The Shadow Of Ronald Reagan

Mitch Daniels has been flogged for some comments he made about Ronald Reagan,

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels elicited several hushed gasps and raised eyebrows late last week as he lectured a conservative crowd that it was “time to let Ronald Reagan go.”

The governor delivered his remarks to a room full of fellow red-staters at the Fund for American Studies’ annual conference and donor retreat at the Newseum.

“Nostalgia is fine and Reagan’s economic plan was good,” Daniels said. “But we need to look towards the future rather than staying in the past.” Daniels added that the GOP needed to work on uniting behind Sen. John McCain instead of constantly comparing the Arizona senator with the Gipper.

There’s not enough context there to know exactly what Daniels was driving at, but I do think that the conservative movement needs to make a shift in regards to Ronald Reagan.

#1) Trying to run on Ronald Reagan’s agenda is a political loser. By that, I mean that a lot of the impact issues of 1980 and 1984 have lost their oomph over time. Crime was a big issue back then and so was welfare, the income tax, stagflation, and winning the Cold War. Moreover, there are crucial issues today, health care, illegal immigration, and the war on terror for example, that simply weren’t big issues in Reagan’s time.

Sure, there are some issues that carry over, but conservatives simply cannot run on Reagan’s agenda and sweep the country any more than Democrats could win today by copying FDR’s agenda or Reagan could have won had he adopted Goldwater’s agenda en masse.

#2) So, does that mean we should reject Reagan? No, absolutely not. Conservatives have proven, time and time again, that they can win national elections running on a conservative agenda. So, what we need to do is apply Reagan’s principles to the issues people care about, not Reagan’s agenda.

#3) John McCain, who is a moderate telling everyone who will listen that he’s conservative, doesn’t measure up to Ronald Reagan. However, the truth is that very few people do. Great Presidents like Reagan don’t come along very often. In fact, by my estimation, there were exactly two “great” Presidents in the last century: Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. FDR could be fairly called a great war President, but his domestic agenda was a disaster for the country. Truman? Kennedy? Wilson? They didn’t rise to the level of greatness that Reagan did.

So, think about that: 2 great Presidents in a 100 year span, more than 70 years apart. So, if you’re waiting for the next Republican candidate who measures up to Reagan — and I’m just talking about the real Reagan, not the sanitized Reagan who has had his mistakes and non-conservative positions airbrushed out — you’re probably going to be waiting a few decades more.

On top of that, great Presidents are often very different from each other. So, the next great President may have many of the same principles Reagan did, but he’s not going to sound exactly like Reagan or have the same agenda as Reagan.

Long story short: Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest Presidents we ever had and I’d rank him just behind Winston Churchill as the 2nd greatest man of the 20th century. That being said, the Republican Party would be better off “(looking) towards the future rather than staying in the past” in regards to Reagan.

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