Ronald Reagan has been called, in recent times, the patriarch of the Republican Party and ever since he left office in January of 1989, a search has been on for someone to continue in his footsteps. This search has left many people disappointed over time because there hasn’t been another GOP nominee like him.
Many had high hopes for George H. W. Bush. Although history has shown Bush 41 to be a good President in a time of transition, he was certainly not Reagan 2.0. Largely due to this fact, he lost in his 1992 re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
Two other also-rans come to mind: Bob Dole and John McCain. Neither of these gentlemen could come close to Reagan. Both were older men, but neither had a true grasp of the conservative brand that Reagan offered, and neither could effectively communicate their message to the masses. Both were party insiders who got the nomination simply because it was their turn. Clinton drubbed Dole in ’96, and Obama waltzed over McCain like he wasn’t even there in ’08.
George W. Bush is perhaps the closest to Reagan that the party has gotten. He had a cowboy spirit and attitude and, of course, a Western White House, but a great communicator he was not. The man, while obviously, very intelligent, often looked like a deer in the headlights when giving a televised address. The course of his Presidency was also irrevocably changed on September 11, 2001. No one can say where his presidency would have gone had the intervening events of 9/11 not played out, but it is the author’s belief that he would have had a presidency closer to that of his father’s than to Reagan’s. He went to Washington seeking to be a “unifier, not a divider”, which is very similar to his father’s platform of a “kinder, gentler nation”.
Now, the 2012 field of contenders are vying for the chance to take Obama’s job. The country is ripe for another Reagan to come on the scene, but none of the official candidates fit the bill. Obviously, they all would be better than the current Commander in Chief, but they have to be able to sell the conservative agenda and the conservative brand to the American people.
The frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is the establishment candidate in the mold of Dole and McCain. He has strong fiscal conservative credentials, but he is lacking on the social conservative side and appears to couch his words carefully as to be unoffending.
The other candidates also have incomplete dossiers. The tea party favorites, Bachman and Cain, both have the lack of experience factor, which causes many GOP voters to wince. The other announced candidates are far weaker than these, which is why many primary voters were already thinking that they’d be forced to settle and then begrudgingly vote for the nominee in 2012 in the hopes that he or she would be strong enough to actually beat Obama. That hope would depend more on outside factors detracting from Obama, rather than on the GOP candidate’s actual strengths lifting him or her above Obama in the minds of voters.
That’s a terrible position to be in. The GOP desperately needs Reagan 2.0, and they need him or her NOW.
There is one man around that more closely fits the bill than any other in the last 20 years. That man is Texas Governor Rick Perry. His speech at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans was vintage Ronald Reagan. It was direct, focused, and, to paraphrase his words, unapologetic. Granted, Perry does have his own issues to deal with if he’s serious about running for President, but he brings to the table something that none of the other candidates do. He’s got a strong economic track record to run on and he’s uncompromisingly socially conservative.
Like Reagan, Perry was once a Democrat. This is something that his opponents on the fringes like to use against him, but it could be one of his greatest strengths. Even as a Democrat, Perry was conservative. Democrats in the south had a long conservative tradition; a fact that Al Gore tried to capitalize on in his first run for the Democratic nomination in 1988. Reagan once said that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left him. The same can be said for Perry.
It’s still too early to know if Perry can fit the mold of Regan 2.0, but he, currently, is the most likely of the candidates or presumed candidates. Only time will tell.