Ronald Reagan was shot 30 years ago Wednesday. His grace under fire helped him solidify the support and affection of the American people. It also helped propel his economic policies through a Democratic-controlled Congress and put American politics on a different trajectory.
"Rawhide Down," a new book by Washington Post reporter Del Quentin Wilber, captures the fateful 70th day of the Reagan presidency in cinematic detail. It is still striking to read how the severely wounded president insisted on walking himself through the doors of the emergency room, where he collapsed. It is a revelation to find how much closer he came to death than was widely known. And it is inspiring to read the notes he wrote to doctors and nurses throughout the ordeal, such as "All in all, I'd rather be in Phil.," referencing an old W.C. Fields line.
As the late, great David Broder wrote at the time, "The honeymoon has ended and a new legend has been born. ... As long as people remember the hospitalized president joshing his doctors and nurses -- and they will remember -- no critic will be able to portray Reagan as a cruel or callous or heartless man."
Today, Reagan is the only modern president who receives high marks from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. A look at the polls can quantify the roots of this enduring good will.
Despite an electoral landslide over Jimmy Carter with a 44-state win in 1980, Reagan won with a narrow popular margin of 50.7%. Moreover, Gallup's valuable presidential poll tracker shows that Reagan's approval ratings were significantly split along partisan lines after his 1981 inauguration, with 74% Republican support and 53% from independents but 38% from Democrats.
In the wake of the assassination attempt, Reagan's approval ratings jumped -- providing a new baseline that propelled his legislative agenda forward and helped translate to his broad-based re-election. By the 100th day of his administration, 51% of Democrats supported him and 70% of independents in addition to 92% of Republicans.