Ronald Wilson Reagan Case Study
AS SEEN IN USA TODAY NEWS SECTION, FRI-SUN, JUNE 11-13, 2004, PAGE 2A
Young Republican discovers his idol in 'man who changed the world'
College Republicans, founded in 1892, had more than 1,000 chapters and 100,000 students during the "Youth for Reagan" campaign of 1984. The group dwindled to 400 chapters in the 1990s and did not regain its Reagan-era size until 2002.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — College senior Ian Ellis, 21, of Martinsburg, W.Va., wasn't alive when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. He was in elementary school when Reagan exited public life after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
He knows the former president only as a historical figure. But the mythic Ronald Reagan — strong, virile and a beacon of moral clarity — has been a life-changing force for this young Republican activist.
Ellis, born into a Democratic family, is chairman of the Ohio College Republican Federation, an association of Republican student groups. He has been steeped in the Reagan legend during internships at the Heritage
Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., and The Leadership Institute, which trains
conservative Arlington, Va.
Ellis, a political science major at Cedarville University, a Christian school in Cedarville, Ohio, dedicates a section of his dorm room to posters, calendars and books that feature Reagan. "I guess you'd call it a shrine, as corny as that sounds," Ellis says.
One poster shows Reagan in Berlin in 1987 saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" A calendar shows Reagan at his California ranch, wearing a cowboy hat.
"My only childhood memory of Reagan is that my grandparents, who are liberal, hated him," Ellis says. "But when I got to college, I was exposed to the other Reagan.
"Reagan was the father of modern conservatism and gave birth to the big conservative youth movement
that began in 1984. Some say it began with (Barry) Goldwater in 1964. But the difference was: Reagan was successful. Goldwater was not."
Ellis, who plans to attend law school, knows Reagan wasn't universally loved. He recently discussed Reagan's legacy with a friend who shed tears about the harm she thought his foreign policy had caused in Latin America.
Ellis was in Washington on Thursday, standing in line for hours to see Reagan's casket. "I should be able to do that for a man who changed the world," he says.
By Dennis Cauchon
Contributors Contributing to this report: Paul Overberg; Nick Summers; President Reagan by Lou Cannon; Merle Black, co-author, The Rise of Southern Republicans
How Americans rate Ronald Reagan: A breakdown by demographics
How Reagan will be regarded in history as a president:
By Julie Snider, USA TODAY
Source: USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll June 3-6 of 1,000 adults. Reagan died June 5. Interviewing from June 3-4 showed slightly lower ratings than total sample. Margin of error: 3 percentage points for total sample, larger for smaller subgroups.
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