With the recent celebration of The Gipper’s 100th Birthday, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the “President of my Youth.” With all the coverage surrounding Reagan, this one-time College Republican Campus President and Reagan-devotee was wondering if I’d ever see a return to an era of politics characterized by Reagan’s opitimistic style.
For years Democrats sought to nominate “the next JFK” for star power and to ensure electoral success. Republicans find themselves in a similar position needing to find “the next Reagan.” Notice I said “needing to” which is different from “wanting to.” Why do I say that? Because I am not sure today’s Republican Party would ever nominate Ronald Reagan if he was alive and in his prime today.
Simply put, Ronald Reagan wouldn’t pass the purity test. Afterall, we’re talking about a man who supported an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union, was pro-immigrant and even supported so-called “amnesty” measures, and he was willing to work with members of the other party. Reagan was hardly a liberal; he was at times the object of the far-left’s ire. However, in a Tea Party-era where Republicans with strong conservative credentials are being targeted for “working with the enemy” this icon of American conservatism would find it tough to emerge from a pack of candidates seeking the GOP nomination for president. Working with Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy will earn you a spot on someone’s Enemies List — most likely Sarah Palin’s.
Which leads me to the big problem facing the Republican Party today and the disappearance of a key component to Reagan’s political success: The “Reagan Democrat.”
They were typically blue collar, working class, union-members, Catholic, pro-defense, and anti-abortion. They weren’t “haters” of government. They aspired for economic security and preservation of the middle class which was under assault by over-taxation. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Walter Mondale provided a viable alternative to Reagan given the priorities of the Reagan Democrat voter.
But as we see things unfold in Wisconsin, I question how could a moderate/conservative Democrat possibly support today’s GOP? A party that has historically been distrustful of government, now finds its members strategically dismantling people’s ability to collectively bargain with “the government.” And sadly, this issue strayed from policy and became about politics. Wisconsin State Senator Scott Fitzgerald let the cat out of the bag in saying that by taking away workers’ rights to collectively bargain they were hampering unions’ ability to support President Obama in the 2012 election. With attitudes and tactics like that, would the GOP ever be able to nominate a presidential candidate who didn’t support such measures?
Full disclosure: I am a registered Republican. However, like the Reagan Democrat I’m feeling like I have no place to go. As it relates to the National Parties’ platforms, my pro-life views on abortion make it difficult for me to support the Democratic Party. At the same time, my pro-life views on capital punishment, poverty and race make it difficult to support the GOP. My distaste for the growing concentration of power and wealth combined with corporatism’s attack on community make it difficult to support either party.
Reagan would often say, “I never left the Democratic Party, it left me.” Sometimes I feel today’s GOP has done the same to a lot of Reagan Democrats and Republicans. In a lot of ways, both parties abandoned the American voter.
What will the 2012 election cycle hold for us? We’re about to find out.