Beyond the normal human frailties that affect all of us, including undoubtedly the commentators at this journal, there is one error that is distorting much conservative discussion of the presidential race. It's -Reagan nostalgia.I too believe that it is foolish for conservative voters to wait for a candidate like Reagan just as it is foolhardy for a candidate today to invoke the Reagan mystique as a reason to vote for them today.
It's foolish to wait for another Ronald Reagan. But not just because his political gifts are rare. There's a particular way in which Reagan was exceptional that many of us fail to appreciate: He was the only president of the last century who came to the office as the leader of an ideological movement.
Reagan gave "The Speech" in October 1964, inherited the leadership of the conservative movement after Goldwater's loss, defeated a moderate establishment Republican two years later to win the GOP nomination for governor of California, and then defeated the Democratic incumbent. He remained in a sense the leader of conservatives nationally while serving two terms as governor, ran unsuccessfully against Gerald Ford in 1976, and won the presidency in 1980. He was a conservative first and a politician second, a National Review and Human Events reader first and an elected official second.
This is exceedingly unusual. The normal American president is a politician, with semicoherent ideological views, who sometimes becomes a vehicle for an ideological movement. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and George W. Bush are typical. They can be good nominees and effective presidents. They can advance the cause of a movement that works with them and through them. But they're not Reagans.
This year's GOP field is, in this sense, normal. Conservatives will find things to like and dislike, to trust and distrust, in each of the candidates. All of this is fine. And one could argue that a primary process featuring debate and competition is also fine, that it is healthier than a coronation, and that the party nominee could well emerge stronger from the process.
I don't like for a Reagan as much as other conservative bloggers. I do however long for a candidate who inspires me while sticking to the basic principles of conservativism. Kristol is write, for the most part all of the GOP candidates are going to be more conservative than any Democrat and there is much to like and dislike about all of them. In the end though, we do have to make a choice. We cannot succumb to paralysis by analysis.
That being said, I haven't made up my mind as yet. But I do have a deadline of the end of this week if I am to participate in Red Maryland's endorsement process.