I've long assumed that President Ronald Reagan's famous quote about Orange County–where the good Republicans go to die–was first uttered at the El Toro base, just before he launched his 1984 reelection campaign at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. Color me shocked, then, when I recently bought a December 1981 National Geographic magazine with an article on our fair land (“Orange, a Very California County”–great reading, btw), and found the exact quote written nearly word for word by the authors, but without attribution to Reagan. It got me wondering: did the Great Communicator swipe the great boast from an anthropological magazine?
Doesn't seem like it. After digging a bit deeper, I found a speech of Reagan using the same joke in a August 1981 fundraiser in Costa Mesa, but a bit tweaked: “the place that I've often described as 'where the Republicans go before they die.'” Nevertheless, I'm now curious. The National Geographic story throws the line in as if it were common knowledge, as if the line was already so famous it needed no attribution. Yet the national media didn't latch on to the quote until Reagan used it in 1984, which leads me to believe that the 1981 speech wasn't the first time Reagan said his OC line. So, I urge my conservative friends and enemies, and everyone else, to help me solve history and answer this question: when did Reagan first state his quote? And was he even the first person to even say it? Whoever can find an earlier documented reference than August 1981 wins $50 from my pocket!