Where the Comparison Goes Wrong
Chatter about the comparison of circumstances between President Obama and President Reagan has been everywhere, and it all falls apart on one basic question. Here’s an example from Henry Olsen (subscription required):
Where does this leave us? Republicans should first remember that politics is like tennis, and the Democrats are serving. It’s very hard to break service against a competent player, and there is still time for Obama and his party to regain their game. Obama’s slide in the polls has been steep, but his year-end standing was eerily similar to Ronald Reagan’s in December 1981. Back then, Reagan had 49 percent approval; Obama had 50 percent in the late-December 2009 polling average on RealClearPolitics. Reagan’s numbers slid throughout 1982 as the economy worsened, reaching their nadir at 35 percent in January 1983.
But Reagan recovered nicely, relying on issues that unified his coalition, like hard-line positions against the Soviets. The fast-recovering economy also helped, and as his numbers recovered — and with Democrats unable to overcome their own intra-party divisions during their presidential primaries — Reagan swept to an epic reelection win that placed the GOP on the path toward the continued power it would wield for another 20 years.
Olsen’s argument relates to the possibility that a third party will emerge and take the place of the GOP, but one significant consideration is missing from the analysis. Reagan’s policies helped bring about the recovery that ultimately boosted his image. Amazingly, Obama has continued to chase down the very policies (in effect and proposed) that have been suppressing economic activity. If that continues, the Republicans have plenty of room to maneuver in order to obviate the need for an additional right-leaning candidate.