GOP ri­vals test bounds of Rea­gan’s ad­mo­ni­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Rep. Ron Paul is warn­ing GOP vot­ers that Rick Perry can’t be trusted af­ter back­ing Al Gore for pres­i­dent, and the three-term Texas gov­er­nor is point­ing out that Mr. Paul thought Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s ten­ure was so bad that he ditched the party. Former Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man Jr. says some of his ri­vals are too “ex­treme” to be elected, while Mr. Perry and former Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney trade barbs over their ca­reer choices and job-cre­ation skills.

Mr. Rea­gan’s fa­mous “11th Com­mand­ment” — Repub­li­cans shalt not speak ill of fel­low Repub­li­cans — is be­ing sorely tested in the heat of the 2012 pres­i­den­tial sweep­stakes. Look­ing to dis­tin­guish them­selves from ri­vals in the crowded, fluid race, GOP con­tenders are tak­ing off the gloves and trad­ing stiff punches on the cam­paign trail, ques­tion­ing one an­other’s loy­alty to the party and blast­ing one an­other’s records.

As the can­di­dates gath­ered Sept. 7 for an­other de­bate, this time at the Ron­ald W. Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brar y, Mr. Hunts­man, for in­stance, was cast­ing Mr. Perry and Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota as too “ex­treme” to win a gen­eral elec­tion.

Mr. Rom­ney is tak­ing swipes at Mr. Perry’s decades-long ten­ure in elected of­fice by blam­ing “ca­reer politi­cians” for the na­tion’s fi­nan­cial woes.

Mr. Perr y, mean­while, is ham­mer­ing Mr. Rom­ney’s record on jobs, say­ing that as gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts, he failed to cre­ate a job-pro­duc­ing environment.

The friendly fire co­in­cides with the grow­ing sense that Pres­i­dent Obama is vul­ner­a­ble in the 2012 elec­tion. But one Rea­gan scholar says the former pres­i­dent would not have minded the in­tra­party tus­sles that have erupted this year.

Craig Shirley, author of “Rea­gan’s Rev­o­lu­tion: The Un­told Story of the Cam­paign That Started It All,” said the “the­ol­ogy” be­hind the “11th Com­mand­ment” has been mis­un­der- stood. Since Mr. Rea­gan first em­braced the phi­los­o­phy dur­ing his 1966 gu­ber­na­to­rial bid in Cal­i­for­nia, Mr. Shirley said, the me­dia and politi­cians alike have twisted its mean­ing.

“Peo­ple use it some­times as a weapon to say, ‘You can’t talk about this Repub­li­can’s po­lit­i­cal views,’ but Rea­gan never meant it that way or in­ter­preted it that way,” he said. “Rea­gan be­lieved it was all fair game to talk about vot­ing records, but get­ting into gra­tu­itous per­sonal at­tacks wasn’t.”

But Steven F. Hay­ward, author of “The Age of Rea­gan: The Con­ser­va­tive Counter-Rev­o­lu­tion, 1980-1989,” said the trou­ble is that can­di­dates of­ten get caught in a “gray area” be­tween per­sonal and pol­icy at­tacks.

“At what point does a per­sonal at­tack and pol­icy at­tack over­lap?” he said, adding that it’s hard to ex­pect a group of am­bi­tious can­di­dates to ad­here to a orig­i­nated with Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Gay­lord Parkinson, who hoped to avoid a re­peat of the ugly Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion race that con­trib­uted to Barry Gold­wa­ter’s land­slide loss in the 1964 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to Demo­crat Lyn­don B. John­son.

Although it is un­clear whether his­tory will re­peat it­self in 2012, it is clear that the snip­ing be­tween the GOP White House hope­fuls is in­ten­si­fy­ing as they

On Sept. 6, Mr. Paul re­leased a tele­vi­sion spot that called into ques­tion Mr. Perry’s loy­alty to the Repub­li­can Party. In it, the Paul camp con­trasts Mr. Paul’s en­dorse­ment of Rea­gan at the 1976 Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion with Mr. Perry’s en­dorse­ment of Al Gore in the 1988 Demo­cratic pri­maries. “Al Gore found a cheer­leader in Texas named Rick Perry,” the nar­ra­tor says in the 60-sec­ond spot. “Rick Perry helped lead Al Gore’s cam­paign to undo the Rea­gan rev­o­lu­tion, fight­ing to elect Al Gore pres­i­dent of the United States. Now Amer­ica must de­cide who to trust. Al Gore’s Texas cheer­leader or the one who stood with Rea­gan.”

lit­eral read­ing of the phi­los­o­phy. “That’s just the na­ture of pol­i­tics,” he said. “The 11th Com­mand­ment runs smack into one of the iron laws of pol­i­tics — that neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing works.”

Both men said that Rea­gan’s 1976 pres­i­den­tial bid started to gain steam only af­ter he at­tacked Pres­i­dent Ford’s record, in­clud­ing his will­ing­ness to cede con­trol of the Panama Canal. Although the no­tion was pop­u­lar­ized by Mr. Rea­gan, it plunge into the post-La­bor Day stretch of the pri­mary sea­son and gear up for a se­ries of de­bates this month. Mr. Perry even­tu­ally will stand with the can­di­dates on the same stage for the first time since en­ter­ing the race nearly a month ago.

Since then, Mr. Perry has raced to the front in national polls, putting him squarely in the po­lit­i­cal cross hairs of his Repub­li­can ri­vals.

On Sept. 6, Mr. Paul re­leased a tele­vi­sion spot that called into ques­tion Mr. Perry’s loy­alty to the Repub­li­can Party. In it, the Paul camp con­trasts Mr. Paul’s en­dorse­ment of Rea­gan at the 1976 Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion with Mr. Perry’s en­dorse­ment of Al Gore in the 1988 Demo­cratic pri­maries.

“Al Gore found a cheer­leader in Texas named Rick Perry,” the nar­ra­tor says in the 60-sec­ond spot. “Rick Perry helped lead Al Gore’s cam­paign to undo the Rea­gan rev­o­lu­tion, fight­ing to elect Al Gore pres­i­dent of the United States. Now Amer­ica must de­cide who to trust. Al Gore’s Texas cheer­leader or the one who stood with Rea­gan.”

In re­sponse, the Perry camp high­lighted the res­ig­na­tion let­ter Mr. Paul wrote in 1987, in which he ex­plained his rea­sons for cut­ting ties with the Repub­li­can Party, with much of the crit­i­cism aimed di­rectly at the 40th pres­i­dent.

“There is no cred­i­bil­ity left for the Repub­li­can Party as a force to re­duce the size of govern­ment. That is the mes­sage of the Rea­gan years,” Mr. Paul wrote, blast­ing the deficits and debt run-up un­der the Rea­gan White House. (Mr. Paul ran for pres­i­dent in 1988 as the nom­i­nee of the Lib­er­tar­ian Party, but sub­se­quently re­joined the GOP.)

Mark Miner, Perry cam­paign spokesman, called the Paul let­ter “a broad­side at­tack on ev­ery el­e­ment of Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s record and phi­los­o­phy.”

“Paul thought Pres­i­dent Rea­gan was so bad, he left the GOP,” Mr. Miner said. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to hear Rep. Paul ex­plain why Rea­gan drove him from the party at to­mor­row’s de­bate on the grounds of the Rea­gan Li­brary.”

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