2012 presidential election won’t be a replay of Reagan’s 1980 win

For every American conservative of a certain age, a primary memory is the evening of Nov. 4, 1980, when we knew Ronald Reagan, leader of the movement since 1966, derided by liberal elites and despised by the Republican establishment, won the presidency. So the desperate gamble of modern conservatism might pay off, conservatism had a chance, America had a chance. And then, a decade later — with the Cold War won and the economy revived  — conservatism was vindicated, America was restored. It was an unbelievable victory made so many years ago against such odds.

But that was then, and this is now. It seems clear that 2012 isn’t going to be another 1980. The reality seems to be that we’re not going to have a chance to replay that election, with a compelling conservative leader of long standing but ever youthful, a man who stood tall and spoke for us and for America. Assuming the presidential field stays as it is, 2012 won’t be a repeat of 1980.

Which is not to say that 2012 can’t be a good, even a very good, election for conservatives and for the country. There are other models for victory. In 1992 an incumbent president was soundly defeated by an impressive though flawed candidate who emerged from a weak field, after leading lights in his party refused to run (Cuomo, Bradley, Gore, Gephardt). President Bill Clinton doesn’t provide a model of successful governance for the next Republican president — our next president is going to have to lead, not accommodate — but he does suggest another, less elegant model than 1980 for the defeat of a weakened incumbent.

And then there’s 1932, when a not particularly distinguished four-year governor who’d zigged and zagged back and forth to be acceptable to large parts of the Democratic Party, and whose political career was at first based partly on his last name, defeated another incumbent. Franklin D. Roosevelt did turn out to be a consequential president — because of the nature of the challenges he faced, because the country was ready for fundamental change, because there was a movement around him that was full of ideas and energy, because there were strong representatives of that movement in Congress and in statehouses and because he rose to the occasion.

These other models for conservative success in 2012 need to be studied for their lessons and adapted to our times. Reversing America’s weakness abroad, restoring solvency and prosperity and limiting government at home, these are tasks too important not to be achieved because of our nostalgic disappointment that we will not, in 2012, replay a 1980 that is not to be again — and that perhaps never truly was.

William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.

Op Edsop-edOpinionSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates call for permanent moratorium on ‘poverty tows’

Ron Trathen hates change. He recalls moving around a lot as a… Continue reading

Music venue owners warn ‘hospitality and entertainment are dying’

Industry leaders plead with city, state for help

Anti-police protester sues over arrest at 2019 Pride Parade

A protester whose arrest at San Francisco’s 2019 Pride Parade intensified pressure… Continue reading

Veritas offers to forgive unpaid rent, but tenants are wary

Calls for rent forgiveness have been answered, but with some caveats. The… Continue reading

Most Read