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Thompson and Reagan
The Ashbrook Center ^ | September 2007 | Professor Andrew E. Busch

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 ability—or more precisely his poise and stage presence—may 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 together—or perhaps it is more accurate to say put together—economic 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.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Politics/Elections; US: California; US: Tennessee
KEYWORDS: 2008; bush; conservatism; conservatives; democrats; election2008; electionpresident; elections; federalism; firstprinciples; fred; frederalism; fredthompson; gop; greatcommunicator; individualliberty; limitedgovernment; media; msm; presidentreagan; primaries; reaganesque; republicans; ronaldreagan; talkradio; thompson; thompson44; thompsondemocrats
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The professor makes some valid points. I also think there will be many "Thompson democrats" just as there were "Reagan democrats" in the 1980's.
1 posted on 09/18/2007 10:44:05 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Especially in the South.


2 posted on 09/18/2007 10:47:09 AM PDT by traderrob6
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
I remember on Fox news that Thompson would not not compare himself to Reagan. He flat out said that there is no one in this race who is like Regan, including himself. That kind of honesty is commendable.


3 posted on 09/18/2007 10:48:20 AM PDT by darkwing104 (Let's get dangerous)
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To: Politicalmom; Sturm Ruger

ping


4 posted on 09/18/2007 10:49:05 AM PDT by lesser_satan (FRED THOMPSON '08)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
The professor makes some valid points. I also think there will be many "Thompson democrats" just as there were "Reagan democrats" in the 1980's.

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.

5 posted on 09/18/2007 10:58:14 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: rhombus

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...


6 posted on 09/18/2007 11:02:49 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

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.


7 posted on 09/18/2007 11:03:59 AM PDT by griswold3 (Al queda is guilty of hirabah (war against society) Penalty is death.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

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.


8 posted on 09/18/2007 11:11:06 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
A fair analysis.

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.

9 posted on 09/18/2007 11:19:20 AM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: Reagan Man
“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.”

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?

10 posted on 09/18/2007 11:25:23 AM PDT by Beagle8U (FreeRepublic -- One stop shopping ....... Its the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: Beagle8U

Let me lend you a “/sarc” tag.

Hopefully....


11 posted on 09/18/2007 11:27:31 AM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: rhombus

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.


12 posted on 09/18/2007 11:27:39 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
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.

13 posted on 09/18/2007 11:32:01 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: Reagan Man

What “executive experience” did Abraham Lincoln have before becoming president? John Kennedy? Thomas Jefferson?


14 posted on 09/18/2007 11:35:18 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

The common thread between all of those?

All of them were liberals.


15 posted on 09/18/2007 11:36:32 AM PDT by jmyrlefuller ("a steady drumbeat of clever, witty, observant posts throughout the morning" - Bahbah)
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To: Reagan Man
If Fred ever had to face the threat of gangs of armed Squeegee men he wouldn’t be so quick to think everyone should own guns.

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)

16 posted on 09/18/2007 11:36:38 AM PDT by Beagle8U (FreeRepublic -- One stop shopping ....... Its the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: rhombus

Near and dear to my heart? So, you’re not a conservative, then?


17 posted on 09/18/2007 11:36:49 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

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. :-)


18 posted on 09/18/2007 11:38:39 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: Beagle8U
If Fred ever had to face the threat of gangs of armed Squeegee men he wouldn’t be so quick to think everyone should own guns.

Now that's funny. :-)

19 posted on 09/18/2007 11:40:31 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
>>>>>What “executive experience” did Abraham Lincoln have before becoming president? John Kennedy? Thomas Jefferson?

Exactly my point!

20 posted on 09/18/2007 11:42:39 AM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: rhombus

Thanks. I didn’t think my BS on this thread should need a sarc. tag.


21 posted on 09/18/2007 11:42:51 AM PDT by Beagle8U (FreeRepublic -- One stop shopping ....... Its the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: Beagle8U

You’d be surprised.


22 posted on 09/18/2007 11:43:48 AM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: Reagan Man

I WAS when you questioned it!...lol


23 posted on 09/18/2007 11:45:02 AM PDT by Beagle8U (FreeRepublic -- One stop shopping ....... Its the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: rhombus

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.


24 posted on 09/18/2007 11:45:25 AM PDT by RockinRight (Can we start calling Fred "44" now, please?)
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To: Beagle8U

Best not to take chances. The malcontents on FR have a habit of running with whatever is posted. ;^)


25 posted on 09/18/2007 11:47:53 AM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: RockinRight

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.


26 posted on 09/18/2007 11:48:59 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: Beagle8U

I knew you were joking. :-)


27 posted on 09/18/2007 11:50:24 AM PDT by rhombus
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
It’s the principles, stupid. Starting with the first principles established in the US Constitution and moving on to your own principles.

I wonder what principles Hillary has at her core? hmmm

28 posted on 09/18/2007 11:50:41 AM PDT by Tarpon
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To: RockinRight

Yep...that’s the whole point that a lot of the ‘surrender to Hillary’ crowd just doesn’t get.


29 posted on 09/18/2007 11:52:58 AM PDT by perfect_rovian_storm (John Cox 2008: Because Duncan Hunter just isn't obscure enough for me!)
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To: Reagan Man

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.


30 posted on 09/18/2007 11:55:53 AM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet; trisham; tioga; darkangel82

“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!


31 posted on 09/18/2007 11:59:12 AM PDT by Froufrou
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Who was Thompson’s choice for president in 1980?

Not Reagan.

Fred Thompson = Howard Baker

For that matter, who was Thompson’s choice for president in 2000?

Not Bush.

Fred Thompson = John McCain


32 posted on 09/18/2007 12:01:37 PM PDT by Gelato (... a liberal is a liberal is a liberal ...)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

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 Bush’s 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 Reagan’s 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.


33 posted on 09/18/2007 12:03:40 PM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: Gelato

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? ;-)


34 posted on 09/18/2007 12:06:12 PM PDT by RockinRight (Can we start calling Fred "44" now, please?)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Of course they said Pres. Reagan was lazy. What could they say? “He makes it look easy?”


35 posted on 09/18/2007 12:06:41 PM PDT by 668 - Neighbor of the Beast (Senator Clinton should step down!)
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To: NavyCanDo

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.


36 posted on 09/18/2007 12:08:32 PM PDT by tioga
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

Man, I’m sick of these Reagan/Thompson comparisons — and I’m a fan (of both).


37 posted on 09/18/2007 12:09:05 PM PDT by BfloGuy (It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect . . .)
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To: MrB
Agreed. Reagan proved in the 1980`s that the march of welfare state liberalism can be slowed and even knocked down a few pegs. A few more limited govt conservative presidents and the bureaucracy associated with welfare state liberalism can be reversed. Its not an impossible task. This isn't Europe, after all. Americans still respect individualism and reducing the size and scope of govt remains a noble effort.
38 posted on 09/18/2007 12:11:29 PM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: darkwing104

“There is only one Ronald Reagan, there will never be another.” - Fred Thompson.


39 posted on 09/18/2007 12:11:46 PM PDT by Pistolshot (Keyes/Paul '08 - When you can't get crazy enough.)
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To: RockinRight

Yep, you get the zot now, rino. :)


40 posted on 09/18/2007 12:13:31 PM PDT by darkangel82 (Socialism is NOT an American value.)
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To: rhombus; Tyrone100
Reagan Democrats (and Thompson Democrats) will vote GOP because of:

1. Guns;

2. Babies;

3. Marriage (one man/one woman)

4. Fighting the courts on street crime and the "rights" of street punks;

5. Social normality vs. social perversion;

6. Opposition to quotas and affirmative action;

7. Nationalism and interventionism.

Among others.

41 posted on 09/18/2007 12:14:07 PM PDT by BlackElk (Dean of Discipline of the Tomas de Torquemada Gentlemen's Club)
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To: Gelato

Reagan supported Nixon in 1960, Goldwater in 1964, Ford in 1976 and GHW Bush in 1992.

So whats your point?


42 posted on 09/18/2007 12:14:26 PM PDT by Reagan Man (FUHGETTABOUTIT Rudy....... Conservatives don't vote for liberals!)
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To: BfloGuy

I served under President Reagan, and there will never be another like him, just as there will never be another George Washington or Teddy Roosevelt. Having said that, I can see where some people would try and make the comparison; both men had an acting career, are articulate, were divorced once and extol core conservative principles. May we have half the success with a president Thompson as we did with President Reagan, and I think many of us will be happy.


43 posted on 09/18/2007 12:15:59 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: darkangel82

I’d bet a large chunk of us who were Freepers in ‘00 voted for McCain over Bush. He really didn’t show how crazy he was until late 2001.


44 posted on 09/18/2007 12:16:01 PM PDT by RockinRight (Can we start calling Fred "44" now, please?)
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To: RockinRight

You heathen!


45 posted on 09/18/2007 12:16:56 PM PDT by Tatze (I'm in a state of taglinelessness!)
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To: Reagan Man

“Reagan supported Nixon in 1960, Goldwater in 1964, Ford in 1976 and GHW Bush in 1992.

So whats your point?”

Thank you!!


46 posted on 09/18/2007 12:17:03 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (https://www.fred08.com/contribute.aspx?RefererID=c637caaa-315c-4b4c-9967-08d864cd0791)
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To: Tarpon

Saul Alinsky’s principles are the principles of Mrs. Arkansas Antichrist.


47 posted on 09/18/2007 12:17:55 PM PDT by BlackElk (Dean of Discipline of the Tomas de Torquemada Gentlemen's Club)
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To: traderrob6
Texas has had “November Republicans” for many years. Even today, when I vote in the pubbie primary, I disenfranchise my self in the selection of local officials, as there are no pubbie candidates for these offices.
barbra ann
48 posted on 09/18/2007 12:18:59 PM PDT by barb-tex (Why replace the IRS with anything?)
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To: BlackElk

And that may happen regardless of who the nominee is... Hillary is no moderate sounding southern Democrat (like Carter or her husband).


49 posted on 09/18/2007 12:19:26 PM PDT by rhombus
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

I think these Reagan comparisons really cheapen Thompsons’ candidacy. He’s not Reagan. Does he have any virtues of his own that make him appealing, or are all of Reagan’s going to be ascribed to him instead?

Thompson will likely be our nominee... Let’s please not build him up so high that he has nowhere to go but down. That’s what the media did with “America’s Mayor,” and perhaps BECAUSE of that reputation he’s been an even bigger disappointment than expected.


50 posted on 09/18/2007 12:20:12 PM PDT by COgamer
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