The Perils of Reaganolatry
Bonnie Kristian remarks on the gap between younger voters and a Republican Party still obsessed with talking about Ronald Reagan:
But I suspect a more significant factor is simply the passage of time: Reagan left the White House 10 years before this election’s new voters were born. At 18, that’s more than half a lifetime. Add to that the breakneck pace at which the modern news cycle moves and you have a perfect recipe for Reagan’s near irrelevance to the bulk of the younger generation.
No one at Republican headquarters seems to have really absorbed this fact yet, even though the voters who can remember Reagan are not the ones the GOP needs to worry about attracting.
This problem isn’t limited to the youngest cohorts of voters, but applies to most Americans born in the last forty years. I was born in 1979, and today I have only the vaguest memories of Reagan as president. The fact that Republican candidates feel compelled to reach back almost thirty years to find a president that they say they want to emulate is a tacit, damning admission. The candidates are admitting that they have no desire to imitate later Republican administrations because those are generally regarded as failures in one way or another. The excessive attachment to Reagan also reflects the extent to which the modern GOP remains bereft of policy ideas relevant to the present. Finally, wrapping themselves in the “Reagan mantle” allows them to make awful policy arguments without facing the appropriate scrutiny or criticism that they might otherwise encounter. In this way, almost every candidate can propose the substance of a third George W. Bush term while pretending to be offering something very different. Likewise, every hard-liner can mouth the phrase “peace through strength” while advocating for preventive wars and military interventions that Reagan would likely have opposed.
The trouble for the GOP isn’t just that younger voters don’t remember Reagan, but that most of them have fairly clear memories of the last administration and/or the current Republican leadership. Presidential candidates can talk about Reagan all they like, but it won’t change the fact that for most people that became politically engaged over the last fifteen years Republican governance has a horrible reputation of incompetence and recklessness. Republican candidates almost have to fall back on praising someone who hasn’t been in office in a quarter century, since for most of the time since then their party has become synonymous with failed and disastrous policies.