Reagan in ’77; Rush-Newt-Cheney in ’09
posted at 9:41 am on June 5, 2009 by Karl
Noemie Emery has a wonderful article, “Reagan in Opposition,” posted at the Weekly Standard. She begins in 1977 with some wonderful reminders of how the GOP was written off (as it has been every 16 years or so since the end of WWII). Indeed, Reagan himself was written off, and Emery suveys his comeback at the tactical and thematic level.
Emery focuses on four things that stand out about Reagan’s behavior while in opposition:
- He was focused on large, central themes;
- His tone was unfailingly gracious and civil, and focused on issues, not men. In his many newspaper columns, he was almost never partisan or even explicitly conservative;
- He was an optimist, focused on hope and the future;
- He was able to lead both a movement and a party.
That’s a pretty good checklist — and a daunting one — for any of the Republicans already laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2012. (For those who bemoan the seeming permanent campaign season, take note that Reagan never really stopped running after the 1976 campaign.)
Perhaps the most striking of those four factors was Reagan’s civil and often non-partisan tone. After all, one of Reagan’s more memorable speeeches (at CPAC in 1975) blasted the GOP as carrying a banner of “pale pastels” instead of “bold colors.” But Reagan also understood that the GOP could carry a banner of bold colors without looking like he was trying to impale his opponents on its standards.
Of course, not everyone on the Right is laying a foundation for a presidential run in 2012. There are plenty of roles for conservatives and libertarians of varying stripes to play.
Lapdog pressmen like Howard Fineman may be as eager as Barack Obama to make Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney the face of the GOP, but that is not really their function. E.J. Dionne frets that the Democrats’ strategy here is backfiring, that figures like Limbaugh and Gingrich are setting the news agenda. Allahpundit correctly notes that Dionne’s thesis — that the media hypes Rush’s controversies because it’s secretly right-wing — is just plain dumb. But Dionne and Fineman do have a point in noting that the Right’s pitbulls have been more effective than the GOP’s elected officials in getting arguments into the national discussion, even when the lapdog press frames them negatively. They are currently creating the issue spaces Republicans can later occupy with a more civil tone — if they ever get their acts together.