2012 Elections: Reagan Playbook No Longer Applies
The worst thing about the 2008 primaries -- other than, you know, the result -- was the huge amount of time wasted on what amounted to a Republican "Spartacus" re-enactment. Instead of each nominee yelling, "I'm Spartacus," and, "No, I'm Spartacus," we got, "I'm
The obsession with finding another Reagan was really a veiled slap at the Republican who actually occupied the
Everyone understood that running as Bush 2.0 was a bad idea from the outset, but the proof came in the general election, when then-Senator Obama managed to paint
Things look very different today. President Obama still tries to blame what he can -- and what he can't -- on Bush, but that's growing ever more lame. Increasingly, however, he's also trying to claim the Reagan mantle for himself.
At first it seemed like he just wanted to steal Reagan's re-election playbook. That was the upshot of a lot of wishful thinking masquerading as analysis a few months ago, including a
The analogy came apart like toilet paper in a rainstorm when the Obama economy started to grind to a halt like an
Reagan's landslide was fueled by huge economic growth, rapidly falling unemployment and growing national optimism. Obama's zero for three on that front.
The intriguing thing is that Obama hasn't let go of Reagan. He and his supporters now invoke the Gipper as a policy role model, not just a strategic one.
In his prime-time debt-ceiling address, he quoted Reagan's support for a debt-reduction deal in 1982 that included increased tax increases. Afterwards, Obama chided, "Those words were spoken by
Translation: See, I'm a mainstream guy who agrees with Reagan. Meanwhile, these knuckle-dragging Tea Partiers are to the right of the most conservative president in our lifetimes. Come back, independents! Love me, moderates!
While Obama's invocation of Reagan worked on a lot of liberal pundits, it was a clunker with conservatives. Of course, it's doubtful Obama thought it would actually persuade the
And that raises an important point for Republicans and Democrats alike. I don't want to say, "Who cares what Reagan would have done?" It's certainly an interesting question. But the answer in most cases is, "We have no idea." Events today are different than they were in the 1980s. The notion that we can know what Reagan's position would be today is to assume that his views wouldn't adapt to new circumstances.
Indeed, one of the reasons the Tea Parties are so "outrageously" intransigent and uncompromising is that they've seen what compromise has gotten in the past. In other words, they've learned the lessons of history. It's an insult to Reagan's memory to suggest that he wouldn't have as well. My own view is that Reagan would look at the doubling of the size of the federal government in the last 10 years and become awfully "stubborn" about reducing spending.
Regardless, the irony of all this is the fact that the
They still say nice things about Reagan, of course. But they understand -- finally -- that asking "What would Reagan Do?" doesn't get you all that far. Whereas once it was a provocative thing to call yourself a "Reagan Republican," it's not anymore because Reagan's become so popular and the times have changed so much. Rather, everyone cherry-picks what they like about the guy and claims him as an ally.
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