In his Wall Street Journal column today, Bill McGurn takes on the conventional wisdom that maintains that all is pretty much lost when it comes to the GOP's shot at the White House this fall. In fact, the parallels between this election cycle and that of 1980 are striking, providing plenty of reason for conservatives to take heart. Below, some of the comparisons Bill draws between the months leading up to Jimmy Carter's ouster and today.
- Then as now, the Republican primaries opened with a bang, when George H.W. Bush upset Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucuses. By late February, this loss would lead to Reagan's firing of his campaign manager, John Sears, in a disagreement over strategy.
- Then, as now, Republicans feared that an unhappy contender might bolt the party to mount an independent campaign. In 1980, that was liberal John Anderson, not libertarian Ron Paul. Mr. Anderson did end up running as an independent, whereas Mr. Paul will likely be constrained by the effect a third-party run would have on the future prospects for his Republican son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
- Then as now, the chattering classes wondered aloud whether a candidate who could win the Republican nomination could prevail against President Carter in November. On March 1, former President Gerald Ford amplified that view when he told a New York Times reporter, "Every place I go and everything I hear, there is the growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election."
- Then as now, some put their hopes on a late entry, in the same way that some now pine for Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie to enter the race. In the same interview where Mr. Ford predicted that Reagan's nomination would mean a repeat of 1964, he also declared himself open to a draft if there were a genuine "urging" by the party.
And in addition to these comparisons, Bill reminds us that just as there are no perfect candidates today, there were none to be found in 1980 either. Reagan was not without baggage —as Governor of California he passed an enormous tax hike, oversaw a doubling of the state budget, and signed into law a liberalization of abortion. And though we sometimes whitewash our memory of the Gipper as one of modern America's best orators, Bill recalls that not even Reagan was immune from making the occasional gaffe. On top of all this, the punditocracy deemed Reagan's social message to be too out of the mainstream. On one occasion, Reagan shared a stage with a minister who claimed that "we're being attacked by satanic forces," an incident which was received by the media in much the same fashion as Santorum's statements on Satan were.
"Yes, the parallels to 1980 take you only so far, and Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan," Bill concedes. "Still, at this same point in his campaign for the GOP nomination, neither was Reagan."
Buck up, folks. We've got another eight months to see how this will all play out.