Remembering the Carter-Reagan Race
Barkley Rosser made an interesting comment on one of the threads which is worthy of a separate posting. He is pointing out similarities between Trump and Reagan in saying whatever they want to say, backing away from them (it was just a suggestion), and never being held accountable for making statements devoid of facts. People leap to the unrealistic or untrue commentary and when the statement is challenged, the candidate disavows them while the voters remember what was initially said.
“Trump is pulling something that I think he is going to get away with, which is that he can just say all kinds of things that appeal to certain people, but when people who dislike those things complain, well, he just disavows them or “walks them back,” maybe, for a little while, whatever. So he gains with those who like this stuff, but he manages to avoid being really held accountable seriously for any of it (“that is just a suggestion”). So none of us really know what his positions are on anything, and he in fact may not really have any. It is all about him and his ego and his claim to power, and those who are impressed will vote for him.
What I worry about on this is remembering the Carter-Reagan race. About this time in 1980 Dems were hoping Reagan would be the nominee. He had just said that “trees cause pollution” (which is technically correct if one counts pollen as pollution), which had led to him having very low poll ratings. Oh boy, the Dems were drooling at the prospect of running against this numbskull who would say all kinds of goofy stuff in contrast to more serious candidates like BWH Bush.
Now of course there were other reasons Reagan won, including a bad economy and the embarrassment of the Iran hostage crisis, but I remember all too well the first debate between them, which was universally viewed as a victory by Reagan, with Carter never recovering after that in the polls. I remember that if one was paying close attention, Carter “won on points,” doing well at pointing out the silliness of much of what Reagan was saying. But then there was that magic moment when after Carter criticized him for his warmongering foreign policy statements, Reagan just leaned back and said, “There you go again,” and that was it. He won the debate on a single well-delivered phrase that was in fact devoid of content. But, it sold.
So I fear that whether it is Hillary or Bernie (still has a small chance, much better if HRC gets indicted before the convention), they can win on points showing how nonsensical statement after statement Trump has said is, but then he wins the darned debate with some wisecrack along the lines of what Reagan pulled with Carter.
As it is, both Hillary and Bernie are seriously wonkish, with pretty well developed platforms. We have seen extended discussions and debates about their positions on various issues here, and it is known that Hillary especially has a very long and detailed set of positions, with some charging that she has overdone it going too wonkish. Unlike others I do not think she will just drop all that the minute she gets in, if she gets in, but I do think that both she and Bernie will end up modifying what they advocate when face a GOP-controlled House, which I think is highly likely, even if hopefully the Dems do manage to take the Senate.
But there is a real possibility of a replay of 1980, whichever of them is the Dem candidate.”
I think what is missing from this is how weak Carter was as a candidate, not just in 80 but in 76.
Running against the man who had pardoned Nixon, he barely beat Ford. The economy and the Iran crisis put him in a impossible position. He barely won the primary vs Kennedy in 1980.
The key to this election is down ballot(as it always is). As regardless of the polls, as there is no chance Trump beats Clinton when she actively campaigns against him, especially considering the electoral college.
Did you ever consider the people generally were too naïve to understand his message?
Bill, I just posted this reply to Barkley’s comment in that thread:
“Barkley, I certainly share your fear that Trump actually could pull this off, but I don’t think your analogy to Carter-Reagan works. Key here is the generational change. Reagan had been a two-term governor of California, and although even back in 1980 I had only a pretty general idea of what he’d done as governor, I read a detailed article recently discussing his actions during the Free Speech Movement (that’s what it was called, right?) at Berkeley. It was pretty aggressive, rough stuff.
“I don’t think I realized back in 1980—or at least I don’t remember doing so—that apparently a part of Reagan’s appeal to blue-collar whites and I guess to some WWII and Korean War generation, and Silent Generation voters was an anti-counterculture persona, which still mattered, a lot, in 1980.
“After all, the Vietnam War had ended only six years earlier. And the Cold War was still very much raging.
“What I remember about the 1980 election was a dog-whistle racist appeal to blue-collar whites, coupled with inflation that seemingly could not be brought under control and for what unions (along with the oil cartel) was given substantial blame. The unions would incorporate anticipated high inflation into their three-year wage contracts, providing part of the inflation spiral—so Reagan’s anti-union schtik didn’t have the normal effect on union members.
“But more than anything else, there was the Iran hostage situation—which, it later was reported, continued past the election because Reagan somehow quietly was able to communicate with Iran’s powers-that-be that they should hold out until after the election and that Reagan, as president, would negotiate better terms with them. (Like Nixon’s secret plan to end the war!!)
“The reason that the “There you go again” line was so effective was that a key thing that Carter had going for him was something similar to a key thing that Johnson had going for him against Goldwater: a real fear that he could start a nuclear confrontation or actual war. So “There you go again” was a promise that he was not Goldwater on the issue of confrontation with the Soviet Union, and would instead use other means against it. It was, in other words, a promise that Reagan would avoid nuclear war, not precipitate it. And although Reagan, like Trump, was a pathological liar, he was not so obvious a one.
“Nor did Reagan gyrate wildly between opposite policy positions, nor come off as clueless about policy and the workings of government, nor seem care about policy. To the contrary, Reagan was all about ideology and therefore policy proposals.
“So while it’s not inconceivable that Trump could beat Hillary Clinton, I guess the bottom line on that is: I knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was no friend of mine. And, Donald Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan. Nor is today’s electorate the 1980 electorate.
“As for the possibility of a Clinton indictment, I think it’s virtually nil. But if something major happens before the Convention, then as long as Sanders manages to keep Clinton from clinching with pledged delegates, I think that there would be a consensus draft of Warren or (possibly but less likely, in my opinion) Biden, now that the story was published that he would ask Warren to be his running mate.”
A stated position can only be “walked back” if opponents of that position allow the original statement to drift out of existence. That’s what political campaigns are all about. The stuff said by all candidates is now on record, whether later denied or claimed as only a suggestion. Play the tapes. Play the original statements of policy, position or intention regardless of the walk back. Ignore the walk back. Disregard the apologias. Play the tapes as they exist. Play the tapes of the Repub. primary opponents speaking their first reactions to Trump. Rand Paul’s first reactions to Trump are priceless and would be of significant value as campaign material in both the Presidential and Kentucky Senatorial races. So too the many other Republicans’ first responses to the Donald.
Just play the tapes. They are now public record. They cannot be denied. They can only be explained in Trump’s own inimitable manner of explanation of reality. Just play the tapes. It’s all on record and the sources are the Republican’s themselves.
I do not think Carter’s message ever had a chance to be heard considering the misery index and the hostages. Combine that with the split in the Dem Party and he never had a chance.