Bill McGurn wrote a typically splendid piece for The Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago called “Reagan was a Sure Loser Too.” He begins with this ominous bulletin from a news story:
Not since Herbert Hoover has a party out of power had such an opportunity to run against everything that troubles the American family—prices, interest rates, unemployment, taxes, or the fear for the future of their old age or the future of their children—than is now presented to the Republican Party.
The Republicans, however, haven’t figured this out. This is their basic problem. They have no strategy for defeating an Obama administration that is highly vulnerable on both domestic and foreign policy.
It’s from a February 29 column in The New York Times, but the date was 1980, not 2012. And in place of “Obama” James Reston, the author, had written “Carter.” As Bill notes, “It appears the conventional wisdom hasn’t changed much. Today’s narrative holds that however weak President Obama’s hand, Republicans find themselves in no position to capitalize on it. A glance back to where we were at this exact point in the 1980 primaries suggests otherwise.”
— Then, as now, the Republican primaries opened with a bang, when George H.W. Bush upset Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucuses.
— Then, as now, Republicans feared that an unhappy contender might bolt the party to mount an independent campaign. In 1980, that was liberal John Anderson, not libertarian Ron Paul.
— Then, as now, the chattering classes wondered aloud whether a candidate who could win the Republican nomination could prevail against President Carter in November. On March 1 , former President Gerald Ford amplified that view when he told a New York Times reporter, “Every place I go and everything I hear, there is the growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election.”
— Then, as now, some put their hopes on a late entry, in the same way that some now pine for Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie to enter the race.
Food for thought, this. And yet, as Bill also notes, “the parallels to 1980 take you only so far, and Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan.” Indeed. Bill hastens to add that “at this same point in his campaign for the GOP nomination, neither was Reagan.”
Really? Bill says that “the President Reagan we rightly admire for bringing down the Berlin Wall, reviving the U.S. economy, and attracting into the GOP millions of disaffected Democrats was still to come.” Yes, but what about the Reagan who, in 1961, observed that “one of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.” It’s a magnificent speech, you can listen to it here. It’s vintage Reagan, too, Reagan as Reagan, palpably the same chap who helped win the Cold War, jump-started the languishing American economy (remember that in 1982 the Dow was at 700 — that’s seven hundred), and substituted morning for Jimmy Carter’s malaise. Would anyone care to offer a kindred moment from Mitt Romney’s past? Take your time.
By the way, that speech about bringing socialism to democracy via the pseudo-humanitarian gambit of “reforming” health care wasn’t Reagan’s only early triumph. Consider this speech from 1964 embedded above.
Can you imagine Mitt Romney, to say nothing of Barack Hussein Obama, giving such a speech? The real problem is not what the conventional wisdom is telling us about Mitt Romney but that Mitt Romney is himself a reflection of that conventional wisdom. He is, as I’ve said before in this space, a company man at a moment when the problem is the company.