Could Obama have won the Democratic nomination in 1980?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Buzzfeed is quoting ex Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as saying that today’s GOP wouldn’t elect his Ronald Reagan or his father, George H.W. Bush, because of their “[R]ecord of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground.”

Twitter and related social media are abuzz with claims that Buzzfeed misquoted Bush. If so, that’s problematic. But it wouldn’t be the first time such a claim had been advanced against the modern Republican Party. Barack Obama made a similar point back in April, arguing that “[Reagan] could not get through a Republican primary today.”

Others have made the same point. And who knows, perhaps they are right?

But it is also worth asking this: Could liberal icons such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt or John Fitzgerald Kennedy get through a Democratic primary today?

I very much doubt it.

There are some similarities, of course, but the political landscape is very different today than in 1980. The same can be said between now and the 1960s and the 1930s. That fact says less about the modern party than a simple reflection of changes in the country and electoral reality. Taking away any other lesson is a waste of time and energy.

You could argue that conservatives are standing on the shoulders of Reagan — and that we are still in many ways living in the age of Reagan. He built the foundation. But Reagan had different experiences (he grew up an FDR Democrat) and faced different challenges. Times change.

Could Obama have won the Democratic nomination in 1980?

Matt K. Lewis