By Matt Rooney | Cross-posted at SaveJersey.com
It'd be a comical habit if it wasn't also extremely counterproductive.
All contemporary Republican presidential hopefuls campaign with the words "Ronald" and "Reagan" ever-present on their lips.
Every conservative commentator passionately debates who is the most "reaganesque" member of the field.
A strong plurality of primary voters continually bemoan the absence of a "Reagan-like" GOP figure in the race.
Am I the only one who is utterly sick and tired of it? Or at least recognizes what O.R.D. ("Obsessive Reagan Disorder") is doing to our party and our chances for victory?
It's time to finally get serious, Save Jerseyans, and take affirmative steps to end the GOP's unhealthy, all-consuming quest for "the next" Ronald Reagan. The Gipper would want it that way. I'm sure of it.
In order to do so, we need to briefly discuss what he was, what he wasn't, and finally come to terms with the REAL reason why we seem miss him so damn much...
(1) THE MYTHICAL REAGAN ISN'T THE REAL REAGAN
The #1 problem with Obsessive Reagan Disorder sufferers is that their Reagan isn't real.
Following his departure from office and the end of the Cold War, Republicans began to deify the 40th President of the United States. It's turned into a big business! And plenty of former aides, distant associates and tangentially related flunkies make a handsome living off of his memory. Type "Reagan" into Amazon.com's search box and you'll see what I mean.
Did Ronaldus Magnus deserve a heaping helping of praise from his political progeny? Ab-so-lute-ly! He was a visionary who sewed the seeds of the U.S.S.R.'s destruction. He also brought a potent political philosophy - free market conservatism - out of the academic shadows and into the intellectual mainstream.
But Reagan wasn't a conservative trailblazer until late in life. Much later.
In fact, he wasn't even a well-rounded conservative until he reached late middle age!
What follows is audio of a Ronald Reagan radio address on behalf of incumbent Democrats Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey in 1948. Young(er) Reagan, a union chieftain in Hollywood for the ultra-libera Screen Actors Guild, delievered a full-throated condemnation of Republicans and "free competition" as the alleged forces behind the country's economic woes.
Yes, you read that correctly!
He also confidently declared that "high prices have not been caused by higher wages, but by bigger, and bigger profits."
Again: not George Soros or Nancy Pelosi talking. Ronald Reagan. Hearing is believing...
LET ME BE CLEAR: my objective here is not to degrade President Reagan's legacy or downplay his accomplishments in any way, Save Jerseyans. He was the greatest president of the 20th Century. But facts are facts, and as late as 1948 when he was already a grown man (37 years old at the time), Ronald Reagan was a liberal Democrat.
Reagan didn't switch to the GOP until 1962 (when he was 51 years old). In '62, he famously proclaimed, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me." That's a catchy line and it's consequently survived the passage of time; unfortunately, it's also not an entirely accurate summation of Reagan's political transformation. As the Republican Governor of California in the late '60s and early '70s, Ronnie governed like a raging moderate. Yes, he raised taxes and spent too much. All of the things that rightly drive tea partiers wild. Reagan also signed the "Therapeutic Abortion Act" just four months into his first term, greatly expanding Californians' access to abortion. So social conservatives would've hated him, too.
Class warfare. Tax hikes. Union organizing. Democrat boosting. Abortion-enabling.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
If magically transported to the present day, Governor Ronald Reagan would be deemed too liberal to win the 2012 GOP Primary by the "anybody but Romney" crowd.
And yet these same ideological purists tirelessly search for a man or woman who can measure up to the impossible standard embodied in the mythologized Ronald Reagan.
(2) IT'S UNFAIR TO HOLD REAL CANDIDATES TO A MYTHICAL STANDARD
And there's nothing wrong with high standards, Save Jerseyans.
But we're a hell of a lot closer to locating El Dorado and Atlantis than a man who can measure up to the mythologized Ronald Reagan.
And maybe... just maybe... this stubborn pursuit of the impossible (e.g. a perfect conservative from birth) is creating an equally impossible road for our candidates to walk? To the detriment of our cause?
Reagan changed his posture on core conservative issues (abortion, taxes) much like Mitt Romney. Yet the Governor of Massachusetts is scourged as a godless, flip-flopping RINO while Reagan is preserved as a saint untainted by original sin. Where's the equity in this situation? Nonexistent.
When you really get down to it, the only X factor truly separating Willard Romnus and Ronaldus Magnus is a couple decades worth of acting experience. There's no doubt that that training played a gigantic role in Reagan's highly-televised presidency. Romney the CEO is often rigid and over-rehersed whereas Reagan the movie star was smooth and convincingly genuine. Style points matter in presidential elections and Reagan had more practice at it. Whether such concerns should or not is a worthless inquiry. They do. End of story.
Not that Romney doesn't have some fire somewhere inside him. He sounded awesome in 2008 at CPAC, only after he had already been defeated by John McCain. There we saw the "happy warrior" that originally attracted so many emotionally deflated Americans to Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 80s.
We need to see more of it going forward if Romney hopes to have a fighting chance against Obama.
That's a valid critique. It's also what we miss most about Ronnie. And it's what we need most now heading into the fall election: a positive, articulate, and passionate advocate for our American system and conservative values.
But to disqualify Mitt or any other candidate for being insufficiently "reaganesque" is not valid. To do so would be an exercise in ignorance. Reagan himself wasn't always reaganesque!
Matt Rooney is a New Jersey attorney, conservative commentator, and the founder & Blogger-in-Chief of New Jersey’s #1 conservative blog, Save Jersey. You can learn more about Matt and the Christie Revolution by visiting today!