Thus it is with statements made by political analyst Matt Towery of Cob less than 24 hours after the polls closed Nov. 6. As reported in this newspaper Nov. 8, Towery told a gathering of business leaders the day after Romney’s loss that the GOP standard bearer lost because the Republican Party refuses to cut its ties to former President Ronald Reagan — to “give up the ghost of Ronald Reagan” as the paper reported.
Such analysis, especially from the justifiably well-respected Towery, may give rise to an intriguing headline, but reflects neither an understanding of what Ronald Reagan stood for nor of how he succeeded in beating an incumbent president (Jimmy Carter) in 1980 and a respected former vice president (Walter Mondale) four years later, in both instances by electoral college landslides.
The historical reality is that Reagan was not an ideologue. He was a political realist; a savvy and intelligent political figure who actually defined and led not only the vast majority of Republican voters, but a significant percentage of Democratic voters as well. Contrast this with Romney, who appeared always to be reacting to what he believed the conservative wing of the GOP wanted him to say and do. In short, Reagan was a true leader, who captured the needs and the desires of the public and transmitted them in a clear and positive vision for his promised presidency.
Yes, Reagan was conservative. But he was a genuine conservative; a transformational politician who captured the mood of the country he sought to lead, and who did so not by dividing or “playing to the base,” but by offering a truly inclusive agenda for growth and freedom.
Reagan was pro-life, but not dogmatically so, and he never made this a defining issue of either his candidacy or his presidency.
Candidate Reagan understood, of course, he was not going to win the vote of everyone who was likely to vote on Nov. 4, 1980. Importantly, however, Reagan did not — as did Romney in his infamous “47 percent” comment — deliberately or inadvertently alienate those who might be inclined to vote for his Democratic opponent. Reagan (himself a former Democrat) actually viewed such voters as potential Reagan voters, and reached out to them by highlighting issues of common concern on which they could agree, such as lower taxes and Second Amendment freedom. Reagan understood the diversity of America’s heritage; but to him this represented a cohesive element rather than a divisive one.
It was this insight that accounts for Reagan’s success with Hispanic voters in 1980 — winning 35 percent of the Latino vote. Had Romney been able to even come close to matching Reagan in this regard, he likely would have won last Tuesday’s contest.
As Towery correctly noted in his post-election analysis, the United States today is a very different country than 32 years ago when the “Gipper“ was first elected president. But since when did understanding, vision, bipartisanship and compassion — all elements of Reagan’s candidacy and presidency — become anathema to the Republican Party (or for any political party for that matter) as Towery implies it should?
Had Reagan faced President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, he almost certainly would have won. For virtually every element accounting for Romney’s failure to connect with a majority of voters last week, Reagan’s genuineness, good humor, vision and optimism would have carried the day for the GOP. Fielding such a candidate to represent the Party in 2016 will greatly increase — not decrease — the chances that the 45th President of the United States will be a Republican. And fortunately for the GOP, there are a number of such potential candidates in its farm team — young Ronald Reagans ready to lead the country to a new Morning in America.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Cobb) is an attorney in Marietta.