Political Animal


August 06, 2012 4:03 PM The Amazing Persistence of the 1980 Meme

By Ed Kilgore

You’d think by now the “2012 = 1980” meme would be sufficiently threadbare that nobody would bother to keep serving it up (I tried to administer definitive Last Rites back in May). But WaPo’s Greg Sargent reports the parallel remains madly popular in RomneyWorld, so Greg throws several shovels of dirt over it himself, and even gets Ed Rollins to call it ridiculous.

I keep wondering if the main purpose of endlessly predicting a big last-minute shift in Romney’s favor is to keep the right-wing dogs of war at bay. They are already prone to howling at the moon for a savage ideological campaign every time Mitt screws up or has a bad poll. Perhaps by keeping the rabbit of a late-developing landslide—not to mention the smiling image of St. Ronald—ever before them, Team Mitt can keep them running around the track and away from keyboards and cameras where they might otherwise be demanding more “vetting” of the president’s roots in the Mau Mau movement or a frontal assault on that damned wealth redistribution program called Social Security.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Zorro on August 06, 2012 4:16 PM:

    The funny thing is, St. Ronald- or Ronaldus Maximus, if you prefer- would be drummed out of today's GOP as a RINO in no time flat.


  • T2 on August 06, 2012 4:24 PM:

    a last-minute shift is possible for white men who voted for Obama, feel let down, and will vote against him.....but tell their friends they voted for him so they won't look racist.

  • c u n d gulag on August 06, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Reagan was an amiable dunce.

    Mitt's got the second part down pat, but the last thing anyone would ever call him, is 'amiable.'

    And Reagan knew how to be charming when he had to be.

    Mitt isn't the least bit charming.
    From his "cheesy-grits" line, to his mocking of people wearing rain gear, to questioning some person's cookies, Mitt has shown his disdain for anyone whose last name isn't Romney, or a member of his Country Club, or social circle.

    Even the stupidest politicians (read W, or Rick Perry) know how to fake being interested in people.

    Mitt is incapable of that.
    He practically bleeds insincerity when he meets people. And that's why, as people get to know him better, their dislike for him grows.

    And all of the billionaires ad money, won't be able to fix that part of Mitt.
    Mitt thinks he's fine the way he is.
    And besides, rich old dogs don't need to learn no new tricks!

  • JR on August 06, 2012 4:42 PM:

    After universal health care, the political development I'd most like to see in my lifetime is to no longer hear of the sanctification of Ronald Reagan. Contrary to popular GOP opinion, he did not leave this country in a better place.

    I was first able to vote for President in 1980. When I heard that Reagan had won, I felt like I'd been hit in the solar plexus. As a resident of California, I'd already endured his tenure as governor. All I could think was that, if that bullet had been shot at Berkeley instead of Kent, he'd never have moved into the White House.

    Most of all, I'm still waiting for all that money to trickle down.

  • dalloway on August 06, 2012 4:52 PM:

    Um, they have a worse problem than lack of enthusiasm. If Mitt fumbles some more or is significantly behind when their convention rolls around, do you really think the Tea Bags are going to sit quietly while he's nominated? They have to keep up the illusion of Mittsy's viability in order to stave off a wingnut revolt in Tampa. Now wouldn't that be fun?

  • Tom Q on August 06, 2012 5:06 PM:

    Reagan 1980 is the wingnut version of what Truman '48 is for Dems -- a rallying cry for any poll-trailing candidate (though Reagan didn't trail as consistently as Romney has this year).

    In the wingnut mind, the analogy to 1980 works because they think Obama is the WORST PRESIDENT EVER. And, hey, I've been guilty of such myopia myself: in 1972, I couldn't believe someone as vile as Nixon could ever be re-elected. What I didn't know then, but what I know now, and what any decent political consultant should know, is that temporal circumstances decide a president's re-election. As much as I (and most Democrats) despised Nixon, he had an economy growing well that year, and those overseas triumphs, which inclined people to keep him on.

    Reagan beat Carter because Carter had, if not the worst set of circumstances for an incumbent seeking re-election (Hoover clearly had that), the broadest range of discontents: there'd been a punishing intra-party brawl, the economy was in active recession during the campaign period, and the country faced an ongong foreign policy humiliation in Iran. It was something of a miracle that Carter didn't trail all along. (Had a less right-wing candidate -- Howard Baker, say -- been the candidate, he'd have probably led start to finish)

    Obama clearly has none of those issues: his party is united behind him, he nailed bin Laden and tamped down Iraq, and even his worst problem -- the economy -- suffers only from tepidness, not the outright recession (and galloping inflation) of 1980. The righties can continue to make this claim, but all it proves is that their awareness of history is right up there with their grasp of science.

  • NCSteve on August 06, 2012 5:09 PM:

    The predicted Big Rollover to Romney is simply a PR fluffing of the big donors in the face of a persistent gap in the polling averages. The second they began to feel the coming defeat, the people who worship at the altar of ROI will turn off the spigot.

  • Ron Byers on August 06, 2012 5:17 PM:

    This year is closer to 84 than to 80. I know that everybody remembers the economy in 84 as roaring along, and it was on election day, but it was just coming out of the tank and early on the Democratic candidate thought Reagan might be voted out just because the economy stunk. At least Mondale, who like Romney, wasn't the most charismatic of candidates, fought for some democratic principals like the Equal Rights Amendment, but nobody really wanted to change horses and Reagan was personally popular.

  • another anon on August 06, 2012 6:36 PM:

    Look here--Romney is still trying to get out of paying his taxes. That seems anti-american!


  • Doug on August 06, 2012 7:08 PM:

    I think that Mr. Kilgore's idea, that the continual references by Republicans to a 1980 last-minute turnaround happening this year ARE attempts to keep the lid on the GOP's less, um, attractive supporters, is probably correct.
    Romney is a smug elitist, completely unable to connect with anyone not wealthy enough to own a major league sports team. He WON'T release his tax returns, apparently fearing that the damage their being seen would be greater than the brouhaha currently being raised by their NOT being seen. He CANNOT run on his only period of elected office, his base won't allow it and the opposition is just itching for him to run on his Olympics "record" - what hasn't been erased, that is. He DARE NOT run on the contents of the Ryan budget, as no sentient being would vote for him and his base isn't large enought to win a general election.
    Should the right-wing crazies who've supported Republicans for decades ONLY because they WEREN'T Democrats, finally let loose, they could so damage the GOP that the possible EC "landslide" Michael Tomasky postulated and which was referenced by Ms Gaier yesterday, would no longer be limited to the EC.
    Personally, I'm looking for something along the lines of a tsunami, but then I've always been an optimist...

  • Rip on August 06, 2012 11:41 PM:

    It's both an attempt to keep the nutjobs from turning on Romney prior to the election (everybody loves a winner) and a meme they want desperately to believe. In their minds Obama is at his ceiling and Romney is at his floor in polling they insist is slanted towards Obama in the first place. In part it's a way of enjoying a presumed victory now that they subconsciously fear may not be realized in November. By and large these were the same people who insisted there was no way for Obama to win in 2008. They still feel his victory was somehow illegitimate, and don't just want to see him gone, but humiliated.

    And while not even the most delusional conservative believes that Romney is the equal of Reagan, they overwhelmingly believe that Obama is actually worse than Carter. The one factor they choose to ignore is that the demographics of the electorate have shifted dramatically in favor of Democrats since 1980. If Romney can actually pull off a victory, it will be more like 2000 than 1980.

  • jheartney on August 07, 2012 12:56 AM:

    Rip, demographics have shifted even since 2000. If he'd been facing the 2012 electorate, Dubya would have got clobbered.

    At some point it's going to dawn on even the horse-race obsessed media cretins that the GOP is no longer a serious contender for the presidency, both due to its own crazification and because of the march of demographics. Once that becomes clear, the party will have to either adapt or die. (I'm pulling for dying, as what's left of the old GOP would most benefit the country if it were simply purged from the body politic.)

  • Anonymous on August 07, 2012 8:43 AM:

    Similarity between 1980 election time and now is interesting.

    Carter came into office with great hope after the huge disappointment of Vietnam, Watergate and no prosecution following.
    People often compare Vietnam with Iraq and we also felt morally wrong that no one was prosecuted for torture and wall street speculation.

    People also felt America's decline with Japan raising in late 1970s.
    Today Americans worry about decline with even bigger China.

    People are protecting on street in the numbers that we haven't seen since 1970s.

    We saw the third wave of democracy/independence throughout the world in 1970s and we are seeing Arab Spring today.

    But there are some differences.
    People already mentioned that Romney is not Reagan.
    Here are some other things i can think:

    economy was going into recession with hyperinflation and with oil shock back then.
    we are recovering from recession and experiencing natural gas boom now.
    middle class projection is not good, though.

    Carter looked weak against Soviet and failed to save hostages in Iran.
    Obama looks strong (even too hawkish to some) on natural security,
    successfully ending unpopular Iraq war and starting to end afghan war after killing Bin Ladin.

    I respect Carter very much and believe that he was as good a president as any other. camp david peace treaty, panama canal negotiation, normalizing relationship with china, emphasizing human rights against Soviet and its satellite states and creating dept of education and energy.
    he was the only president who passed a national energy policy, i believe. I wish Reagan did not undo it, taking solar panels off the white house, etc.

  • castanea on August 07, 2012 6:59 PM:

    Reagan, at least, had a plan. Reagan was a good communicator. Reagan came across as being likeable to the average Joe and Jane. Reagan was the two-term governor of what then probably was the second- or third-largest state in the country.

    Romney is none of those things. The strategy of Republicans is to compare Obama to Carter without having to compare Romney to Reagan.