WWRD?…. The six men hoping to lead the Republican National Committee got together yesterday, at Grover Norquist’s behest, to describe their vision for the future. They were, however, stuck in the past.
Luckily, all six RNC candidates agreed on a solution to the party’s woes: They would say Ronald Reagan’s name over and over, as if it were a tantric incantation.
Anuzis quoted Reagan in his opening statement. Former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell lamented that too many Republicans “campaign like Ronald Reagan and then govern like Jimmy Carter.” Saltsman talked about his high school days: “Ronald Reagan was president, and he got me excited.”
Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, tried to top that. “I was inspired as a college graduate by a fellow who walked in the room by the name of Ronald Reagan.”
Grover Norquist, the moderator and head of Americans for Tax Reform, asked each candidate to name his favorite Republican president. The tally: Reagan, 6; Lincoln, 0. “Okay, everybody got that one right,” the moderator announced.
The questions changed, but the same answer kept coming. Steele spoke of what “Ronald Reagan moved us to realize.” Blackwell quoted Reagan two more times, prompting Steele to remind everybody that he was “inspired by the rhetoric and the words and the reality of a Ronald Reagan.”
Noting all of this, Kevin Drum emphasized a point I’ve argued several times over the years: “[F]or modern conservative Republicans, Reagan isn’t merely their most frequently named favorite, he’s pretty much their only possible answer to this question.”
The list is surprisingly thin for Republicans to choose from. After Lincoln and Grant, there were a handful of one-term GOP presidents in the late 19th century. The 20th century offers Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower as two-term presidents, but both are too liberal by modern Republican standards. Nixon was a crook, Hoover was Hoover, the Bushes were failures, and no one’s buying tickets to the annual Lincoln-Taft Dinner.
Between Clinton, LBJ, JFK, Truman, FDR, and Wilson, modern Dems have, shall we say, a deeper bench.
Republicans, meanwhile, are left to rally enthusiasm for a conservative who raised taxes, expanded the size of government, ran some of the largest deficits in American history, and appeased the Evil Empire.
And when looking to the future, the party’s would-be leaders seem anxious to build a bridge to the mid-to-late 20th century.