Today brings us a Bloomberg column from Michael Tackett, "Hero Reagan’s Compromise Would Collide With Tea Party Certitude." It's rather unfortunate this particular talking point keeps making the rounds, as it requires arguing alternate history. Further, asserting that Ronald Reagan is significantly divorced from our current understanding of conservatism is silly on its face.
More to the point, it appears to be part of a concerted media effort to taint whatever conservatives presently have sway in the GOP as so extreme they should discredited altogether. Sure, Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater spent their entire lives being portrayed as cruel, stupid, and eager to put this country on a toboggan ride to hell. But now that they're all dead, the media suddenly discovers they're downright reasonable compared to the current crop of wing nuts who are so extreme that they want parental notification laws before their underage daughters get abortions, prefer to drive their kids to soccer practice in safe and spacious SUVs as opposed to $40,000 Chevy Volts, and are so racist they actually expect the President to get unemployment down to acceptable levels when he repeatedly promises to do so.
Writing in THE WEEKLY STANDARD earlier this year, Steven F. Hayward—who one can safely assume knows a lot more about Ronald Reagan than Tackett—kicked the legs out from under this argument:
The use and abuse of Reagan has been going on for a while now, but the claim that Reagan could not be nominated by today’s GOP takes absurdity to a new level. You really need a poker face to suggest that the party that, since 1988, has nominated two Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain, and now Mitt Romney would find Reagan insufficiently conservative. And Reagan would surely delight in the stronger ideological composition of the House GOP caucus today. One unappreciated aspect of Reagan’s diary is how often he expressed disappointment with congressional Republicans who ran for the tall grass on tough votes. Reagan complained about weak-kneed Republicans in his diary almost as often as he did about Democrats and the media. “We had rabbits when we needed tigers,” was a frequent lament. Today’s Tea Party-influenced GOP caucus would gladden the Gipper’s heart.
Rather than try to make Reagan out as too moderate for an extreme party, the decriers of “extremism” ought to give a hard look at Democratic presidents who couldn’t get the nomination of today’s Democratic party, starting with one who actually didn’t get it: Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Despite delivering the most substantial liberal reforms since the New Deal (the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare, the War on Poverty, etc.), LBJ was on his way to losing renomination when he withdrew. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan memorably put it, Johnson “was the first American president to be toppled by a mob. No matter that it was a mob of college professors, millionaires, flower children, and Radcliffe girls”—in other words, what Democrats today call “the base.”
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: See also this article in Slate today: "Author Martin Amis on Mitt Romney’s empathy problem and why Ronald Reagan would be a pariah in today’s Republican Party." Or don't.