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The Recency Effect, part 2

On to 1980, and the world changed. Ronald Reagan was why. But first he had to get to the White House. Jimmy Carter certainly did his part to help Reagan get elected, with double-digit inflation, high unemployment at the same time, and a foreign policy that amounted to 'whine and run away'. But even so, Reagan's clear and idealistic vision which put America first, no excuses, found strong resonance with voters. The lesson is obvious; despair never matches up well against Confidence and a plan.

For 1984, the Democrats ran the most dismal and depressing candidate they could find for the nomination. The lesson was pretty much the same as in 1980, with the same results.

For 1988, the Democrats thought they had figured out the formula. Besides the GOP had never won more than two consecutive elections, or won two consecutive elections with different Presidential candidates, since before the Great Depression. So, the Democrats once again thought it was time to roll out the 'America wants more taxes'. Trying to make Mike Dukakis look human was more successful than with Mondale, but the effort to make him look like a military leader ... remember that tank photo? Anyway, the lesson is play to your strengths, but don't pretend strengths which are not there.

Next, 1992. What a mess. And yes, I'm repeating myself, because 1992 was a repeat of 1968 in some ways. Like the Democrats in 1968, the GOP in 1992 had become fractured, with purists and extremists and various other arrogant egotists trying to hijack the party. They didn't like G.H.W. Bush, they didn't like the choices available, so some Republicans stayed home, and some went off the reservation to support the magnificent idiot, Ross 'kinahfinish?' Perot. The Democrats, as usual, presented a man without a plan to America, a gregarious southern governor who had no competencies to speak off, and little integrity to back up what ideas he did carry along the way. The Democrats rallied behind their man, such as he was, while the Republicans had a lively bickerfest that further soured America's opinion of Conservatives in particular. Thus we got President Bubba. The lesson? Well it should be obvious.

- continued -

In 1996, it sure looked like the Republicans were going to get the White House back. President Bubba had managed to alienate himself with just about everyone, but he rallied his troops and rebuilt his image, which was actually pretty easy for a man whose spine was made of jello. Meanwhile, the GOP had somehow gotten the idea that image did not matter, and as a result they nominated a man with an impeccable resume, but with no discernable charisma or specific plans which resonated with the voters. So, while Bubba couldn't clear 50% on the popular vote, Dole lost to him anyway. The lesson, appearances do count, and it's kind of important to make sure folks know why you'd be an improvement on the current President.

In 2000, the Democrats felt good. Clinton was high in the polls again, despite his impeachment and voluntary disbarment (not legally speaking, but if a judge asks for your license and you hand it over after pleading 'no contest', well ...), the economy was good and everything seemed to be running well (the Clinton Administration, contrary to later claims, dealt with Al Qaeda by simply not mentioning it to the American public, nor it seems the next Administration). So Al Gore felt good about his prospects of being the first Democrat to succeed a Democrat in the White House since Lyndon Johnson. Events, however, proved otherwise, and the election, while controversial, proved that either Gore was not nearly as desired by the American public as he thought, or George W. Bush was far more impressive than the Democrats ever thought he could possibly accomplish. For neither the first nor last time, George W. Bush was underestimated, and while Dubya entered the White House, all Al Gore could to go on an eating binge and begin rehearsal of a series of odd and elitist theories. The lesson is, the only real self-fulfilling prophecies are the bad kind.

On to 2004, and the President Bush vs. Senator Kerry matchup. President Bush was already paying for sticking to his position, and his lack of eloquence and media skills cost him several opportunities to put away the election early on. But once again, the Democrats presented a candidate so obviously incapable of the post he sought, that 62 million Americans pulled the lever for Dubya, the most in any U.S. presidential election. The lessons are that a stumbling competency still reflects integrity, standing by the President bears dividends, and a party which thinks that a man who married into hundreds of millions of dollars somehow is best-equipped to speak for the common man, is hopelessly out of touch.

I leave you now to consider the lessons of the past 15 elections, and apply them if you will to our present field of contenders. If nothing else, the obvious misfits should be clear.


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Comments (34)

DJ, as we have gone a few r... (Below threshold)

DJ, as we have gone a few rounds about the immigration bill and GW, it was spirited and thought provoking. I have said in a past comment on the subject of immigration that I have been a loyal republican since 1980 except in 1992 when I was going to "show" the party and teach them a lesson. Well, what did I get for the effort? Bill Clinton.

I am still angry at GW and the congressional leaders, but I will not part with them. I will use whatever power I have to be heard.

I also think the democrats will nominate Hillary, and that will mobilize the base and independents to look for an alternative. The radical left will have to go with the green party. So, the prospects for 2008 look pretty good for the republicans and we didn't even pick a candidate yet. ww

You keep writing about the ... (Below threshold)

You keep writing about the presidential election as if it is a true national election when in reality it is 50 state elections.

One of the things you are skipping over is how states like Texas, Alabama, Georgia have gone from a certain Democratic win prior to Reagan to a certain Republican win while states like California who voted for Reagan are now lost to the Republican for the foreseeable future.

The GOP worked hard for the... (Below threshold)
Eric Forhan:

The GOP worked hard for their last loss, and appear to be working just as hard for another. There's nothing purist about seeing that.

OTOH, the Democrats seem to be embracing their purists, which perhaps could put ~them~ in a heap o' trouble. Well, one could wish, anywho.

You left out a fact about t... (Below threshold)

You left out a fact about the 2000 election that bolsters your point about party solidatity. First, a significant number of Democrats voted for the Green candidate, Nader, in that election. While their numbers were dwarfed by the split to Perot in 1992, they presented a clear margin of victory for Gore if they had stuck with the party.

As a side note, Bush also failed to reach 50% of the vote in 2000. He also failed to reach Al Gore's vote total in 2000. Lesson: It's not how many people vote for you. It's where they live.

Joe Yangtree,The o... (Below threshold)

Joe Yangtree,

The only reason I'd be hesitant about harping on the "Bush got fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000" argument is that the media's multiple blown calls cost Bush votes in the Florida Panhandle and states further west.

By calling Florida as a Gore win early in the night and constantly calling Gore-leading states far earlier than Bush-leading states, it gave the impression that Gore was going to win in a walk.

That meant that fewer voters out west who hadn't voted yet were likely to head to the polls, especially if their state's chances of victory for Bush were already in doubt.

(Example - While I doubt Bush would have won California, I'd say he could have gotten more votes out of conservative Orange County than he did.)

One other point. If it is "... (Below threshold)

One other point. If it is "easy for [Clinton] whose spine was made of jello" to rebuild his reputation so dramatically, isn't that a valuable lesson? The fact that Clinton bottomed out at around a 40% approval rating, but still got re-elected and left office with around a 65% approval rating should give some valuable insight for anyone willing to examine it more than superficially.

First, even with the Florid... (Below threshold)

First, even with the Florida call, there was never a point in time where it appeared that Gore would win in a walk.

Second, the vote total is an actual fact. Your supposition about how data might have changed voting patterns is mere speculation, not really based on anything. After the fact justifications based on guesswork are suprisingly easy to make.

Events, however, p... (Below threshold)
Events, however, proved otherwise, and the election, while controversial, proved that either Gore was not nearly as desired by the American public as he thought, or George W. Bush was far more impressive than the Democrats ever thought he could possibly accomplish.

Uhh...actually DJ, what the 2000 election proved was that the American people prefered Al Gore to George Bush as these election results demonstrate:

Gore 51,003,926 48.4%
Bush 50,460,110 47.9%

I have applied your logic o... (Below threshold)

I have applied your logic on the current and potential field of candidates (including indepts), but wonder if you would also do it more properly as a follow-up to this good article? Each major candidate briefly compared according to your regime. Thanks.

I woul submit that Bob Dole... (Below threshold)

I woul submit that Bob Dole has a boatload of charm and charisma, but unwisely kept it under wraps. I am convinced that if the Bob Dole who showed up on Letterman the night after the election had run for president, he would have won.

I would remind certaibn peo... (Below threshold)

I would remind certaibn people that, unlike Florida, most states left the vote totals unchallenged. Therefore, it is not confirmed that Al Gore actually won the popular vote by the margins claimed. Yes, Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but don't get too happy on a number which was never verified beyond the initial count. And sorry Larkin, but America is not just the heavy-population states, but all the states, and America gave the White House to Bush. Not the Supreme Court, but the Constitution. I can get over Buah not winning the Popular Vote, but you need to get over Gore losing the election.

Yangtree, polls are percept... (Below threshold)

Yangtree, polls are perception, not reality. A leader who obsesses with popularity, is no leader, but only a Clinton.

I would quibble with one pa... (Below threshold)

I would quibble with one part of your piece, DJ. Jimmy Carter's actions weren't so much "whine and run away" as "whine and hide," as he was a virtual prisoner of the White House for the last part of his term.

Come to think of it, "scold" should be in there somewhere, too...


Tim McNabb, we missed a lot... (Below threshold)

Tim McNabb, we missed a lot with Dole. Clinton sold us down the river to the Chinese for the grubstake to pre-empt Dole, and we are still paying the price for Clinton's cynicism and disregard.

Every now and then politica... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Every now and then political parties go through an internal struggle and redefine themselves. It usually happens after a perceived electoral disaster. The Dems did it after '72 and '88. The Pubs did it after '64 and I believe they're in the process of doing it right now.

I don't think much of Reagan personally. I think he gets credit for a lot of things he didn't actually do simply because the world was going through big changes for the better while he was in office, not BECAUSE he was in office. But more to the point, Reagan has become a political icon because he made people feel better, sort of like FDR did when the nation was beaten down by the depression.

Bush Jr, has the double whammy of both incompetence and a complete lack of ability to evoke confidence. What passed for a sort of homey charm during his 2000 campaign degenerated into the clear impression that he was way out of his depth in office. And the results have borne out that appearance as his administration parallels Harding's, marked by Bush surrounding himself with people who are incapable of doing their jobs but retained because they are the president's personal friends and confidantes.

Additionally, while Bush campaigned as a traditional conservative, few of his policies have reflected a small-government policy or one that respects the rights of individuals.

So now we have another election coming up with no obvious successor to the sitting president from his party and a lot of dissatisfaction in the ranks. The party is split into NeoCon, religious, and traditional conservative factions, and it's not clear who is going to win.

Rudy is the leader at the moment, but that's more on the basis of his 9-11 reputation more than his conservative credentials. Like Reagan, Fred Thompson talks the talk, but in the aftermath of a less-than-stellar administration, I think voters are going to look at a person's qualifications and ability to do the job, not just his stage presence. Romney has changed just about every important political belief from the time he ran for office in Massachusetts to today and I don't think most voters will appreciate that. And McCain is just melting down, as usual. The rest of the field isn't really doing much of anything.

So I think the Republicans are going to have to decide what they want their party to stand for. Like in 1964, there is a strongly divided party which needs to find a common voice among their own people before they can take their message to the nation as a whole. I really don't know which way they will go, but it should be very interesting to watch.

Paul, I do believe that las... (Below threshold)

Paul, I do believe that last, hmm, comment of yours admirably reflects the current state of mind in the middle-Left. Especially the ability and proclivity to ignore evidence ...

I'm glad you think I'm a mo... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

I'm glad you think I'm a moderate progressive -- I consider that a high compliment.

If you could be a little more specific about what "evidence" you think I'm ignoring, I'd be glad to reply. If it's Reagan that you're talking about, I think he was one element in a geopolitical sea change at that time, but I've always believed that Pope John Paul was the greater leader in the anti-communist movement because of the personal support he gave to eastern Europeans who were rising up against tyranny. Reagan's main role was more political and distant and mostly consisted of spending more taxpayer money than the Soviets could match. I don't personally believe that rises as high in terms of principles as John Paul's efforts.

Since you're off-topic with... (Below threshold)

Since you're off-topic with Bush-bashing, I think you started with a self-fulfilling prophecy: You hate the Right, therefore they must be wrong. I daresay that Reagan and Bush both understood the mechanism of how to raise funds through tax cuts - an economic move championed by Milton Friedman, by the way - far better than the whiners who think that the public wallet belongs to the government. What made Reagan great was not the spending per se - not that Progressives can make a legitimate claim to careful spending limits - but his comprehension of the overall condition. That is, if Reagan had approached foreign policy in the manner of Carter, the USSR would still be here today, and probably would have eaten countries in Africa and the Middle East just to survive. If he had settled for the Eisenhower or Truman methods, again the USSR would have continued on as it had for decades. Reagan understood that a combination of tough resolve and reasonable discussion was the way to go.

Reagan applied the same thinking to government - he understood the difference between what was actually possible, and what was just a pipe dream. Sadly, most Presidents miss that distinction.

I loved John Paul 2, but frankly he was a cheerleader while Reagan carried the ball.

I only brought up Bush with... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

I only brought up Bush within the context of the original discussion. Every election is a referendum on the party currently in power, and in this case, since there's no incumbent or VP who will automatically inherit the nomination, the divisions within the party are more visible than usual.

Regarding the Soviet Union, it was rotten fruit from day one. Trying to support themselves as well as the Warsaw Pact nations and then invading Afghanistan finally pushed them over the fiscal brink and they lacked the economic ability to recover. As you say, Reagan's military policies were a part of that, but I don't think they were the major part. And when the client states in eastern Europe started getting feisty again, the Soviets simply didn't have the means to crush the widespread rebellions like they had in Hungary in '56 or Czechoslovakia in '68.

One more thing. I don't "hate the right." I am personally on the left, but our nation needs both political points of view to maintain a healthy balance in Washington. Whenever *either* side has too much power, the result is corruption. It happened with the Dems in the 80s and it happened with the Pubs from when they took power in '94 to when they were removed in '06. Our government is in continuous flux, and that's a good thing.

Paul Hamilton, you are way ... (Below threshold)

Paul Hamilton, you are way of the mark. To say Reagan only played a little part in the failure of the Soviet Union is past delusional. I know you are a proud, card carrying Catholic, but your admiration for John Paul2 approaches fanatacism. He did speak out against communism, but who didn't? Reagan played the game to perfection and helped the Soviets destroy themselves. John Paul2 played a very small part in it, if even that. ww

WW, I guess we'll have to a... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

WW, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

And yes, I consider John Paul to be the most admirable person of my lifetime. I hope he soon achieves the sainthood he richly deserves. He fought tyranny and evil all the way from the Nazis to the Communists and put his own life in jeopardy every step of the way. And despite his high office, he never lost touch with the common man. His was a truly remarkable life

Paul, no one is disputing J... (Below threshold)

Paul, no one is disputing JP2 was a good man. He just was a small part of the Soviet Empire collapsing. Communists do not believe so why would they fear JP2.

I think you need to learn some history. ww

They feared him because of ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

They feared him because of the love the people of eastern Europe had for him and the influence he had there.

Stalin made that mistake and the folks in control of the Soviet Union in the late 80s were fully aware of his influence but were powerless to do anything about it.

So, how many Stingers did J... (Below threshold)

So, how many Stingers did John Paul have?

So Al Gore felt go... (Below threshold)
The Other JD:
So Al Gore felt good about his prospects of being the first Democrat to succeed a Democrat in the White House since Lyndon Johnson.

Not to be indelicate, but should following an assassinated POTUS count as an actual "succession" in your argument?

That said, prepare for the Donk long knives to come out for Fred Thompson. McCain is dead in the water because of immigration and BCRA; Guliani's progress has stalled, and Romney has "the Mormon problem" that, with all of his charm and telegenic appearance, he will not be able to get past.

As to the Donks, it's only a matter of time before AlGore does the White Knight thing. Mheh.

Gore is Rosinante's 'Rider ... (Below threshold)

Gore is Rosinante's 'Rider of the Purple Rage'.

Kim asked:>>So, how ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Kim asked:
>>So, how many Stingers did John Paul have?

I would say he had exactly as many as he needed.

Check out this picture: http://www.biega.com/photoalbum/Pope'svisitPoland1979.jpg

I would remind certaibn ... (Below threshold)

I would remind certaibn people that, unlike Florida, most states left the vote totals unchallenged. Therefore, it is not confirmed that Al Gore actually won the popular vote by the margins claimed.

Yes, it is quite possible that he won the popular vote by an even greater margin.

This is just about the lamest dodge I've ever heard. The results of those states were certified following the normal process that they were in previous and subsequent elections. There is no reason to think that they're not quite accurate, and no reason to think that they're high for Gore as opposed to low.

It's always funny to me when someone says, "I can get over X" immediately after trying to downplay the relevance or even existence of X.

In any event, the lesson is still relevant. It's not how many people vote for you. It's where they live. Even if 2000 never happened, that remains true.

Yangtree, polls are perc... (Below threshold)

Yangtree, polls are perception, not reality. A leader who obsesses with popularity, is no leader, but only a Clinton.

We are talking about politics and winning elections, right? In that realm, you're contending that reality is more important than perception?

As you say, Clinton was in the toilet and had managed to alienate just about everyone (not as many people as Bush, but still a lot of people). But, according to you, he rallied his troops and rebuilt an image due to "a spine of jello". Even if that is exactly correct, surely there is a lesson there. Do the American people admire the spine of jello? Are they easily duped? Is just ralling the loyal troops enough to change the perception of failure and weakness to strength and success?

Good answer and good pictur... (Below threshold)

Good answer and good picture, Paul.

Not a good picture or answe... (Below threshold)

Not a good picture or answer Paul. Let's see, for just about ever, there had been Italian popes. Then they vote in JP2 after that 30 day hinky administration of JP1.( What happened there?) JP2 is polish. He goes to POLAND and the people are excited. That is all a no brainer. If the pope was from Australia, the crowds would be huge there also. Now because of that picture, you expect us to believe he waved his majic sheppards staff and the Soviet Union collapsed? That is not how the world works. Even Jesus noted how the citizens of this world are smarter then the stewards of HIS. I have very strong faith. I have a very strong belief. I do not believe GOD takes sides in politics. JP2 did his very small part. Good for him. Good for Poland. But I think I much bigger thanks goes to Reagan and his policies. ww

They were both the right me... (Below threshold)

They were both the right men in the right place. It was the Xerox machine that brought down the Soviet Union. It was all made possible by the fraud of a socioeconomic system Communism is.

Kim, that is another theory... (Below threshold)

Kim, that is another theory worthy of consideration. ww

By the way, JP2 also helped bring the pedophile friendly Cardinal to the Vatican to escape the charges and villification he so richly deserved. A real saint. ww

Wild Willie, JP2 was both a... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Wild Willie, JP2 was both a spiritual leader and a popular one. Yes, he was the pope, and that has a lot of clout in itself. But he was also a man of the people and dedicated his whole life to fighting tyranny. Clearly the people of Poland have been oppressed by one nation or another for hundreds of years and so the people there were tired of it and rose up in the Solidarity movement. That was all well and good, but there had been popular uprisings before which had either been ignored or trampled down by whoever was occupying them at the moment. The support and especially the presence of JP2 in Poland gave international recognition and validity for all the things they were fighting for. And it was after that that the flame of freedom began to spread all over eastern Europe. The Soviets probably WANTED to kill John Paul for what he was doing, but he was too big an international figure for them to take the risk.

So it wasn't just a matter of waving his shepherd's crook, it was a case of the right man with the right message at the right time. No political figure -- including Reagan -- could have had that influence in Poland.






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