Conservatives of the world, unite! Stop getting distracted by issues that will hurt the movement, which is all about reintroducing common-sense economic principles in government. Anti-immigrant fever and anti-mosque fever will hurt the movement in the long run. Focusing on the economy will help the movement and help rescue the country — and indeed the world — from our current malaise. So my advice is: stop talking about divisive issues that distract us from the final, most important goal.
This is what Reagan did, and it worked. This is what Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is doing, and it is working again.
Why did Reagan win in 1980? He was known as the radical, far-right kook of his time. Early polls showed Jimmy Carter winning reelection in a landslide. But Reagan concentrated on the economy, and his high point was during the debates when he asked voters if they were better off than they had been four years earlier. Given the economic problems of the late-1970s, the answer of the vast majority of them was, “no.” Remember in those days inflation was 12 percent and interest rates were in the teens (can you imagine getting a 30-year home loan with a 18 percent interest rate — that was what was available in the late-1970s).
When Reagan got into office he laid out a clear plan to rescue the economy. He knew that some policies to beat inflation would force a short, deep recession. He warned the country what was coming and predicted that within a year or two results would be obvious. Reagan suffered in the 1982 elections (just as Obama will be suffering in 2010), but by 1983 the economy was clearly on the mend and by 1984 Reagan was reelected over a strong Democratic candidate, Walter Mondale, who had served as Carter’s VP and was well-liked and respected (unlike, say, Dukakis in 1988).
If you want to read a summary of Reagan’s economic policies, the best source I have been able to find is here. There are literally thousands of other places to look.
My purpose in this post is not to argue the contentious issues of “did Reagan’s policies hurt the poor?” or “did Reagan’s policies cause too much debt?” During the 1980s I was deeply opposed to Reagan’s policies (shows you how smart I was in college), and I could argue the leftist side of those issues as well as just about anyone.
My point here is: what did Reagan concentrate on? My secondary point is: was he effective in getting reelected and in pushing his economic program, ie, was it good politics? My third point is: what did Clinton get elected on in 1992 (Hint: “it’s the economy, stupid.”).
I will concede the point that Reagan spent a lot of time on foreign policy issues and was generally conservative on important social issues (he was anti-abortion and was supported by the Moral Majority, which was a big deal in the 1980s). However, if you study Reagan’s speeches, he spent the vast majority of his time concentrating on the economy because he was smart enough to know that was the issue that really hit home with most people (and that continues to be the case today).
So, let’s look at a modern-day politician, Chris Christie in New Jersey. Interestingly, Christie was considered the moderate candidate in the Republican primary in 2009. Once elected, he focused all of his energies on balancing a budget that was $11 billion in the red by cutting spending. He is continuing to take extremely unpopular positions by taking on the teachers’ union and other public unions. The unions responded by a massive TV campaign against the governor, but Christie has stuck to his guns.
There are no two ways about it: Christie has become a hero, very similar to Reagan, in the space of less than a year. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this fauning interview on MSNBC where even leftists fall all over themselves and treat him like a rock star.
How can Christie possibly do this? He is taking on the teachers and winning. He is taking on leftist groups that have had their way in New Jersey for decades and winning.
The answer is, in his own words, that he is treating the voters like adults. Everybody knows in New Jersey that the budget is a mess. There are two possible ways of proceeding: raising taxes and increasing spending, which is what New Jersey has been doing for decades, or holding the line on taxes and decreasing spending, which is something new. People have decided the latter is the change they really need, and the result is that Christie has approval ratings in the 50s while doing very “unpopular” things like cutting government benefits.
Meanwhile, what does Christie have to say about illegal immigration? He rarely mentions it, even though illegal immigrants also come to New Jersey in very large numbers. What does he have to say about the mosque controversy? He has taken the very adult position (in my opinion) of warning Republicans and Democrats to back off on this issue.
There are at least two very good reasons for him to do this. First, as everybody should know, the economy is issue number one with voters. The guy (or gal) who best articulates a plan to revive the economy wins. Second, it’s simply not smart politics to turn off Hispanics and Muslims, which the Republican party is doing with its anti-immigrant and anti-mosque fever (yes, there are Democrats on the wrong side of both of these issues, but unfortunately Latinos and Muslims see Republicans as the primary sources of the opposition).
So, conservatives, can we take a step back and stop talking about issues that are not going to win any votes? Let’s concentrate on the economy. President Obama and the Democratic Congress have done so much damage in the last 19 months that it should be easy to focus on policies that will promote economic growth. We don’t need to spend any time on things that are not going to help the cause.