From William McGurn:
Not since Herbert Hoover has a party out of power had such an opportunity to run against everything that troubles the American family—prices, interest rates, unemployment, taxes, or the fear for the future of their old age or the future of their children—than is now presented to the Republican Party.
The Republicans, however, haven’t figured this out. This is their basic problem. They have no strategy for defeating an Obama administration that is highly vulnerable on both domestic and foreign policy.
That’s the conventional wisdom in a nutshell, isn’t it?
It will come as no surprise that these words appeared in a Feb. 29 column in the New York Times. They are reproduced here exactly as written, save for one small adjustment.
The president whose failings they describe is Jimmy Carter, not Barack Obama. The lines were written in 1980, not 2012. The author was the then-dean of conventional wisdom, James “Scotty” Reston. The headline was “Jimmy Carter’s Luck,” a reference to Reagan’s victory in the New Hampshire primary three days earlier.
Then as now, the chattering classes wondered aloud whether a candidate who could win the Republican nomination could prevail against President Carter in November. On March 1, former President Gerald Ford amplified that view when he told a New York Times reporter, “Every place I go and everything I hear, there is the growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election.”
Then as now, some put their hopes on a late entry, in the same way that some now pine for Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie to enter the race. In the same interview where Mr. Ford predicted that Reagan’s nomination would mean a repeat of 1964, he also declared himself open to a draft if there were a genuine “urging” by the party.
In retrospect, we forget how seriously the Ford possibility was taken, or how popular it was in the polls, or how lingering its effects would be (at the convention, there would be speculation about a “co-presidency”). A Harris Poll released just about this time in 1980 bolstered the case for Mr. Ford by reporting that, in a head-to-head matchup, Ford (the noncandidate) would trounce President Carter 55% to 44%. The same poll showed Reagan (the front-runner) trailing Carter 58% to 40%.
Nor was candidate Reagan without baggage. As governor, Reagan had pushed through the largest tax hike in California’s history, had signed one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws, and—as George H.W. Bush pointed out—presided over the doubling of the state budget over his eight-year tenure, to $10.2 billion when he left office from $4.6 billion when he entered.