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Look, I know that Ronald Reagan has been converted into a mythical American figure like John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Mike Fink. And like these larger than life folk heroes, I get that the myth must always trump the real facts and details of their story. I’ve heard the Wingnut message that reality cannot be allowed to cast a shadow on their Holy St. Ronnie fantasies. I understand that in their America we must pretend that Ronald Reagan spat liberty, shat freedom and crushed the USSR with just a quip and a wave of his hand. And I understand that the price to buy into this myth is that we must erased history from our memories.
It is a price I’ve never been able to pay. There are actual events that happen and they cannot be ignored no matter how much the cult of St. Ronnie seeks to erase truth.
A case in point is the Wingnut/Romney talking point that the 2012 election is just like 1980.
They are turning to the Reagan myth in an effort to explain how Mitt will win despite being unlikable and consistently down in the polls. The distinguished turtle from Kentucky started beating this drum over a year ago:
“I’m reminded of what the Carter White House thought in ’79 and ’80: ‘If they just nominate Reagan. He’s too old, he’s too extreme. We’ll be just fine.’ And the common view at that point was that it was a pretty bad field.” Shifting to the present, he added: “I think one of these candidates is going to get on a roll, and they’re going to start winning, and they’re going to look a lot better.”
And ever since then, the notion that 2012 will be like 1980 is regularly brought up in Wingnutopia as an explanation of how the race will play out in the fall. Here it is in a recent Byron York word salad:
Romney aides believe strongly that this race will play out like the 1980 campaign, in which President Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan for much of the race until Reagan broke through just before the election.
The meme is being hyped by political commentators with no fresh ideas and no memories. All of it spin to explain how Mitt can still win by wrapping himself in the magical cloak of St. Ronnie. It is such a growing Republican meme this year that Greg Sargent has devoted a couple of posts to explain how 2012 is nothing like 1980. He reported comments from Ed Rollins on why the years are different:
Reason one: Obama is a better and more likable politician than Jimmy Carter was, and Romney has not proven himself to be Ronald Reagan. [snip]
Reason two: The electorate is far more polarized now. [snip]
Reason three: Rollins notes that both campaigns — unlike in 1980 — will have all the resources they need.
The third reason was interesting (as I did not remember that Reagan had more resources than Carter), but there is a fourth reason–a reason that has been unmentioned. That reason’s name is John B. Anderson.
Through the fog of the Reagan myth it is hard to remember that there was a third party spoiler in the race who changed the narrative/structure of the campaign and pulled votes away from Jimmy Carter. In the Reagan myth John Anderson has been erased, but without him Reagan’s victory would have been harder to pull off.
Anderson was a Liberal Republican. His big idea for the campaign was a 50 cents a gallon gas tax to offset cuts to Social Security taxes. He ran in the Republican Primary. When it was clear he would not win, some GOP operatives convinced him that he should run as an Independent and so he did.
Carter and Democrats saw Anderson as a stalking horse for Reagan–which he was knowingly or unknowingly (just like Nader was a stalking horse for Bush in 2000). Carter refused to be in a debate with Anderson and Reagan refused to be in a debate unless Anderson was there. Three Presidential debates were schedule in 1980 along with one VP debate. These were the days before the Presidential Debate Commission ran the show. Back in 1980 it was the League of Women Voters. Late in the summer of 1980 they set Anderson’s polling number (15%) as the new threshold to be included in the Presidential debates. They invited him to attend a September 21 debate in Baltimore. Carter refused to attend. The LoWV decide to hold the debate with just Anderson and Reagan.
The other planned debates were cancelled. By late October there was an indication that momentum in the race was shifting to Carter for the first time when a small number of polls showed him beating Reagan. Team Ronnie decided to accept a debate with just Carter if it was held a week before Election Day. The debate was held and Reagan won it and then he won the election.
But without John Anderson pulling votes away from Carter, it is possible that Reagan would not have won enough states to break 270 Electoral Votes. He had 254 EV regardless of the Anderson effect and in every other State he won, the votes Anderson pulled from Carter were more than the difference between Carter and Reagan.
It is heresy to mention this inconvenient fact, but what the hell: without John Anderson running in 1980 Carter may have been re-elected. At the very least it would have been a hell of a lot closer.
And yet the myth of Reagan endures and we are treated to this lame Team Romney inspired hype that 2012 is just like 1980. Obama is Carter and Romney is Reagan and the economy will insure that blah, blah, blah… It is all bullshit. Even the myth that Reagan came from behind in the last few weeks of the campaign turns out to be bullshit. At this point in 1980 Reagan was leading Carter in the polls–a lead he never really lost. A big factor in Reagan maintaining that lead was John Anderson.
By August in 1980 John Anderson had reshaped the Election. His inclusion in the debates blew up that process. It would have been different if Carter and Reagan had met–one on one–for three debates and Mondale and Bush had met for one. Perhaps Reagan would have won, but he would have had to do it without a stalking horse and a stacked deck dealing him aces under the table. Without those advantages I don’t think Reagan would have been able to pull it off. I think Carter would have closed the gap.
So if 2012 is just like 1980 for Team Romney, then who is this year’s John Anderson? Who is the third party candidate that has already won an invitation to debate President Obama and Romney in the fall? Who is the third party candidate that President Obama will not join on a debate stage and Romney MUST have on that stage before he’ll attend? Without a third candidate changing the dynamics of the Election, 2012 is nothing like 1980.
And Reagan led Carter throughout 1980 in the polls. How is that like Romney’s performance this year?
Yes, there are some economic factors that make 1980 somewhat like 2012, but then again, you can find economic factors to make 2012 somewhat like any other past election year. The comparison is bullshit. The only way you can claim that 1980 is like 2012 is to erase John Anderson from history.
Sure there are some similarities between Romney and Reagan. For examples, both were grifters willing to do anything to win and both used racist dog whistles to sell their campaigns to fearful/angry white folks. But Reagan played it as a lovable conman, while Mitt only knows how to be a dick.