Years ago, there was some speculation that President Obama might be the Democrat’s Reagan, leading to a period in which the party dominates the White House. Andrew Sullivan had has a slightly different take on the idea, focusing on what Obama can do to the Republicans, rather than what he can do for his own party.
But it’s good to see him finally realize that this suit was never empty. And that Obama has a chance to do to the GOP what Reagan did to the Democrats: drag them back to the saner center.
He viewed Obama as the type of charismatic intellectually serious Democrat who can force the Republicans to forego the excesses of the past, as Reagan arguably did with the Democrats.
Democrats responded to Nixon’s reelection by nominating a favorite of liberal college students. And they got trounced. After Watergate, they nominated a deeply religious centrist southern Governor. He became President, and then did a bad job. Mondale wasn’t exactly a bad candidate. As the former Vice President, he was an obvious choice, although he ended up losing 49 states. Dukakis may have been a weaker candidate. By all accounts, he was a talented Governor of Massachusetts. But it was a bad idea to allow criminals to go on furloughs.
On the other side, Robert Reich suggested that the President’s policies exposed schisms within the Republican party, something that was quite inevitable. Taegan Goddard noted the internal disagreements.
1. Libertarians vs. social conservatives
These two GOP strains have never gotten along with each other. One group says government should stay out of people’s personal lives while the other tries to impose its own morality on others.
2. Right wing populists vs. the pro-business crowd
Despite campaign rhetoric, pro-business Republicans are usually just fine with government subsidies, liberal immigration policies, and bailouts — as long as they help keep the profits flowing. But the populist strain in the party sees big business as no better than big government.
3. Deficit reduction hawks vs. small government activists
Though it would seem these two groups have a lot in common, real deficit hawks recognize we must raise taxes along with cutting spending to get the country out from under the debt burden. But the small government fanatics are against all tax increases for any reason.
It’s interesting to look at these arguments with the benefit of hindsight. Obama didn’t end up handing the White House to a successor like Reagan did, and the successor wasn’t someone who made Sullivan happy. Trump wasn’t a traditional libertarian or social conservative, not has he been a deficit reduction hawk or a small government activist, though he does seem to have merged a business background with being a right-wing populist.