Let’s get one thing straight right now: Jon Huntsman hasn’t merely invited a comparison to Ronald Reagan, he has demanded it.
By launching his presidential campaign today in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty at Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, New Jersey — the very same spot from which Reagan himself launched his historic general election campaign of 1980 — Huntsman has wasted no time with subtlety. He has forced the political world to consider whether or not he is a worthy successor to the Gipper.
Okay, Jon, here it is, right between the eyes: You are no Ronald Reagan.
Even Reagan said that without his ideas and philosophy, he would be just another former actor.
And Reagan certainly wouldn’t have arranged a photo-op with and publicly praised Henry Kissinger just days before announcing his candidacy. In fact, a large part of Reagan’s 1976 campaign for president was spent smacking Kissinger and his policies as hard as he could. And the 1980 campaign was based on a complete refutation of Kissinger’s policy of détente.
Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have released a vapid advertisement featuring himself on a popcorn popper motorcycle. Reagan preferred to evoke the imagery of the West the old-fashioned, manly way — with a horse.
The mere fact that some in the elite have wet their pants with excitement about these commercials should speak volumes.
And Reagan never gave a speech without content, as Huntsman did at Liberty State Park.
Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have begun a campaign for president without a team of trusted conservative advisers who had been with him since his earliest campaigns. He knew that “personnel is policy,” and from the very beginning, he travelled in the company of serious conservatives.
Ronald Reagan did not launch his campaigns trying to get favorable press for his “Mr. Nice Guy” approach to campaigns. To the Great Communicator, the purpose of a speech was to communicate great ideas. Consider his Labor Day 1980 speech at Liberty State Park, where he threw uppercut after uppercut at Jimmy Carter. Some fiction writers of the national media seem to have forgotten that Reagan was a rough customer who knew how to throw elbows when necessary.
Marty Anderson, Reagan’s old policy advisor, said the Gipper was “warmly ruthless.” How succinct and how true.
Most importantly, Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have based his campaign on his personality. He knew the American people deserved better than that. Instead, he based his campaigns on the values and virtues of his conservative philosophy — values and virtues he knew he shared with the American people.
So if Governor Huntsman is no Reagan, who is he?
He’s the GOP’s Barack Obama. In Huntsman’s announcement today, his remarks were infused with possessive pronouns, just like Obama. Huntsman is the darling of the liberal media, just like Obama. Huntsman seems lost when it comes to understanding America, just like Obama.
We are awash in personality candidates. Obama won in 2008 as the ultimate personality candidate, a political Rorschach inkblot test in whom voters saw whatever they wanted to see. Now he’s the nation’s first Facebook president. Look where that got us.
Most Americans are on the right side of the spectrum. They are knowledgeable and far more sophisticated about politics and government than the commentariat gives them credit for.
They are awash in personalities, and are sick of them. They don’t want Kim Kardashian as their president. They want someone of substance and depth and content who uses the personal pronouns “we” and “us” more than he uses “I” and “me,” and who understands what it is about America that makes it great — and will do everything in his power to restore that greatness.
The American people don’t want American idols. They want an American idealist.
Craig Shirley is the Reagan Scholar at Eureka College and the author of two books on Reagan’s campaigns including Rendezvous with Destiny. He is also the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Bill Pascoe is the Executive Vice President of Citizens for the Republic, the political action committee originally founded by Ronald Reagan in 1977.