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Ronald Reagan’s European Tour

A tour of Europe cemented Ronald Reagan’s reputation as an international statesman and helped secure his re-election.

Reagan’s next stop was Normandy to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The administration was so confident that this speech would be a success that they deliberately timed it to take place at the same time as US breakfast news coverage. The original schedule for Reagan’s arrival in France included a greeting with President François Mitterrand before heading to Pointe du Hoc, where Reagan would deliver the first of his two speeches at around 4pm local time. This, however, would have delayed the president’s remarks to the point that they would not be seen on breakfast news in the US. The White House insisted that Reagan’s schedule be revised to allow him to speak three hours earlier at 7am EST, 1pm local time.

There was significant interest in the D-Day anniversary in the US, with NBC, CBS and ABC all showing primetime programmes. Reagan’s French trip offered a good opportunity for the president to participate in a non-partisan ceremony that made headlines in every major national newspaper. Footage of Reagan’s Normandy address was later broadcast at the Republican National Convention. His dignified remarks, combined with the presence of 62 American veterans who had participated in the landings, were lauded at home and abroad.

The front page of the New York Times on 7 June 1984 displayed a photo of Reagan standing alongside an array of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs, with the headline: ‘Reagan Honors D-Day; Calls for Spirit of Peace.’ Another headline on the same page read ‘Mondale Asserts Nomination is His; Hart not Giving In’, juxtaposing Reagan’s triumph with Democrat disunity.

The final stop was London for the G7 Economic Summit. As now, the state of the US economy in any given election year could have major repercussions for the shape of the candidates’ campaigns. Previously classified material held by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Archive illuminates the extent to which the forthcoming election shaped Reagan’s contributions at the summit. Oliver Wright, UK Ambassador to the US, sent a series of telegrams to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to assist in planning the G7 which reveal the White House’s priorities for the trip. His memo from 1 June 1984 states:

What the president wants above all from his visit to London is an outcome that will play well in his election campaign. His staff tell us that he will want to look ‘presidential’.