Two events early in his Senate career showcased Helms’s unflinching nature and his political skills. In 1975, he engineered a visit to the U.S. by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn over the objections of the State Department, which forbade its own employees from attending a major Solzhenitsyn speech in Washington. State also blocked a proposed visit to the White House, leading Helms to accuse President Gerald Ford of “cowering timidly for fear of offending Communists.”
That incident helped spur Reagan to challenge Ford for the GOP nomination the next year. Reagan lost the first five primaries, and he entered the North Carolina contest broke and under pressure to pull out. But Helms and his chief strategist Tom Ellis refused to give up. They employed Helms’s huge, direct-mail list to build a grass-roots army of volunteers and raise money to air 30-minute speeches by Reagan across the state.
Emphasizing the Panama Canal “giveaway” and smaller government, Reagan won an upset victory and was able to battle Ford all the way to the GOP convention. He showed such strength at the convention that Ford invited him to deliver off-the-cuff remarks to the delegates. Reagan was so inspiring that some of Ford’s own delegates exclaimed, “We just nominated the wrong candidate.” Reagan later acknowledged how Helms’s intervention rescued his political career.
It’s a fair assessment of Helms, unlike most you’ll read in the mainstream media and other liberal sources, who didn’t even wait until the man buried to spit on his grave. He did change the course of history: without Helms, there likely would never have been a President Reagan. The world is a better place because Jesse Helms, for all his flaws, was in it.