The 2016 Presidential election, arguably the most important of our lifetime, has also been one of the most unpredictable. On the Republican side, the chance of the leading contenders arriving in Cleveland without one having enough delegates on the first ballot is a real possibility.
As Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich look to Cleveland, each of them and their campaigns can learn much from two American giants, each of whom had to head to GOP presidential conventions of their own without having sewn up the nomination.
Yes, we can learn much by the examples of Ronald Reagan in 1976 and of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.
Trump, Cruz, and Kasich can each learn from the tactics that Reagan and Eisenhower employed to try and secure a first ballot victory.
And, perhaps more importantly, each can learn by the character of these two statesmen who believed there was something bigger than themselves, and showed Republicans how to come together as a party to put America first.
As Ronald Reagan headed to Kansas City in 1976, he needed to do something dramatic to close the gap with then President Gerald Ford. He stunned the electorate and the media by announcing before the convention that moderate Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker would be his vice presidential running mate.
Even though some conservatives were upset, the move was sheer brilliance and caught Ford by surprise with the possibility of Pennsylvania delegates defecting to Reagan in a very tight race. In fact, one major network was forced to scrap a story they were about to run saying that Ford had the nomination locked up.
While Reagan came up barely short in a nail-biter, his "off the cuff" speech at the end of the convention is still remembered as one of the best unifying speeches of all time. It also left many delegates believing they had nominated the wrong man and paved the way for Reagan's subsequent nomination and election in 1980.
Likewise, Dwight Eisenhower was locked in a tight race in 1952, with fewer than 100 delegates separating him and "Mr. Republican," Ohio U.S. Senator Bob Taft.
During the first ballot, another candidate released his delegates and asked them to support Eisenhower. Yes, perennial candidate Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, who back in the day was a contender, was the "kingmaker" as his delegates went to Ike and helped propel the World War II hero to a first ballot victory.
Stassen would go on to become one of Eisenhower's top advisors and held cabinet rank during the Eisenhower presidency.
After that, it was Eisenhower's example of reaching out to Taft and embracing Taft's hardcore supporters, that Trump, Cruz and Kasich can all learn from. Eisenhower and Taft met and Eisenhower embraced pretty much all of Taft's positions.
There was only one thing they agreed to disagree on — NATO. Sound familiar?
Eisenhower saw NATO as a necessary force to stand up to the Soviet Union.
Eisenhower and Taft would go on to become friends and golfing buddies. Taft helped Ike with his legislative agenda in Congress in his role as Senate Majority Leader until his death.
The man who put together and led the Allied coalition on D-Day understood the importance of unifying and bringing the GOP together.
Interestingly, Trump and Kasich's campaigns have two well-known and respected political operatives, who are students of history and tradition — playing key roles in Cleveland.
Trump has Paul Manafort and Kasich has Charlie Black.
Manafort counted delegates for Ford in 1976 and Reagan in 1980. Black advised Reagan and John McCain. And Manafort and Black were in business together years ago with the legendary Lee Atwater.
Don't be surprised for each to take a play out of Reagan and Eisenhower's playbook. Don't be surprised to see one of the leading contenders "pull a Schweiker" and announce their vice presidential pick before Cleveland.
And don't be surprised to see an all-out almost Herculean effort, like Eisenhower's, to try and bring the GOP together and remind the voters that 2016 may just be the last chance to reclaim the greatness of America.
Today, we face the most important election of our lifetime. It's about electing a commander in chief who will keep America safe. Everything else is secondary. Trump, Cruz and Kasich must not lose sight of this and each can learn from the example of Reagan and Eisenhower.
Van Hipp is chairman of American Defense International, Inc. (ADI), a Washington, D.C. consulting firm. He is former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and served on the Presidential Electoral College in 1988. He is the author of "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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