Green Room

Reagan in ’77; Rush-Newt-Cheney in ’09

posted at 9:41 am on June 5, 2009 by

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.

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Newt? Mr. “I am sorry”?

Naaaaaaa

upinak on June 5, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Was Reagan accused of being a racist every 12 seconds 1976-1980?

angryed on June 5, 2009 at 12:13 PM

“Issue spaces”?

Well, I’d say “shut up” but I want to maintain a civil tone.

Typhoon on June 5, 2009 at 12:28 PM

Was Reagan accused of being a racist every 12 seconds 1976-1980?

angryed on June 5, 2009 at 12:13 PM

No, they mostly saved it up for a few larger attacks, like how he was racist and anti-homosexual for allowing AIDS to run rampant…despite the large amounts of governmental funding he approved to research the disease for a possible cure.

DrAllecon on June 5, 2009 at 1:05 PM

Was Reagan accused of being a racist every 12 seconds 1976-1980?

angryed on June 5, 2009 at 12:13 PM

This is my question. Was the press reporting more fairly back then? Excuse me- was the press reporting, full stop, since they no longer do so? If the press is stopping their ears to your civil arguments, it takes shouting to get something on the radar at all.

evergreen on June 5, 2009 at 1:06 PM

This is my question. Was the press reporting more fairly back then? Excuse me- was the press reporting, full stop, since they no longer do so?

evergreen on June 5, 2009 at 1:06 PM

No, and yes.

Now it’s no and no.

Daggett on June 5, 2009 at 1:09 PM

President George W. Bush a lot had a civil and often non-partisan tone. Ric Locke has made this point very eloquently several times in the past.

Tone may matter much less in 2012 than expressing a forthright confidence in at least the possibility that there *might* be a narrow window to help our little country avoid *some* of the consequences of the dirty socialist ascendancy in our politics and media.

People will need to be assured that a return to non-dirty socialism is still possible. That our little country can proceed into the future with some amount of self-respect. That there can be a cessation of squandering money, of fomenting nightmarish regulation, of kneecapping domestic energy production.

I don’t think the candidate needs to be polite about it.

After what the dirty socialists will have wrought by 2012, our little country will be so stagnant that there’ll be but one chance to formulate a plot before we all metaphorically end up in jail or shot I think. Success is our little country’s only… option, failure’s not.

That is what the Republicans need to make clear.

happyfeet on June 5, 2009 at 1:10 PM

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;

This description of Reagan in 1977 applies somewhat to Cheney and Newt (but he has too much baggage), not at all to Rush, but it does describe another Republican: Mitt Romney.

Since 2012 is bound to be an “it’s the economy, stupid” election, Romney might become a man whose time has come, as Reagan was in 1980 (but not in 1964).

Steve Z on June 5, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Striking the proper tone is difficult for a politician, especially when their party is completely in the opposition, because everything you say is necessarily critical of the party in power. To win at the presidential level, you have to do several things at the same time:

1. Get your own base motivated.
2. Persuade swing voters to cast their ballots for you.
3. Persuade the opponent’s soft supporters to either consider voting for you, or at least keep them from becoming strongly motivated to vote against you.
4. Convince as many of the opponent’s hardcore voters as possible to stay home.

In the present political landscape, Republicans have increasing difficulty meeting those four objectives. Motivating the base is possible through alternative media, and public appearances that force the state-run media to cover them – every time they’re compelled to cover someone like Sarah Palin actually speaking, instead of just slamming her with hit pieces, is a net plus for her. The candidates least able to articulate conservative ideas in a compelling way have the most trouble meeting Objective Number One. Anyone who thinks they can grab the nomination with a one-state strategy should be whacked upside the head with a rolled-up Giuliani 08 campaign poster.

Persuading swing voters is harder, but Reagan showed the way to work around a hostile press, by forcing them to transmit words and ideas that outweighed their negative caricature of him. It’s also easier to reach the swing voters as the other side’s failures mount. It wasn’t hard for Obama to run against a deeply unpopular George Bush, and it won’t be hard for the 2012 Republican to run against the wreckage left by Obama’s policies… provided the Republican is wiling to offer strong criticism without being shrill. Objective Number Three is not satisfied by an angry crank ranting behind a podium, but it’s also not satisfied by genial old senators wasting precious campaign time assuring voters his opponent is a fine man they can be proud to vote for, as we saw last year. The trick is to politely, but forcefully and persuasively, point out the opponent’s shortcomings and the advantages of your own proposals. This is a task made more difficult by a hostile media eager to pounce on everything the candidate says as slanderous “negative campaigning,” but it should also relieve the Republican of any McCain-like urges to throw his arm around his opponent and assure the voters he’s a jolly good fellow. The media can be relied upon to handle that task with gusto.

The best way to meet Objective Number Four is to minimize the amount of ammunition handed to the media to demonize you. Run a tight ship, stay on message at all times, and remember those blow-dried news anchors are out to get you. Anticipate the “gotcha” questions in advance, and have your answers ready. Remember that no media attack is too outrageous for them to contemplate, especially when they get desperate. This is the area where Palin needs the most improvement, but there’s every indication she’s aware of that and working on it. If nothing else, she remembers having her intelligence, resume, wardrobe, and the paternity of her children challenged, in some cases on the day after she was nominated. I doubt her response to the next unhinged media jihad will be stunned surprise.

Doctor Zero on June 5, 2009 at 1:38 PM

Reagan in ‘77; Rush-Newt-Cheney in ‘09

I read this and burst out laughing. If this is a Republican’s wet dream, best for it to remain so rather than be universally mocked as the party of bitter dead-enders. Let’s just put it this way – Dick Nixon’s prospects at regaining his reputation were better than Dick Cheney’s are now. And Nixon didn’t ever get the rehabilitation he so desperately sought either.

Reagan on the other hand after losing out to Jerry Ford in the 1976 GOP race was in fact seen as a real contender for 1980. Which was why it was such a shock when George H.W. Bush beat him in Iowa, setting up Reagan’s famous comeback in New Hampshire.

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 1:44 PM

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 1:44 PM

Next time, try reading more than the headline, because you missed the entire point of the post. Also, try reading Emery’s article, which lays out just how much RR was not seen as a contender in 1977.

happyfeet on June 5, 2009 at 1:10 PM

feets!

President George W. Bush a lot had a civil and often non-partisan tone. Ric Locke has made this point very eloquently several times in the past.

…and (whatever my disagreements on particular issues) GWB won two presidential elections. Not saying everyone on the Right should be polite. Saying someone who wants to get to 50% +1 in enough states for a presidential victory might do well with it. For that matter, RR was pretty direct, even when he was being polite.

upinak on June 5, 2009 at 12:02 PM

I think Newt’s quasi-walkback on Sotomayor tells us he’s thinking about moving out of the pitbull section into the “thinking about 2012″ section. That was in the back of my mind when I wrote this.

Karl on June 5, 2009 at 2:01 PM

Was Reagan accused of being a racist every 12 seconds 1976-1980?

angryed on June 5, 2009 at 12:13 PM

Pretty much.

Karl on June 5, 2009 at 2:04 PM

Sounds like Huckabee to me.

bcm4134 on June 5, 2009 at 2:06 PM

I’m sorry, but the comparison of Newt-Rush-Cheney with Reagan is just ludicrous on the face of it. With a title like that, the article can’t be anything more than facile B.S.

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 2:16 PM

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 2:16 PM

At least you’re honest enough to admit you didn’t read before commenting. Too bad, as I’m contrasting them more than comparing them. The title could just as easily had a “vs.” where the semi-colon is.

Karl on June 5, 2009 at 2:20 PM

Yes Reagan extended a open hand but let’s not forget he was pragmatic to a point as that same referenced CPAC speech shows this is how he finished that speech.

“A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.

I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way.”

Armando on June 5, 2009 at 2:21 PM

It’s just impossible to see how Newt, Limbaugh and Cheney are truly politically viable, which Reagan still really was in 1977.

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 2:24 PM

It’s just impossible to see how Newt, Limbaugh and Cheney are truly politically viable, which Reagan still really was in 1977.

starfleet_dude on June 5, 2009 at 2:24 PM

I don’t think Newt is politically viable, and doubt he thinks he is, either. I think he’s angling to be a top advisor in someone’s campaign, and eventually hold a position in someone else’s administration.

Which office is Rush Limbaugh running for? He’s kept his campaign under wraps thus far.

I doubt Dick Cheney would want to run for office again, or would think of himself as a strong contender. However, we have other Cheneys to choose from…

Doctor Zero on June 5, 2009 at 2:32 PM

Newt is so smart. I’d love to see him on a ticket. He would mop the floor with whoever the Dems set against him. Assuming he doesn’t try to get all bi-partisan, like he did on “global warming”.

While we’re entertaining fantasies how about Ann Coulter as press secretary? I’d tune in for every briefing!

Woody on June 7, 2009 at 7:39 AM