Skip to comments.Thompson and Reagan
Posted on 09/18/2007 10:44:03 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
As soon as former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson announced that he was mulling over a run for the presidency, pundits and voters alike began to announce comparisons between Thompson and Ronald Reagan. Now that Thompson is in the race with both feet, it is worthwhile to examine more carefully ways in which he is or is not somehow parallel to Reagan.
It is important to note at the outset that Republicans have to come to grips with the facts that there was only one Reagan and that he was not perfect (though he was very, very good). Constant seeking after the "next Reagan," followed by regular disappointment, is an indication that many Republicans and conservatives have simultaneously a) concluded that Reagan is easy to replicate and b) so idealized him that no candidate can actually meet the expectations that result. This makes them look silly.
Nevertheless, Reagan was the most successful Republican politician in the second half of the twentieth century. Just as great caution should greet any proclamations of the "next Reagan," it would be foolish for Republicans not to think about how his successes might be repeated, and whether particular candidates offer a reasonable prospect of contributing to that repetition.
There are some obvious ways in which Thompson does not parallel Reagan as a candidate. The first is that he does not have executive experience, unlike Reagan's two terms as governor of California. The Tennessean will have to overcome the nation's recent reluctance to turn to the Senate for presidents, and will have to convince Americans he can be an effective chief executive. Thompson has also not spent two decades or more advancing his political ideas as Reagan did in the years before 1980.
Critics of both men claim to find a parallel in their allegedly soft work habits. This claim should neither help nor harm Thompson among voters, who want an effective chief executive but who remember that Reagan's so-called "laziness" was neither well-proven nor, if it was true, a real handicap to presidential success.
Thompson, like Reagan, has been an actor. Some persist in believing that Reagan's success was due to his acting ability, but this by itself is a poor explanation. Thompson's acting abilityor more precisely his poise and stage presencemay help him at the margins, as it helped Reagan, but it will hardly be enough. As other commentators have noted, his authoritative roles may help him a bit more than did Reagan's less weighty roles. All in all, however, a focus on Reagan's and Thompson's acting does not illuminate Thompson's prospects or his desirability as a candidate.
Reagan's folksy charm has often been cited by pundits as a contributing factor to his success, and here too Thompson has been cited as Reaganesque. To the extent that Thompson presents the picture of a regular guy from a modest background displaying no outsized ambition, he can indeed tap into the same currents that fed popular admiration of Reagan. However, at the end of the George W. Bush era, the premium on folksiness may not be what it once was.
It is in two other areas, less noted by the media, that Thompson has a real opportunity to excite voters as Reagan did. First, a key to Reagan's success was that he was able to keep togetheror perhaps it is more accurate to say put togethereconomic conservatives and social conservatives. It is unlikely that any Republican candidate can succeed without maintaining that alliance. A crucial reason that no other top-tier candidate has cemented a dominating position in the polls is that none have been able to make a compelling case for why they are capable of accomplishing that task. Thompson has the potential to be that candidate.
Second, it was not Reagan's acting career that made him a "Great Communicator," it was his willingness to communicate big ideas. He stood out among political figures for his capacity to discuss big principles and then connect them in a persuasive way to issues of the moment. George W. Bush has almost entirely eschewed such argumentation (except when discussing democratization in foreign policy), and so have the leaders in the Republican primary field. Thompson, on the other hand, regularly builds his argument around "first principles" of individual liberty, limited government, and federalism. This sort of discourse is arguably vital to rallying and unifying Republicans, reaching out to conservative independents, establishing distance from the Bush administration, and building an appealing contrast with a Democratic nominee who will undoubtedly focus on a bottomless promise of new and expanded programs. It is not self-evident that Thompson can pull it off, but he is the only candidate in the top tier of the Republican field who seems interested in trying. In the end, if Fred Thompson can successfully reintroduce a discourse of principles to the political arena, he will parallel Reagan in the one way that counts the most.
Andrew E. Busch is a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center.
Especially in the South.
Reagan Democrats were forged out of the economic disaster and foreign policy humiliations from the Carter Administration. With a fairly decent economy with low unemployment, I don't see a current parallel here unless it is on the WOT and the fact many Democrats may be embarrassed by their party's moonbats. Yet I haven't seen Thompson hit hard on the WOT... yet. So far that's been Rudy's primary issue.
It’s all Rudy CAN run on! He’s a gun-grabbing, pro-abortion, gay-friendly, pro-amnesty big spending liberal RINO. If he does get the nomination, Hillary will “swift-boat” him with hundreds of FDNY, NYPD & other first reponders that will claim he screwed up 9/11, that he was corrupt, etc...
I am supporting this ‘reluctant’ candidate! It is apparent that this election is more about our nation’s future than his ambition to seek power.
That’s not the point. The point is that Rudy has taken the lead in running on the WOT and that’s the only issue I can see that a “Reagan Democrat” might vote Republican on. McCain has also run on supporting the war to a certain extent but he’s more focussed on Iraq.
Down boy, this is no attack on St Fred the Reaganite or an endorsement of Rudy.
Anyone who gets carried away comparing Fred Thompson to Ronald Reagan is not a person who takes politics seriously. Time to forget about that and move along.
Fred hasn't had executive experience and that is a mark against him. However, it doesn't mean Fred wouldn't make a good executive or a good POTUS. What counts the most are Fred`s conservatism and his belief in federalism.
Limited government is the key to any successful conservative policy agenda. In that regard, Fred`s positions are a lot like Reagan`s agenda. Fred is also on the right side of the social issues. Although not to the degree some conservatives are comfortable with. The fact that Fred wants to overturn Roe v Wade should bring satisfaction to all pro-lifers. The fact that Fred wants to keep our 2nd amendment rights on the front burner as the Founders intended should please gun owners and gun rights advocates everywhere. The fact that Fred is for strong border security and anti-amnesty should remove any doubt about how he would govern on the immigration issue.
Political intellect, personal integrity, along with good communication skills and general likability are some areas where Fred excels with the regular folks. Fred is the genuine article. A real conservative through and through.
Big Deal. There are only 100 million gun owners and just because they all vote doesn’t mean it will make a difference, does it?
Let me lend you a “/sarc” tag.
I didn’t take it as an attack, I just opined that Rudy has no choice but to make 9/11, and therefore the WOT his centerpiece issue with republican primary voters. I believe that you are mistaken, however, in seeing the WOT as the only issue that a “Reagan Democrat” might vote GOP for. There’s the 2nd Amendment, abortion, healthcare (especially with Hillary’s mandatory insurance)and a myriad of other things that will bring democrats over to the GOP, if they are properly presented.
I'll agree that proper presentation is essential. Sorry to say it but I still think it's those mushy moderates who are going to decide the election. In the past they've often been soft on those issues that are near and dear to your heart.
What “executive experience” did Abraham Lincoln have before becoming president? John Kennedy? Thomas Jefferson?
The common thread between all of those?
All of them were liberals.
They don’t even have Squeegee men down south.
First of all they don’t even wash their windshields down there, and only basketball players could even reach the windshield of them jacked up pick-em-up trucks!
( Plus I think they would just run over them when the light changed)
Near and dear to my heart? So, you’re not a conservative, then?
I’m certainly not a liberal and most people I know say I’m very very conservative. However in comparison to you who know? I expect you are more so than me on some issues. It’s not digital my friend, it’s analog. :-)
Now that's funny. :-)
Exactly my point!