In 1980, Reagan was supposed to pick Rep. Jack Kemp as his running mate. FBI and other background checks had been done. However, last minute rumors about Kemp's "roving eye" sunk his chances - leaving the Reagan team in disarray in Detroit. Reagan’s longtime friend, Senator Paul Laxalt, was "Option B", but this was an era when running mates from adjoining states was unheard of (regional balance) and some felt Nevada was still viewed as a mob-run den of sinners. Senator Lugar and former Treasury Secretary Simon were Options C & D, because neither was viewed as capable of igniting national excitement.
Many commentators fixate on the Detroit Convention being about forging a “Dream Ticket” of former President Gerald Ford as Reagan’s running mate. Outside of party moderates and a few operatives, bringing Ford and his sidekick, Henry Kissinger, onto the podium with Reagan would have been a “Nightmare Ticket” – undermining everything Reagan and the conservative movement stood for. As one of Reagan’s Congressional Liaisons at the Convention and as a close friend of most of his Regional Political Directors, I watched this strategic turmoil play out within the Renaissance Center and the VIP Sky Suites ringing the Joe Louis Arena. Ford and Kissinger went public with their own delusion of a "Co-Presidency". This included Walter Cronkite infamously egging them on during his live interview. Reagan and many of his inner circle felt the only way to regain control of the situation was by reaching out to his former opponent George H.W. Bush.
Thus history took a strategic, and for many true-believers like myself, terrible turn. It was supposed to be a “Conservative Continuum” of Wilkie-Taft-Goldwater-Reagan-Kemp allowing a limited government ideology, rooted in the Enlightenment and America’s founding principles, to evolve into an ever more inclusive and creative political force. Reagan to Bush brought in a family dynasty, where Bush 41 "cleansed" the Executive Branch of Reaganites, turned-off rank and file conservatives, and opened the door for faith-based big government activists to fill the void. Bush 43 turned everything upside down with big government at home and Neo-conservative adventurism abroad. Bush and the ersatz Republicans also embraced Rove's micro-targeting the electorate, which plunged the sixty-year modern Conservative movement into a pandering mush.
Paul Ryan got his start working with Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten (a good friend from my own years in Wisconsin politics), who embodied the “Conservative Continuum”. Ryan then worked directly for Jack Kemp, the great hope of the “Conservative Continuum”, as his speechwriter during his 1996 Vice Presidential campaign. Therefore, Ryan’s basic instincts run to the “Conservative Continuum” instead of "big government conservativism" of the Bush dynasty. In a master stroke, Governor Romney has made 2012 about not only America’s past and present, but about an inspiring vision for its future.