How a Right-Wing Texas Copywriter With Terrible People Skills Got Ronald Reagan Elected President in One of the Biggest Landslides in American History

I once heard the conservative political writer Jonah Goldberg say that the earliest adopters of new communication technology are always Pornographers and Conservatives.

If that’s the case, then Richard Viguerie is the Hugh Heffner (or Ron Jeremy?) of direct political mail.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s (not unlike today), the political left dominated the media and politics.

And this was a pretty easy job back then, seeing as there were only a few broadcast networks, radio stations, and national newspaper chains — none of which were keen to give conservatives and libertarians any kind of platform to speak — then or now.

But in the early 1960s, a young and brilliant conservative activist named Richard Viguerie believed there were many, many millions of disaffected conservative voters in America who were being ignored by both parties.

The only problem was that nobody knew who they were or where they lived.

But, fortunately for Viguerie, he was at the right place at the right time because that same year in 1964, the Republicans nominated Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater — the most conservative politician in America — for president.

News of the senator’s nomination brought in a flood of small donations from previously apathetic conservatives across America. And even if Goldwater lost that campaign (badly), his loss was Viguerie’s gain.

Why?

Because back in those days, direct mail fundraising really wasn’t a thing and political campaigns had never thought seriously about list-building and list-monetizing.

Sure, private businesses had been selling goods and services via direct mail for a hundred years at that point but politicians and nonprofits had never thought to use the method to raise funds for their campaigns.

It seems like a “no brainer” because nowadays, you can’t run a serious campaign for any high-profile political office without a massive army of small-dollar donors whom you can send appeals to over and over again.

But, in 1964, the idea was as wild as flying cars.

For everyone except Richard Viguerie, that is.

He had enough vision and foresight to see that what works in business would work in politics.

Here’s how he tells the story in his book, America’s Right Turn (which I cannot recommend enough) that changed the course of American political history:

“After several years of living on a near-starvation diet of names to mail to, I saw a (pardon the pun) golden opportunity in the Goldwater campaign. At that time, federal political campaigns had to register, on a quarterly basis, the names and addresses of all persons who contributed $50 or more to the candidate. The list was kept on file with the clerk of the House of Representatives, and you could look at the list in the clerk’s office.”

More:

“I decided to do more than look at the names and addresses. I copied them laboriously by longhand, one contributor after another. This soon turned out to be more time consuming than I could handle, so I hired a half dozen or so women to do this for me. The clerk and his staff eyed us suspiciously, because nothing like this had ever happened before. But there didn’t seem to be any law saying we couldn’t copy the names and addresses. Finally, the clerk decided he had better cover his rear flank and told me we couldn’t copy names anymore — he just wasn’t comfortable with it. If I had known then what I know now, I would have kept the operation going and said, “Talk to my attorney.” But we packed up our yellow pads and complied with his order.

“Luckily, we got most of the Goldwater donor names before the clerk’s nervousness shut us off. The total list was something like 15,000 names, and we had 12,500 of them . . . And that list was my treasure trove, as good as the gold bricks deposited at Fort Knox, as I started The Viguerie Company and began raising money for conservative clients.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the ashes of Goldwater’s defeat, Viguerie played a massive role in the growing conservative movement, raising millions of dollars for conservative causes, and eventually leading to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential election victory.

In fact, I’d wager to say that . . .

Ronald Reagan Couldn’t Have Been Elected Without Direct Mail!

How can I make such a bold and outlandish statement?

Simple.

Later in his book, Viguerie writes that a staggering 75% of the donations to the 1980 Reagan for President campaign came from direct political mail appeals. And Viguerie’s direct marketing company had sent over 1 BILLION pieces of direct mail from 1974 to 1980, which got him labeled the “funding father” of the American conservative movement and cemented his place in history.

Moral of the story:

I believe that by studying the great fundraising letters you will get at least as good an education in profitable direct response copywriting as you would by studying commercial ads and sales letters.

And that’s not just little old me saying that, either.

No less a Direct Marketing God than the late great Clayton Makepeace (whose copy has sold over $1 billion worth of products — which is more than the total gross domestic product of some small countries!) has said the exact same thing:

“Early in my copywriting career, I held down a part-time job in a printing plant. But this wasn’t just any printing plant. Its forte was printing and mailing appeal letters for a national fundraising organization. And since I worked alone on the night shift, I had plenty of time to read every one of those 8-page letters . . .

“Pouring over those letters while my folding machine thunked away all night long was a real eye-opener. Whether by instinct or trial and error, these geniuses had figured out that to get a donor to write a check for a good cause, they needed to go beyond the intellect — beyond rational, “reason-why” copy and beyond a snappy USP.”

If you think about it, a donor to a philanthropic cause doesn’t really get anything in exchange for his donation (other than a potential tax write-off). All that happens is that he’s $10, 20$, $100, or $1,000 poorer.

And yet, billions of dollars are given away to charities, political causes, and nonprofit institutions of all kinds every year. Why? It’s because people are not just egotistical monsters always looking to feed their immediate self-interest at all costs.

They’re also compassionate and have deep feelings of responsibility and want to “give back.” And, most importantly, they want to be heroes. They want to feel like they have some semblance of control in this crazy, messed-up world.

They want to be able to live in a world that reflects their values, priorities, politics, philosophy, morality, and aesthetics. And you can apply these principles to whatever you sell, whether or not you’re in the direct response fundraising business.

Richard Viguerie will give you the principles you need to move your prospect to not just donors and customers but PASSIONATE ADVOCATES!

Lesson: Applying the methods and strategies that are employed in donation letters can dramatically increase your response rates and levels no matter what you’re selling.

David Lowenthal is an independent direct response fundraising serving libertarian and other freedom-loving nonprofits.

This chapter is part of his book 32 Jackpot Marketing Secrets from History’s Greatest and Craziest Persuaders! If you would like to discover more marketing secrets from some of history’s most successful entrepreneurs, copywriters, politicians, negotiators, lawyers, talk show hosts, actor/directors, political activists, and much more, you can download a copy of his FREE ebook, 32 Jackpot Marketing Secrets from History’s Greatest and Craziest Persuaders!, by signing up here.

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Direct response fundraising copywriter for libertarian and pro-freedom nonprofit organizations