Debate Preview: GOP Hopefuls Would Reject Reagan


The Republican presidential candidates debating this evening at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley have an insoluble problem on their hands:

Everything they say to win support of the conservative forces they need to win the GOP nomination will further distance them from mainstream American voters in general and California’s moderate, independent, centrist voters in particular.

Pick an issue: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, public education, health care, taxes on the wealthy, environmental protections, climate change, religion in the schools, citizenship for immigrants, investment in roads, bridges, flood control and transportation or, above all, compromise with the Democrats.

Just about any stand the candidates take to please the Tea Party Wing of the GOP on any of these issues will come back to bite them when they have to appeal to the broad center in order to win the White House in November.

The results of the recent USC Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times Poll of California voters demonstrate how this all works in California. In head-to-head match ups, President Obama smothers any of the GOP candidates by about 2-to-1. But if you use support/non-support for the Tea Party movement as a demographic, here’s what you find:

— Obama vs Mitt Romney: 67-20% among non-TP voters; 20-74% among TP voters.
— Obama vs Rick Perry: 69-16% among non-TP voters; 22-73% among TP voters.
— Obama vs Michele Bachmann: 70-16% among non-TP voters; 22-70% among TP voters.

The problem for the Republicans: only 27% of the California voters support the Tea Party movement; 73% do not.

Because this evening’s debate is at the Reagan Library, we can expect to hear a lot of slavish praise for the late Gipper. But the mad hatters who now control the agenda of the Republican Party, and those who decide what is and what is not an acceptable stand for a legitimate member of the GOP, would likely never include Reagan in their big tent.

Don’t take our word. Consider what his most accomplished biographer, Lou Cannon, formerly of the Washington Post, has to say about it.

From his shared commitment with Mikhail Gorbachev on nuclear arms reduction and his reluctance to commit U.S. troops to combat, to Social Security reform and immigration policy, Reagan – though he cast himself as the keeper of the conservative flame – was, by today’s standards a compromising pragmatist.

“He was practical on taxes,” Cannon told Calbuzz. “He reduced income tax rates in 1981, but overshot the mark, as tax bills often do, and approved four tax increases during his presidency, one of which was the tax reform bill of 1986. Reaganites would say that he achieved most of his goals on taxes. The marginal tax rate was 70% when he took office, 28% when he left. The 1986 bill closed a lot of loopholes.

“The point here is that Reagan was practical about taxes as about much else. He told me many times, and my books reflect this, that he was willing to settle for half a loaf or less and come back for more.”

Or consider another policy: immigration. On which Reagan worked out a deal with the Democrats that was fundamentally an amnesty bill. Said Cannon:

“Reagan never was a yahoo on immigration. In his announcement speech in 1980, he called for a ‘North American Accord,’ a sort of common market, of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The folks in the current Republican field, except maybe for Huntsman, would find this unpatriotic.”

Unlike the current Republican candidates, “Reagan in his campaigns did not talk about abortion or other social issues,” Cannon said “The spirit and the tone of Reagan’s campaigns were Rooseveltian–FDR more than Teddy. Reagan was trying to become president of the United States of America, not the Republican Party.”

In summary, Cannon noted, “I don’t think any of the current Republican crop could win a caucus or a primary if they campaigned on Reagan’s actual record.”

Instead, they’ll campaign over his dead body.

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There are 7 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    The tea-baggers aren’t conservatives. They are ignorant, degenerate neo-cons. Real conservatives, who don’t seem to have a public voice these days, favor conservation, no foreign wars, a balanced budget, and personal responsibility. The whacko-Reps who call themselves conservatives have involved us now in two major foreign wars, blown the budget apart, are destroying the environment, and want to interfere in everyone’s private lives. Similarly, the Dems are eunuchs, not progressives. And tragically, there are only a few journalists left — like CalBuzz — and we are plagued by a bunch of blow-dried airheads, playing color commentators at the parade of the naked emperors.

  2. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Exactly. And, California voters being the sensible beings they are, it doesn’t make much difference anyway, since California would go for one of these idiots the day Rick Perry becomes a ballet dancer.

  3. avatar tegrat says:

    And let’s not forget the Earned Income Tax Credit, where actual real money is given to POOR PEOPLE. Talk about exploding Teajhadist heads! This policy actually lifted 4 million people out of poverty (or perhaps more accurately: destitution). Reagan was a freakin librul, no doubt about it.

  4. avatar tegrat says:

    and don’t get me started on Reagan and the deficit, which exploded under his watch, or “reduced” government, where he added over 60,000 government jobs (compared to Clinton’s reducing nearly 400,000). Puhleeze…


  5. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    But reality has not had a large part in the Republican canon since I was young. So the candidates will feel perfectly free to ascribe beliefs and actions to Reagan that are outright lies. And few will call them on it. Those who do will be ignored.

  6. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    They don’t do it as much as we did when I was a reporter — reporters for the most part are better these days – – but I wish the media would quit giving equal credibility to absolute nonsense as they do to facts. I mean, “Dispute over shape of Earth” may be a headline today, because the flat-Earthers say it’s flat, and scientists say it’s round, and we have to be fair, don’t we?

    That’s the whole secret of the Republican noise machine, of which Rick Perry is an outstanding example. He just outroars anyone who might timorously point out that 98 percent of the world’s climate scientists believe climate change is happening, and it’s man-made. Reporters may be giggling at their keyboards when they are writing the latest “Hey, look at this!” Perry nonsense, but out it goes anyway. It’s certainly true that reporters should stick to facts. It’s equally true that they ought not to paint a distorted picture by reporting “just the facts.” That’s not enough any more. Someone has to consistently point out that black, after all, is not white.

  7. avatar tegrat says:

    “Facts are stupid things.”

    -Ronald Reagan

    That’s where it all started, we guess…

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