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Mitt Romney 2012 v. Ronald Reagan 1980: A Brief Study In Contrasts

National Journal’s Sophie Quinton makes an interesting historical comparison:

Foreign-policy crises don’t often punctuate presidential campaigns. And when they do, the response from the campaign trail usually isn’t to criticize the commander in chief. Mitt Romney’s sharp statements on the Obama administration’s response to a fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya are a departure from the approach taken by Republicans in a similar position over 40 years ago — most notably, that of Ronald Reagan.

Former President Carter’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis helped torpedo his reelection hopes. But when news broke in April 1980 that an attempt to rescue Americans held hostage at the Tehran embassy had failed, the immediate response from the campaign trail was more supportive than critical.

Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan told reporters it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to express an opinion at that time. “This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united” and to pray, Reagan said, according to United Press International.

George H.W. Bush, also campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, went further. “I unequivocally support the president of the United States — no ifs, ands or buts — and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision,” Bush said in Michigan, UPI reported.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly to many people viewing history though 30 years of rhetoric in which conservatives turned Ronald Reagan into something he never really was, Reagan’s foreign policy rhetoric in 1980 was not in any way similar to what we hear from opposition candidates today:

Although the Reagan campaign wasn’t afraid to go after Carter’s foreign-policy record in campaign ads later that year, he refrained from inflammatory rhetoric when he debated Carter as the GOP nominee that fall.

“Your question is difficult to answer,” Reagan said, when the debate moderator asked how he would deal with a similar hostage crisis. “Because, in the situation right now, no one wants to say anything that would inadvertently delay, in any way, the return of those hostages if there is a chance of their coming home soon, or that might cause them harm.”

Could you imagine Mitt Romney, or the conservative media machine from Limbaugh on down saying anything even remotely similar today?

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis

    Could you imagine Mitt Romney, or the conservative media machine from Limbaugh on down saying anything even remotely similar today?

    This is about the real Ronald Reagan, not the made up Ronald Reagan they all worship.

    Made up Ronald Reagan would have behaved just like Romney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  2. Mike says:

    Along the same lines, regarding this: “I unequivocally support the president of the United States — no ifs, ands or buts — and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision.” Can you imagine anyone on the right saying that had the raid to get Osama gone wrong in a similar fashion to Eagle Claw/Desert One?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  3. I like the real .

    As opposed to the two empty chair Reagans popular now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. Somehow I cut the word “I like the real Reagan”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Recall as well the near-unanimous roar that went up from a united American people, and from Democratic politicians, when George W. Bush called for Osama Bin Laden “Dead or alive.”

    And the mewling, whining, dishonest reaction of Republicans when a DEmocratic president finally paid off on that promise.

    Remember this next time we hear that “both sides do it.” No. One side does it: the Republican side.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  6. Jay says:

    The hostages “shouldn’t have been there (in Iran) six days, let alone six months.”

    ‘I cannot understand ‘why 52 Americans have been held hostage for almost a year now.”

    “Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy ‘helped create the entire situation that made their kidnap possible.”

    ”And I think the fact that they’ve been there that long is a humiliation and a disgrace to this country.”

    Can you get the hostages out? “‘I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t stand by and do nothing.”

    Guess who said all the above?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. @Jay:

    He also didn’t politicize the Desert One tragedy. And that’s the real point

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  8. Fiona says:

    Ditto what Doug said. Reagan had the decency not to politicize the failed raid. He saved his criticisms of Carter’s foreign policy for the proper time and place. Romney lacks such decency and is clueless as to why he’s facing approbation for his indefensible behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  9. nitpicker says:

    You guys are cracking on Romney, but at least one politician thinks he’s making some very important and useful additions to the foreign policy debate. I have the name right here…hang on…um…oh yeah! It’s Vladimir F***ing Putin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  10. Jay says:

    The “point” was Reagan didn’t use the hostage crisis for any kind of political advantage and that is just nonsense. In fact, I found an AP article from 1985 where they basically said Reagan was a liar because he said he never directly criticized Carter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Jay says:

    I also see that nobody is saying squat about 2004 when John Kerry was running around taking potshots at George W. Bush whenever he could.

    Can we please stop pretending this is the first time a sitting President’s actions with regard to a foreign policy crisis have been criticized?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  12. anjin-san says:

    Ronald Reagan & GHW Bush were old school professionals. Romney is a dilettante. That has never been more clear than it is today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. @Jay:

    Possibly the key thing was that Reagan said the right things at the right times.

    Sure, you’ve found where he criticized Carter, but he knew enough to pull for the team at the right time, both because it was right and because it was Presidential. Call it enlightened self-interest if you must, but it is better than foolish self-interest any day of the week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  14. nitpicker says:

    Another example: When Marines were killed in Beirut in October 1983, some Democrats suggested it was time to leave. Not at the time, but later. Reagan opposed them, so, on February 6th, 1984, they were set to hold vote in the Democrat-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee to call for the pullout of Marines, but, as tensions were increasing in the country (and after backdoor talks with Reagan officials), they tabled the vote rather than confuse politics with foreign policy.

    “We want to be responsible. We don’t want to add to the danger the Marines are in,” Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D, Fla.) said.

    The next day, Reagan announced the withdrawal of the Marines and, rather than beating their chests over the issue, Dems said Reagan had made a great decision. In an election year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. nitpicker says:

    @Jay: No one’s saying foreign policy attacks are off-limits, but merely that it’s not normally done so awfully and falsely while Americans are still under fire.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. Barfour says:

    Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush were around at a time when politicians, especially those seeking the highest office of the land were true patriots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Anderson says:

    Reagan didn’t have to criticize Desert One. The charred bodies in the desert did his work for him.

    Not to knock his manners, but facts are facts.

    Romney would have been smart to do likewise, say nothing offensive, and let the media focus on “hey, Muslims are killing Americans under Obama’s watch.” Which, knowing the MSM, would’ve had a good shot at being today’s theme, doing Romney’s work for him.

    But no, he had to be so nakedly partisan and shameless that even the Mark Halperins of the world were repulsed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  18. Brandon says:

    This comparison is based on the premise that an on-going situation is the same as a situation with singular finality. Could Romney waited a couple of days? Sure, but this notion that Reagan is somehow made to be something he wasn’t, seems to be an ignorance of history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. Barry says:

    Doug: “Could you imagine Mitt Romney, or the conservative media machine from Limbaugh on down saying anything even remotely similar today?”

    No.

    OTOH (being uncharitable here) this is the sort of thing that a crafty politician does. His opponent is in a serious and unresolvable situation. So the smart pol knows when to shut up, or offer words of support, and let the other guy stew.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Barry says:

    @Jay: “I also see that nobody is saying squat about 2004 when John Kerry was running around taking potshots at George W. Bush whenever he could. ”

    Which, please note, was after it was clear both that Dubya had lied us into his war, and had furthermore botched that war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1