He might not have realized it at the time but back in the early spring of 1968 Strom Thurmond was, for maybe the only time in his life, a prophet. In the spring of that year Ronald Reagan was going through some half-hearted motions of running for president. He didn’t think he was ready for the job, having been governor of California for less than two years, but had yielded to the entreaties of some of his people to at least sound out the situation.
In any event, on a trip to the South he stopped in Columbia, S.C., to visit with Sen. Thurmond. After some small talk Thurmond took Reagan into an adjoining room for some serious conversation.
After they finished talking and Thurmond had left the hotel where Reagan was staying, the governor laughingly told those in the traveling party what the senator had said to him. It was this: “You’ll be president some day, young man, but not this year.”
The “young man” was 57 at the time and it would be a little over twelve years before a nearly 70-year-old Reagan, no longer young, made it to the White House.
But at the time of his meeting with Thurmond most of the Republican Party’s leading conservatives including Thurmond and Barry Goldwater were already pledged to Richard Nixon.
In the weeks after Ronald Ragan was elected president he spent most of his time at his residence in Pacific Palisades and anyone wanting to see him had to meet him there. One of his visitors was the governor of Texas, Bill Clements.
It turned out that Clements, who had served a hitch as Deputy Secretary of Defense, had something specific on his mind. “I think you should name Cap Weinberger secretary of defense,” he told Reagan.
Reagan replied noncommittally that he’d consider it and the two went on to other subjects. After Clements left, Reagan said to me (I had sat in on the meeting), “You know, I was lying in bed last night thinking about who should be secretary of defense and all of a sudden it came to me that it should be Cap.”
He went on, “But I didn’t want to say anything and have Bill think I was upstaging him. If he wants to think it’s his idea that’s all right with me.”
As far as I know no one ever did tell Clements that Reagan had come up with the idea on his own. And in the long run it didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was a good idea and that Reagan acted on it.