[I]n going to Patchogue, Long Island this coming Thursday to speak at a controversial Republican fundraiser, Trump is taking a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook. He’s following the path that Reagan took in 1980 when he began his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Where to begin? This particular canard has so many things wrong with it, I feel obligated to set them all down in sequence. Hopefully, doing so here should – at least for a little while – collect the context in one place.
Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, “A Time For Choosing,” on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in the following week’s presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a “third Reagan term” in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.
Given the extent to which Reagan’s legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it’s worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?
The 2012 presidential election season has not been a normal one in many ways. History teaches us that every election season brings something new we haven’t seen before – but also that progress in electioneering, as in most walks of life, is more gradual than people are wont to predict. The candidate who says “this time, everything is different” or “the old rules don’t apply” or promises “new politics” or “fundamental change” is almost always selling a bill of goods to his or her supporters, and often to himself or herself. As conservatives, with a belief in experience as mankind’s best and only teacher, we should know better. One need only look back to 2010, when a popular wave brought victory mostly to candidates with the attributes and experience of traditonally successful candidates (Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey) and defeat to candidates who were genuinely unorthodox or similar to past losing campaigns (Sharron Angle, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell). The terrain shifted and new opportunities were created, but the basic rules of the game remained the same.
Even now, with the leading GOP contenders pouring money and manpower into the early primary states and the filing deadlines only a month away, we still have pundits and eager activists telling us that it’s not too late for new candidates to jump in. Please, Sarah Palin. Please, Chris Christie. Etc. It’s certainly true that a late entrant could yet generate enough support to shake up the fundamental dynamics of the race. It’s even possible that Rick Perry and Mitt Romney will prove vulnerable enough that a new entrant could still win. But let us not kid ourselves: the old rules still matter. It would be deeply unprecedented for a candidate in the modern (post-1972) age of presidential primaries to win the nomination without having laid any foundation of a national organization as late as the October before the primaries.
Some would have you believe that Ronald Reagan, who officially declared himself a candidate in November 1979, ran such a race. This is nonsense and historical ignorance.