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How would Reagan do in today’s Republican party?


 

It seems unlikely that Ronald Reagan would feel comfortable in today’s Republican party. With the GOP leadership candidates relentlessly attacking each other’s credentials and character, it’s worth recalling Reagan’s so-called 11th commandment—’Thou shalt not attack a fellow Republican.’ Try telling that to born-again Catholic Newt Gingrich, who thinks being nasty is good policy, or social conservative Rick Santorum, who finds a new way to alienate a portion of the traditional GOP electorate on a daily basis, or on again-off again frontrunner Mitt Romney, who seems more robotic by the day. This race has already been vicious beyond description, even with Democrats staying out of it.

When it comes to presenting their vision of conservatism, this year’s crop of candidates tends toward exclusivity. There is no effort at inclusion in any of the major speeches or through the many debates. Santorum has made social conservativism his lietmotiv, thereby alienating women and gays. Romney has veered so much to the right on immigration reform that he will have trouble appearing saleable to a Latino electorate that has an otherwise conservative predisposition. And Gingrich’s critiques of Obama are so over-the-top that few voters outside his band of followers take him seriously.

Former Governor Jeb Bush has expressed alarm at the fact that the contenders are basing their appeal on fear and emotions, while former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani says his party is no longer contemporary. If Ronald Reagan were a candidate, you can be sure his message would be far more unifying, devoid of the current meanness, and would lead rather than chase the various factions of the party .

Today’s GOP doesn’t have a meaningful moderate constituency, one that’s able to find common policies and values within varying expressions of conservatism. Social conservatives speak of Christian values but articulate a notion of exclusion and display a lack of Christian charity towards those who disagree with them. Theirs is a world of good and evil, and Satan is the opponent. Meantime, Tea Party types have shown that intransigeance and dogmatism is their policy. This has forced the candidates to play to a crowd with extremist views, making the GOP appear out of touch with the mainstream. Finally, establishment Republicans no longer have an ascendancy over the unruly factions. And while they have coalesced behind a weakened and unimpressive Mitt Romney, their authority is constantly challenged by a new anti-Mitt candidate every few weeks. They have kept the upper hand thanks to greater financial resources and negative advertising, however this was not the way Reagan won his party’s nomination.

Reagan was at heart a conservative of deep conviction. He started out as a liberal Democrat supporting FDR, but gradually became the principle spokesperson for the conservative movement. In the 1960s, when Barry Goldwater appeared as the stern conservative nominee against the liberals in power, Reagan put a human face on his newly found ideological home.

By the 1970s, after two successful terms as governor of California, Reagan had emerged as the consumate modern conservative —firm and principled, but open to compromise. As president, he governed through compromise and most historians recognize his presidency as a transformative one. Sure, he raised taxes 11 times and increased the debt ceiling 18 times, but he was able to keep his party united throughout his two terms. Even opponents like Tip O ‘Neill had a grudging admiration for Reagan.

Each of the Republican candidates, including the marginal Ron Paul, claims a political lineage to Ronald Reagan. But we all know who Ronald Reagan was, how he played the game of politics and how he governed. It is now an historical fact that Reagan preferred inclusion to exclusion. And Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul are not Ronald Reagan—and never will be if we judge by the current mood in the Republican party.


 

How would Reagan do in today’s Republican party?

  1. Reagan is probably rolling in his grave after reading this shoddy piece of “journalism”. 

    So *would* Raegan do in todays GOP? Never got around to answering that I guess, too much mud to fling.

    • Look Rick . Stop the crapola. These 4 geeks are loonies and you know it . Lived in California and Reagan would eat these guys for lunch . If Obama can’t beat them , then he is worse than I thought . I am Reagan  all the way . Gingrich was fired becuz of ethics issues , Santorum lost by 18 pts , and Romney lost 2 contests and did not run for reelection. Paul is nuts . Come on , be honest . I am ashamed to be a Republican.

      • Lots of good presidents had crappy resumes before winning office. Abe Lincoln’s experience consisted of a since 2-year term in the house. He ran for the senate twice and lost both times. He also held positions that were outside of the mainstream in the US, namely his stance on slavery (he won under 40% of the vote in 1860). 

        Or consider Harry Truman, who laid the foundation for America’s Cold War strategy. Truman had little education, and hadn’t had a real job till he hit 30. His rise to politics was as a judge (and later senator) expected to be a crony for boss Pendergast. FDR thought so little of him that when Truman was VP, he was kept decidedly out of the loop (which became a problem when Truman died). 

        Heck, consider Reagan. His main line of work was as an actor, and his tenure as governor of California pretty uninspiring (nor was it particularly conservative). Like Romney, he had past unsuccessful runs for President (in 1968 and 1976). 

        To paraphrase Rick Santorum, politics is a team sport. Governments are not the products of singular figures, but rather how those figures interact with their advisers and staff. Lincoln was a great president because he knew when to override his cabinet. Truman and Reagan were great presidents because they knew how to foster a productive cabinet. 

        • Hose , stop ! Are you serious ?Truman and Lincoln in the same breath as Santorum and Romney. Be serious . Romney is not anywhere close . Btw , Reagan was great on Ca. I lived there .

          • We have the benefit of hindsight with Truman and Lincoln – voters in 1860 and 1944 didn’t. They could have said similar things to what you are saying about Romney and Santorum (that doesn’t mean Romney and Santorum will be as good presidents as Truman and Lincoln, granted). 

            As for Reagan in California, let’s see…
            -He signed the “therapeutic abortion act” in 1967, which legalized abortion (before Roe v. Wade)
            -passed the first no fault divorce laws in the US, which caused the divorce rate to skyrocket
            -Increased taxes multiple times (including income, sales, corporate, tobacco, bank and liquor taxes
            -And while he decreased the welfare rolls, he also increased the amount of money welfare paid out to those remaining by 43%. 

            This is hardly the record of a rock-ribbed conservative. Heck, it makes Mitt Romney look conservative. That is Parisella’s point – Ronald Reagan, given his record, would be too liberal for today’s GOP. 

  2. It kind of depends upon whether you mean Reagan the man or the Reagan administration. Reagan in office was a pragmatist, but that stemmed a great deal from his style of leadership. He delegated, and primarily saw himself as a manager of relationships among his staff. In Don Regan’s book he discusses the dawning realization in discussions with Reagan early in the first term that Reagan considered the speeches from the election to be largely the end of Reagan’s contribution to policy development. Given that many of Reagan’s ends were at odds (strengthening the military, spurring the economy and cutting the deficit), this gave Reagan a great deal of leeway.

    Another result of that was that within Reagan’s administration you got major policy shifts, and seeming anachronisms. The famous Reagan tax cut, followed by numerous tax increases. Or the Reagan reversal from the “evil empire” rhetoric to rapprochment (driven both by personnel changes, and the surprising chemistry between Reagan and Gorbachev). 

    At the same time, I must reject the implied premise that the GOP base doesn’t accept Romney (who is more liberal than Reagan, outside of perhaps immigration). Romney’s challenges in the primary are absolutely mundane by historical standards. Lets compare the percentage of delegates won by the nominee in open primary contests since 2000, prior to Super Tuesday.

    Gore 2000: 100% (which wasn’t a particularly open primary)
    Bush 2000: 57.6% (with more winner-take-all primaries)
    Kerry 2004: 59.1%
    McCain 2008: 54.7% (with more winner-take-all primaries)
    Obama 2008: 51.1%
    Romney 2012: 63.5%

    So in other words, Romney is in a stronger position than any other recent nominee save Gore. This despite features of the race that tend to blunt the advantages of the frontrunner, like many proportional races, and thus far, many votes in caucus states (where intensity of support matters more*). This also despite Romney abstention to pandering to the far right (except perhaps on immigration and Iran), instead keeping his plans vague, defending Romneycare, and running more on biography. By all expectations he should extend his lead tomorrow as well, when he wins winner-take-all Arizona, and perhaps splits Michigan (in a tie, Romney will likely win more delegates, because his support is concentrated in liberal parts of the state like Detroit, where votes are more heavily weighted due to the allocation of equal numbers of delegates to each congressional district). 

    *Romney did better in caucus states in 2008 because of organizational advantages over another moderate candidate, McCain, who also lacked intense support. 

    • Look Hose , Romney is a fake . No Reagan , trust me . Santorum is a religious bigot .

      • I never disputed that Romney is a fake (he is a pretty big flip-flopper). I am disputing that he is having an especially hard time “sealing the deal” with conservatives, for a candidate with his moderate record, and moderate stance. I am not making a normative argument about Romney’s desirability as a president or nominee, I’m making an empirical argument about Romney’s ability to win the primary (which is, if anything, higher than average). 

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