THE REAGAN PRIMARY….James Joyner answers the insurgents on the right who think John McCain would spell the end of the Republican Party that Reagan built:
Ronald Reagan last ran for president 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then — partly thanks to his policies. We’re not fighting the commies any more. We don’t have marginal tax rates of 70 percent. It’s now been 35 years since Roe v. Wade rather than 11.
And, frankly, Reagan’s record — as opposed to his rhetoric — isn’t exactly what those who pine for the Good Ole Days seem to think it was. Reagan did virtually nothing to advance the socially conservative agenda he talked about. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, two moderate swing votes, to the Supreme Court to go along with Antonin Scalia, his lone conservative appointee. And he signed the biggest illegal immigrant amnesty bill in the country’s history. He allowed spending to skyrocket under his administration, leaving the country saddled with historic debt.
And he signed the INF treaty! And left the Department of Education intact! And raised taxes half a dozen times! And supported expansion of the EITC!
In fact, thanks to Tim Russert’s obsession with Social Security, at last night’s debate we got to see what fealty to Reagan’s legacy really means to present-day Republicans. Here’s the question:
Governor Romney, you are a big fan of Ronald Reagan. Will you do for Social Security what Ronald Reagan did in 1983?
And the answer is….no! Of course not. Because in addition to his half dozen other tax increases, Reagan raised the payroll tax to rescue Social Security. But no modern day Republican in his right mind would give that a moment’s thought. So given a chance to emulate the master, Romney didn’t just tap dance, he flat out repudiated him:
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Ronald Reagan raised the payroll tax, and he also raised the retirement age, and he saved Social Security with Alan Greenspan and Tip O’Neill and Bob Dole and Pat Moynihan….Would you do what Ronald Reagan did?
MR. ROMNEY: No, I don’t want to raise taxes.
Well, neither does John McCain, I bet. But I gotta say: when it comes to truly emulating Ronald Reagan — hawkish; socially conservative but unwilling to spend much political capital on it; fiscally moderate; pragmatic when he needs to be — McCain is more in the mold of the real Reagan, as opposed to the currently popular cartoon version, than any of the other guys who were up on the stage in Boca Raton last night. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t remember Reagan all that well.