John B. Judis: Romney Plays Reagan — And Does Well Enough





John B. Judis has been writing for The New Republic since 1984 and has been a senior editor since 1994.

I prepared for writing about the third debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by reading about North Korea, Iran, Syria, the European Union, Mexico, Cuba, you name it -- well every place except Mali -- but I could have better spent my afternoon reading a novel or taking a walk. The candidates spent almost no time debating the substance of foreign policy. When they could, they detoured into domestic policy. 
I know I am supposed to say who won the debate, but I don’t think this was a conventional contest. Both candidates wanted to accomplish certain things; and they pretty much succeeded. And that goes for Romney, too, who many commentators think lost the debate.

Since the summer, Romney has been trying to play Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter. If you close your eyes and listen to Romney telling Obama, “Attacking me is not an agenda,” you’ll hear the voice of Ronald Reagan in 1980 responding to Carter’s repeated criticisms. I would bet that Romney has listened repeatedly to that debate and attempted to emulate Reagan’s avuncular, reassuring, self-confident, witty style. Romney even made several awkward attempts at humor during this debate.

Romney adopted part of the Reagan script during the summer – his campaign people were talking about it at the convention – but he failed then to grasp what was essential to Reagan’s victory that year. During the summer, Romney adopted three elements of Reagan’s 1980 script; 1) the question, are you better off now than you were four years ago, 2) the charge America is falling behind, and needs to regain world leadership, and 3) the insistence that contrary to one’s opponent, Americans are not suffering from malaise, and America has nothing to apologize for. In the last month, Romney even found in the Benghazi terrorist attack a surrogate from Republican charges in 1980 that Carter was bungling the Iranian hostage crisis....



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