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Wilson, FDR, Reagan, Clinton, . . . ?

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Romney and Santorum have made it to the final bracket, as Romney was expected to do, and Santorum was not. Each now has a chance to show that he can do more than survive a Republican primary only to lose to the Democratic incumbent. Each now has a chance to articulate big ideas, to make his campaign about more than himself and his past record, to reach beyond his first and even second waves of supporters, to stand for something bigger than himself, and to make a case for his election that would be more compelling than much of what we’ve seen so far.

In the past century, four candidates defeated incumbent presidents running for reelection. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton were formidable political figures. Each was able to convey a sense that his candidacy represented not just a challenge to the incumbent’s failed policies but a break from the immediate past of his own party. And each was able to convince the voters that his presidency would come to grips with new and daunting national challenges.

Whatever one thinks of their subsequent policies, Wilson, FDR, Reagan, and Clinton won the Oval Office. Will the GOP nominee this year? In choosing between Romney and Santorum, you, the Republican primary voters, will have to decide which one, as general election candidate, will be able to make the broadest and deepest case for replacing the incumbent, and which one, as president, can reverse the dangerous trajectory of the Obama era.

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