Is Sarah Palin as unelectable as Ronald Reagan was?

By Patrick S. Adams

Abie Rubin wrote an outstanding guest submission piece that was posted on Conservatives4Palin that discusses the issue of electability in a Time Magazine article written in 1980 about Ronald Reagan. You see a lot of comparisons between Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin – their charisma, their political philosophy and their ability to speak directly to the people – but the one comparison that doesn’t get much analysis is how she compares to the “unelectable” Reagan when he campaigned for the presidency.

According to today’s Real Clear Politics numbers, Obama leads Palin in head to head polling 55% – 35%. In January of 2008, Carter led Reagan in the Gallup polls 62% – 33%. In March 1980, when the Time article was written, Reagan was still 25% down to Carter. Remember, this was after Reagan had already secured the nomination.

It’s interesting to note that Jimmy Carter’s job approval rating in January 1980 was at 55%. Where Obama’s will be in January 2012 is hard to tell; but writing off Palin or any other potential GOP nominee at this point is about as stable a bet as predicting that Obama will be at 55% job approval in January (and even if he is, you still couldn’t rule out the GOP nominee based on what happened to Carter). Obama is currently at 44% approval according to Rasmussen with 43% strongly disapproving of his job performance.

Bill Schneider at CNN warned not to bet the presidency on polls 1 year out in an article written in November of 2007 when Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were the front runners for their respective parties.

The year-before polls got it wrong twice. In 1979, the polls predicted Carter would beat Reagan. And in 1991, they predicted the first President Bush would defeat Bill Clinton. In both cases, voters a year out expected the president to get re-elected.

This year’s Republican field is more volatile than usual. Romney may be in the lead, but he must be thinking about Hillary Clinton in the back of his mind. Santorum, who would be viewed as a good conservative candidate in any other year must feel like the invisible man. Pawlenty probably wishes he held off announcing and did a bus tour instead. Bachmann, although happy with her numbers, has to be wondering what will happen if Palin was jump in. The other candidates continue to fight for limited real estate in a crowded field.

With all of that said, Sarah Palin continues to run in the top tier of candidates. Assuming Palin is in a virtual tie for 2nd place with Michele Bachmann based on margin of error, she is defeating nearly the entire field of both announced and unannounced GOP candidates without having signed an FEC candidate form.

Talk continues about the impact she’ll have should she run. “All of the Republican candidates right now are looking over their shoulder to see if Hurricane Sarah might strike!” writes Steffen Schmidt at Iowa State Daily (h/t Conservatives4Palin). A Palin announcement could be a political earthquake that will grab national attention and catapult her candidacy into a position of instant momentum coming out of the gate. Where she goes from there would be up to her and how well she campaigns.
You’ll hear the arguments again from establishment types that she is too polarizing to win the general election. Along with that you’ll get the same argument that was presented about Reagan not being able to appeal to moderates and independents. Yet, it was Reagan who forged a national coalition of independents and “Reagan Democrats” that helped sweep him back into office in 1984. Today, the so-called polarizing Reagan is revered by people across the political spectrum.

Apparently, not much has changed among the GOP establishment in how they assess their candidates despite the Reagan model. You may find this Time Magazine assessment of Reagan very similar in tone to the one we would expect to hear should Palin get the 2012 nomination:

Some party operatives are plainly unhappy with his selection. In Massachusetts, where both Bush and Anderson defeated Reagan, party leaders are not yet reconciled to the Reagan candidacy. Says one: “There’s a vacuum of leadership at the national level; and what appears to be the Republican Party’s response? A 69-year-old man who has done virtually nothing for years.

There is a lot we can learn from history. Just as the country made the mistake in 1976 to elect Carter, they made the same mistake and elected Obama in 2008. Just as the country forgot how effective the Kennedy tax cuts were in the 1960’s and returned to the Keynesian disasters of the 1970’s, they enjoyed an economic boom under the small government, low taxation philosophy of Reagan before rolling it it all back to the hybrid crony-capitalist, quasi-socialist state that it is today.

Just as the causes of getting into a mess like this are strikingly similar throughout history, so are the solutions. Sarah Palin holds the same ace in her hand as Ronald Reagan did when he was given the charge of guiding America back to prosperity. She is positioned at a similar point of cyclical history.

The most important line of Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration speech was this:

It is time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles, there will be no compromise.

Reagan knew that if he made America business friendly again, he could generate economic growth through production. Production creates real dollars because tangible goods and services and the labor which rightfully goes into producing those is what really generates money. The Keynesian approach to the economy doesn’t work because it takes the taxed portion of money that has already been created through production.

Reagan knew that there was a product out there and a demand for that product that could generate the economic growth necessary to pull the country out of the malaise of the Carter economy. The Soviet Union threatened our way of life in such a visible way that defeating them would require a major reawakening in the defense industry, particularly in manufacturing and the industries which would be needed to build and service the military equipment that would be necessary in order to go up against the Soviet Union.

Defense contractors became productive, innovative and profitable, which in turn resulted in collateral businesses forming. You need housing for those who live near the plant. They need cars. They buy coffee at the deli on the way to work. They pick up dinner or go to a restaurant after work. Their homes need to be landscaped. And so on and so on, jobs are created.

One could argue that it was taxpayer money that was used for the military budget (which is true). But when this money was put back out into the private sector, it acted like a true investment that fueled economic growth with the production it spurred creating capital for businesses, which in turn had a domino effect on the job market and the economy. For all the dollars that went out, twice as much of it was returned to the treasury in the form of increasing tax revenues.

Capital flowed through the system as more money was generated in the private sector through real growth and production when taxes were lowered and regulation scaled back. Private investments fueled the continued growth once the economy began to recover. Supply side theory worked because once the pump was primed, the size and scope of government could be reduced as more and more needs were taken care of in the free market.

History comes similarily full circle. Sarah Palin knows that there is a product out there and a demand for that product that could generate the economic growth necessary to get us closer toward being energy independent. An unstable Middle East threatens our way of life in such a visible way that producing more of our own energy here at home will require a major reawakening in the oil, gas, coal and alternative fuel industries – particularly in manufacturing and related industries that will be needed to build and service all the equipment that is necessary to ratchet up drilling and exploration.

Heavy equipment manufacturers and contractors who lease the rigs and do the exploration will began to see real growth in their businesses which in turn will result in collateral businesses forming This will cause an increase in hiring. You need housing for those who live near the rig. They need cars. They buy coffee at the deli on the way to work. They pick up dinner or go to a restaurant on their way home. Their homes need to be landscaped. And so on and so on, jobs will be created.

Put aside mine and others’ adoring Reaganism and look at the reality of what really happened in 1980. The people voted against Carter. Reagan was not the mythic figure we see him as today. Although he had a devout following, those who weren’t as sure would have stuck with an incumbent who was doing well. But, out of the ashes of the Carter disaster came a leader who by many standards had been underestimated.
Those who were worried about Reagan’s “extremism” or polarizing caricature decided that it was a less risky proposition to elect him than it was to leave Carter in there to continue the economic carnage that affected the lives of everyday people. It would not be until 1984 that the public would come to see Reagan as the great one who could successfully lead us back to the shining city.

The same road lies ahead for Palin. She has a devout following and there will be those who are concerned with the future of our country who will support her if and when she gets the nomination. But, ultimately it will come down to whether or not America wants to allow Obama to continue the economic carnage or overlook the caricature of Palin and give her a chance to do what she’s already proven she can do in executive positions in the past.

Despite the concerns some may have, it could ultimately come down to that moment in the voting booth when the skeptic has to make a choice between Obama and Palin. Given that choice, I can’t see anyone in their right mind (other than a kool aid drinking liberal) pulling the lever for Obama.

If the public can be convinced to look at Governor Palin’s record and see who she really is without the media filter and the caricaturing of her, it’s possible to get enough people to feel comfortable enough to vote against Obama much the same way as Reagan was able to create enough of a comfort level with the “there you go again” moment he had in the debate with Carter.

So, when people tell you that Sarah Palin can’t win in 2012, don’t listen. Barack Obama is so much of a disaster that the American people should be more willing to take the chance on Palin rather than go with the certainty that Obama will continue to destroy the economy for another four years.

The battle for the presidency is going to take place in the GOP primary. The winner gets to put their name in the “not Barack Obama again” box. Put Sarah Palin’s name in that box and you get a bonus that you won’t get with an establishment candidate. You will get someone who will drill, cut taxes and be good for small buinesses.

Whether you are convinced yet or not about Sarah Palin is not the question. If she gets the nomination, the real question is whether you are convinced yet or not that Barack Obama has to go. Remember Reagan. We’ll deal with the shining city, the morning in America and the “Sarah the Great” stuff in 2016.

Don’t miss Patrick’s World USA tonight on BlogTalk Radio at 11pm ET and 8pm PT. Brad Essex is my guest. We got a big show coming up next week. Frank Aquila, author of  Sarah Palin Out of Nowhere will be on the show Wednesday August 3, 2011.


Filed under In The News, Politics, Ronald Reagan, sarah palin

6 responses to “Is Sarah Palin as unelectable as Ronald Reagan was?

  1. Joy

    Simply a TERRIFIC essay, Gary – my God, you’ve left no stone unturned!! Such an articulate and detailed side-by-side analysis of Reagan and Palin! So sad that he never lived to meet her – or she, him! I hope, when we look back on all these fired-up essays & analyses after Palin’s inauguration, you’ll happily be able to say, “I told you so!!”

    • Gary P

      Yup. Patrick does a great job with his analysis. If you haven’t, check out his radio show on Wednesday nights.

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