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.
Thanks. I didn’t think my BS on this thread should need a sarc. tag.
You’d be surprised.
I WAS when you questioned it!...lol
That’s what I’ve been saying. Thompson, like Reagan, is strong enough on the social issues to appeal to the Christian Right, the Values Voters, and other social conservatives, while not so “hardline” as to turn off those mushy moderates.
Best not to take chances. The malcontents on FR have a habit of running with whatever is posted. ;^)
I hope you are correct. If he can think and perform well on his feet that will be essential. Otherwise the comedy shows are going to rip him up. Unfortunately that’s what it comes down to these days.
I knew you were joking. :-)
I wonder what principles Hillary has at her core? hmmm
Yep...that’s the whole point that a lot of the ‘surrender to Hillary’ crowd just doesn’t get.
I really like the fact that Thompson is sticking to “first principals” -
if he follows those, I have no doubts about the way he would govern as an originalist.
And 8 years of originalist governance will at least help slow down our march toward secular socialism dictated by a big central government.
“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.”
Hooray! Great post, 2nddiv! I’d love nothing better than for Pelosi et al to get out of the gutter with this mudfight!
Who was Thompson’s choice for president in 1980?
Fred Thompson = Howard Baker
For that matter, who was Thompson’s choice for president in 2000?
Fred Thompson = John McCain
The most important but least discussed asset we are looking for in a candidate is the ability to communicate, and Fred Thompson seems to be what we the Republicans are yearning for. You must admit, a major irritation for all of us has been Bushs trouble articulating. Given a prepared speech he can deliver it with the best of them. The speech given before congress following 9/11 had to be within the top 10 speeches given by any President. But slap a microphone in front of him like at a press conference and we Republicans cringe. His sloppy speaking style only serves to bolster the false perception that he is incompetent.
We need to get beyond that. We need to nominate someone who can communicate to not only us, the Republican base, but touch bases with the millions and millions of moderate voters who most often vote Democrat. Being one of the original Reagan Democrats I speak from experience. (read my FR profile page). Fred has that same appeal to people as Reagan did.
In President Reagans Farewell Address he said, I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things. Fred Thompson is a communicator of great things and a great communicator, and I am honored to be behind him.
So? I voted for McCain in 2000 as well. At the time he appeared to be the best choice. I warmed up to Dubya, but voted for McCain in the primary.
Gonna ban me now or what? ;-)
Of course they said Pres. Reagan was lazy. What could they say? “He makes it look easy?”
Bush has no problem communitcating. The left prefers to riducule him instead of debating him. Make fun of him when he misrpronounces a word instead of discussing the issues. The issues don’t play so well on their side — Elect us, we will KILL your unborn in even greater numbers!” - hardly the stuff of great campaign slogans.
Man, I’m sick of these Reagan/Thompson comparisons — and I’m a fan (of both).
“There is only one Ronald Reagan, there will never be another.” - Fred Thompson.
Yep, you get the zot now, rino. :)