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Ronald Reagan Wannabes

Washington Examiner cartoonist Nate Beeler sums up the Republican contest thus far quite aptly:

Ronald Reagan Halloween Costume

In the accompanying commentary, Beeler observes, “While the Republican heavies snipe at each other over who is the real conservative in the race, Barry Goldwater is rolling over in his grave.” Part of the problem, though, is that while Reagan and Goldwater both called themselves “conservatives,” the former was mostly a tax cutting, strong defense populist and the latter a small government libertarian.

Reagan was the more successful politician not only because he was the better messenger but because his message appealed to more people. Goldwater, however, had a much more coherent ideology. Reagan preached smaller government, lower taxes, and a huge military to defeat Soviet Communism. As the old joke says: Pick two.

Given the stakes, Reagan’s military buildup made sense and sacrificing fiscal sanity in order to achieve it was defensible. With the Cold War over and the Soviets replaced by a much more discrete enemy in Islamist terrorist-guerrillas, though, Reagan’s formula no longer makes sense. Republicans continue to rely on it, however, while continuing the “small government” mantra.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.