WASHINGTON -- The briefing book prepared for President Carter's 1980 debate with candidate Ronald Reagan -- and secretly acquired by Reagan aides before the debate -- contained detailed strategies and responses used by Carter and rebutted by Reagan during their encounter, it was reported Sunday.
Comparison of the document titled 'Debate Briefing Materials' and the transcript of the crucial debate one week before the election shows cases whereReagan appeared to have anticipated and successfully rebutted Carter's attacks, the Washington Post said in its early Monday editions.
The Post said a copy of the briefing book, apparently the same document Reagan administration officials admit they secretly acquired, was made available by a former top-level Carter advisor.
Since the incident was disclosed White House officials have been nervous about suggestions that dirty tricks may have entered into the 1980 campaign. All have sought to play down the importance of the briefing book controversy and of the material itself.
Reagan himself called the matter 'much ado about nothing' Friday in his only public comment on the affair. Although three of his top aides had recollections of such material, Reagan said, 'I don't think there ever was a briefing book, as such.'
In separate letters to Rep. Donald Albosta, D-Mich., White House chief of staff James Baker, a key campaign strategist, and budget director David Stockman, who was involved in Reagan's debate preparation, remembered seeing and using the information from the Carter camp.
White House communications director David Gergen remembered hearing the Reagan camp had acquired such information, but said it 'was not described as important or dramatic.'
Baker said it contained a wide range of position papers, but did not recall seeing 'any strategic or tactical information relating to a forthcoming debate.'
Stockman, who impersonated Carter in a practice debate with Reagan, said the document appeared to be a compendium of 'standard arguments in support of Carter administration initiatives and policies.' Stockman said it did not lay out contrast between Carter's and Reagan's positions, nor did it 'contain discussions of campaign strategy, debate tactics or a debate game plan.'
'Thus,' Stockman said, 'my recollection is that the set of pages I received was an issues primer, quite different in character from the internal Reagan debate strategy papers that I had seen at the same time.'
The Post, as an example of the detailed, strategic nature of the briefing book's contents, said the book stated the Democratic theme that Reagan's policies as president 'would hurt the elderly and would weaken ... system.'
Iit then turned the Social Security issue into an attack on Reagan for opposing national health insurance and hospital cost containment and for having helped 'lead the fight to defeat Medicare when it was being considered by Congress.'
In the debate, when Carter switched from discussing Social Security to health care, Reagan quickly responded that he opposed the Medicare bill only because he favored another bill before Congress that would 'be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed,' the Post said. Carter had no rebuttal.
The book contained a section titled 'Rebuttals to Reagan Statements' which may particularly have helped Reagan rebut Carter's statistical attacks on his record as California governor, the Post said. It said occasionally Reagan rebutted the attacks before Carter uttered them.
The book contained pointers on image, presenting achievements forcefully, and exposing the 'substantive weaknesses and unrealities of Reagan's positions.'