter, of course, were behind many of the one-way glasses. In truth, focus groups rarely help; however, in the 1994 Congressional election, Frank Luntz made a reputation by finding within groups language from voters that other voters found compelling.

Teeter and Wirthlin did the rarest of things: They went out on a limb and pronounced the commercials winners. The spots were shipped without changes to make the Carey/Watts network roadblock air dates.


The Second Client Meeting

Your wins are temporary in politics. The Tuesday Team and Baker et al reconvened a week before the convention. Despite the president's surging in the polls that the team naturally attributed to its commercials, the new test was whether they could do negative, comparative and issue advertising beyond the soft-focus view of the world.

Dusenberry showed his finished convention film. Before pushing play, he spent a minute (a full minute) color-correcting the monitor. The pros in the room rolled some eyes. The Volunteer would be reminded of this scene eight years later when Martin Puris ("BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine") took a leave of his agency and his senses to head up the advertising for George Herbert Walker Bush's re-election and concluded that "the agency people think the politicos are a bunch of hacks, and the political people think the agency people are a bunch of candy asses interested more in lighting and camera angles than the message."

Phil Dusenberry seemed to grasp both issues and the elements that make a viewable movie. The film he showed ran for more than 17 minutes to no yawns and received more than polite applause at its end from both pros and amateurs.

The presentation itself was less focused, but more amusing.

New member Marvin Honig from Doyle Dane Bernbach (the same DDB of "Daisy" commercial fame and presence on the Nixon Enemies List) brought his dark sense of humor and showed a storyboard of a man marooned on a desert island, cut off from the world for four years, from 1980 to the present. He is rescued and then shocked to realize there were no hostages anymore in Iran, no runaway inflation, no 15 percent mortgage rates, no double digit unemployment, that the country was getting back to normal.

Marvin ad-libbed a reaction line to his own script by having the rescued guy say at the end: "No shit!" And that pretty much killed his spot. Unfortunately.

Two new Tuesday Team members, Ron Berger ("Time to Make The Donuts") and art director Jim Perretti (both from the same agency as the Volunteer and Barry Vetere, Ron's partner on Dunkin' Donuts), had been asked to do a spot on the security of Social Security. Their potential commercial showed septuagenarians in a softball league in Florida. Berger set it up by saying, "Today we see older Americans leading a much more active life. Running marathons, walking golf courses, playing in softball and touch football leagues, and…"

"…running for president," James Baker interrupted Ron's preamble.

Baker had an additional comment at the conclusion of Ron's reading of the script. "It's a good idea. And the Greenspan Commission did a lot of good for Social Security, but it is always an issue we Republicans have trouble with, and no matter what we say or do to help the program, we lose the debate and the votes."

The Volunteer was next. He had two assignments. First, show that the team could go negative and comparative and lose the "candy ass" epithet gaining steam. Second, demonstrate that Madison Avenue could do a commercial cheaper than what some of the pros were calling "Heaven's Gate" budgets.

Negative was easy because Walter Mondale stuck his jaw out telling the delegates at his convention to "Read my lips. Lots of new taxes."

The spot showed a worker on a road crew, a fireman, a farmer and a stay-at-home beleaguered mom being asked in a voiceover how enthusiastic they will be doing more overtime and stretching out their kid's peanut butter to pay for Walter Mondale's tax platform.

Then the cheapo compared Reaganomics with Mondalenomics, the latter featuring Keynesian-Galbraithian-Mondalian notions of soaking the rich, the poor and everything in between. Production budget? Couple of hundred bucks. It was all type.

Travisano and Weller finished. They showed a positive message, a metaphor for the comeback of the country based on the restoration of the Statue of Liberty then going on in New York Harbor. It would become, along with their re-creation of a whistlestop campaign, the TV for the last days of the election, a time for reinforcement and an upbeat exit.


Going to Dallas

From there, the team went to the convention. They set up a makeshift studio in a booth high over the convention floor. Supporters of the president came in to be interviewed, and the writers did instant 25-second endorsement scripts if the celebs were unprepared.

Governor Kean seemed the most prepared (Greg Stevens, a top pro media strategist, came with a script for him), and the Tuesday Team marked Kean for future high office. History passed through the booth, too, as a former presidential candidate from a time machine Strom Thurmond stopped by along with a governor who is still a governor, Terry Branstad of Iowa. Congressman Michel came wearing an elephant hat and buttons on his sports jacket back to Thomas Dewey, and he was followed by Don De Fore, an old friend of the Reagans who played Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's neighbor Thorny in the Black and White TV Half Century.

Barry Goldwater spoke to the convention, and Senator Laxalt, who dropped by the booth, said he was going on too long. "Losers shouldn't make convention speeches," he said above a mumble. Politics makes for estranged bedfellows, the Volunteer thought.

Next day, the Volunteer ran into Roger Ailes in the lobby of the Anatole Hotel and the two of them crashed a closing Mexican buffet, grabbed some burritos and iced tea, and sat down. "How's that Kentucky race going with who was it?" the Volunteer asked. Roger answered that he had done a commercial with bloodhounds out looking for the incumbent senator because he had missed so many votes and no one knew where he was. "McConnell's down 20 in the polls, but maybe we got a chance."


Unscheduled Meeting

The first debate had been a disaster for President Reagan. Not as bad a disaster as President Obama's first one in 2012, but enough for the White House to call on more help than they needed—i.e., several members of the Tuesday Team reconvened in Washington for a 12-hour meeting with only bathroom breaks. Travis and Carey and Honig and the Volunteer spun one-liners and traded quips with the speechwriters, none of which made it outside the room.

Roger Ailes came in to help with debate prep. Reports were that his simple solution was to keep it simple. And free of hand-wringing responses to the president's ripostes.

At one point when the "debate preppers" reacted to a Reagan line with stone-faced silence, Ailes stood up in the back of the room and applauded with "Great answer, Mr. President." Whether it was was much beside the point. The point was restoring confidence.

When Ronald Reagan answered a moderator's query in the next debate with, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," the election was over and Morning in America was fully assured of continuing on into the Afternoon.

The Tuesday Team in Dallas, 1984.



Spring of '88. The Volunteer is now a draftee, hired by Roger Ailes in November of '87 to work for him on the Bush primary campaign and, if successful, the general.

The primary/caucus season was rocky at first (losses in South Dakota and Iowa). The first assignment, a typical one to give Madison Avenue people, was a 60-second bio spot that included 16-mm footage capturing George Bush being fished from the Pacific after getting shot down in World War II. The second chore was far less typical: working with Roger on the New Hampshire winning strategy to come back after the Midwest defeats—taxes. Roger transformed Senator Dole into Senator Straddle, and it changed the race.

Now the first post-primary meeting convened when it was clear Bush would be the nominee. This was a research session filled with Michael Dukakis' history as governor of Massachusetts with emphasis on prison furloughs, harbor views and pledges of allegiance.

At the end of another of those long tables in D.C., Lee Atwater, Ron Berger and the Draftee are chatting about the NCAA basketball tournament before the meeting starts. The Draftee said, "You know, Lee, Ron Berger here still holds the assist record at Hartford."

Lee turns a shade of purple, shows a disgusted turn to his mouth. "Harvard! You went to Harvard?!"

"No, no, Lee," the Draftee broke in as quick as possible, "Hartford. Hartford."

"Oh," Lee, ever the populist, was clearly relieved. "We don't want no Harvard boys in this campaign."

Peggy Noonan, in one of her memoirs of the period, acknowledged that in the District, the first question you are asked is: "So where did you go to college?" The hierarchy obviously loves the Ivies and some of the tech schools, MIT (not Georgia) and maybe Stanford or Whittier if you are an emigrant from the Golden State.

Lee Atwater clearly cared about educational background.

So he welcomed with open arms Berger, Vetere (Syracuse) and me (the Draftee with no degree) to the team because of our less-than-elite experience with academe. He didn't mind Jim Pinkerton from Stanford presenting the Dukakis résumé that day. But Roger didn't want us working on the negative attack ads. That went to more hardened politicos and Midwestern agency guys. Our job was simpler and more the heart of Mad Men territory: Deal with the seemingly contradictory Bush wimp factor and gender gap in the GOP convention film as the Rafshoon-Dusenberry legacy continued.

That year, Helayne Spivak joined the group. She was (and is) a versatile copywriter who had done attack ads for MCI with Joan Rivers, amusing commercials with Joan Collins for kitchenware, as well as takeoffs on Orson Welles for an obscure wine, Keller-Geister ("We will sell no wine before you pay for it"). For Bush, Helayne worked with art director Ted Shaine, who used the political experience gained here when he went on to work with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Helayne suggested a line ("He knows the job, he wants it anyway") that was New Yawky enough to have been perfect for a future Rudy Giuliani mayoral run. "I mostly worked on the RNC, which was not supposed to be coordinated with the presidential advertising," she says. " 'Perfect job for a schizophrenic,' someone told me. I did do an attack spot titled 'I remember youuuuuuuuuu' with Sig Rogich, but he was really the creative force behind it and a former boxing commissioner in Nevada, so we didn't have many disagreements."

Shaine got along with Gorbachev as well. "We met him in Red Square in front of the Lenin mausoleum and went to a pre-production dinner at our client's place, the Pizza Hut where we would film him the next day," he says. "We traded quips through our translator, and I mentioned that we had a mutual acquaintance, James Baker.

"Gorbachev looked serious for a second, and I explained: 'I presented commercials for Mr. Baker's approval at the Republican National Committee during the Bush campaign in '88.' "

"I really liked and trusted Baker," Gorbachev said. 'He was a man of his word'."

Baker approved the light touch that Helayne and Ted brought to RNC advertising, not heretofore known for anything lighter than a sledgehammer, as they focused on a very young girl thoughtfully contemplating her future.

In the end, we learned more from the politicos than they learned from us. In 1990, our then 4-year-old agency (now exhaustively called Messner Vetere Berger Carey Schmetterer) pitched and got our largest account by bringing in Roger and Peter Hart, a Democrat pollster, as consultants.

Our newest partner, one with no election experience, Bob Schmetterer, suggested we take a political stance with the prospective client. We did a poll for MCI that asked: "Based on everything you've seen and heard in the last 90 days, is MCI gaining ground, losing ground or standing still versus AT&T." A pure lift from a standard White House poll, one that revealed for us that MCI also had a gender gap.

Mike Murphy, with the Right to Rise PAC for Bush (Jeb!) this year, once told me that he came into the political media business as a staffer, a strategist. He didn't know how to do TV, radio, mail, print; he had to learn it on his own because his candidates needed him to know it. The Madison Avenue people got into politics through the opposite door and usually drifted back to the street after a campaign. Their motivations are different, too: salary supplement, publicity or commitment to a candidate or an idea. The Tuesday Team provided all three for most of us.

Hal Riney started his own agency with Jim Travis in '85, skipped Bush in '88, but came back for Perot in '92. Jim Weller put in time for Bush twice. Sig Rogich worked on a lot of campaigns and went overseas as ambassador to Iceland (not purely a dodge as he was an Icelandic American). Doug Watts was with Ben Carson at the beginning and used mixed media effectively last fall in Iowa, as Dr. Carson's early poll numbers there showed.

Roger Ailes brought our new agency our first account, Andrew P. O'Rourke for governor. The governor he opposed was Mario Cuomo, who was ahead by 50 points in the polls, such is the affection New Yorkers have for a first-term Democrat benefiting from the Reaganomics he opposed.

Since Cuomo didn't want to debate or even recognize someone was opposing him, Roger had an idea for O'Rourke to carry around a Mario Cuomo cardboard cutout to have daily interplay and get voters to realize he was actually running against The Mario.

Roger thought he himself was a shade distrusted in Washington and state houses because he came from broadcasting, almost Hollywood, and not from the byways of staff positions and retail politics. He was perhaps the only true crossover.

When we showed him the 12 scripts that Andy O'Rourke would do with the Mario Cuomo cutout, Roger read them carefully. Looked up. And said: "Hey, you guys are political heavyweights."

God help us, I thought, but in September of 1988 I knew that I had indeed acquired a political reflex.

Deborah Norville (the briefest of Today show hostesses) was chairing a panel discussion with Walter Schapiro of USA Today, Scott Miller of Sawyer-Miller working on Dukakis, and me with the Bush campaign. She asked me if we planned to do commercials with Dan Quayle, the vice presidential candidate under media siege.

I said, "Absolutely. He makes a youthful, energetic contrast to Lloyd Bentsen, who my wife, ad exec Terry Bonaccolta, thinks looks like someone who has already been president." Now no one ever makes commercials featuring a VP candidate. But to say that would have invited follow-up on just why no spots with Dan Quayle. Do you think he is a liability? Are you trying to hide his presence? Hope the voters forget him too?

Then the next-day headline: "Bush Campaign Ad Guy Says: No Commercials With Quayle."

Donald Trump's 1987 newspaper ad

The Reagan association got us some more business between O'Rourke and Vice President Bush. One Donald J. Trump. In 1987, he made his first feint for the presidency, and he and his PR guru then, Dan Klores, hired us to produce, place and affix headline and subhead to his Open Letter to run in The New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post. That time his villain was Japan—not the Japanese Empire of Tojo and Hirohito but that of Mitsui, Sumitomo and Japan Inc. The full-page ad ran during the Month That Will Live in Infamy, but fortuitously missed Dec. 7 by several days.

As the Bush campaign was winding down in October of '88, we were in the Oval Office one last time shooting 35-mm with President Reagan for a film to run on election eve. Looking out over the floor covered with apple boxes, wires, lights, scrims and populated with the usual far more than necessary crew, the president remarked in a low voice, almost a whisper: "This reminds me of when I was with Warner Brothers."

The movies for him may have been 30 years before, but he was still a pro, a SAG member, and after each take he waited to hear "Cut!" before looking away from camera.

Recently someone asked if the talented Democratic guys (Axelrod and Plouffe) could have hypothesized a national comeback and created "It's Morning in America" for Barack Obama's re-election.

Of course not.

How could they?

They don't believe that there was a morning in America to begin with, a sunrise to be grateful for each time it comes up over Ronald Reagan's Shining City on a Hill.