(Jim Clark) – Former Utah Governor John Huntsman’s recent visit to Reno has quietly raised the question: “How much does it hurt a GOP candidate’s primary election chances to have been associated with the (ugh) other political party?” Huntsman stepped down to accept an appointment by President Obama as ambassador to China, and he has now thrown his hat in the crowded Republican presidential ring.
Perhaps the most famous Republican to have not only associated with the Democratic Party, but to have been a long time New Deal Democrat as well as president of a labor union, was Ronald Reagan. On his conversion Reagan announced that: “The Democratic Party left me”.
The Democratic Party has, within a generation or two, become dovish, tilted toward Marxism, and eschewed patriotism, so I think Reagan had a point. Just last week, Harvard University released the results of a study showing that children who love patriotic celebrations such as the 4th of July have a 4% higher chance of being Republicans when they grow up. It’s clear that the “Party of Jefferson” has been moved to the left by candidates such as Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, and Howard Dean.
The political shifts that caused Reagan to jump to the GOP have been brilliantly documented by two brothers, Earl Black and Merle Black, both Harvard-trained professors of political science, in their book: “The Rise of the Southern Republicans”.
In it, they document the total domination of the South by the Democratic Party from Reconstruction up until about 1962. Then, the curve showing Republican members of Congress gradually but inexorably began to rise, and the curve showing Democrats fell to where the only Democrat congressmen from the South were African Americans. Republicans of all ethnicities now dominate the South’s congressional delegations.
So when the media speculate on whether Texas Governor Rick Perry might declare his candidacy for president of the United States, they may describe him as a former Democrat, but Republicans just yawn because every seasoned Republican politician from the South was once a Democrat.
To be fair, the GOP is no longer the party of Teddy Roosevelt. Richard Nixon won the endorsement of the AFL/CIO, ushered in the EPA, and imposed price controls. After his fall from grace, Ronald Reagan mounted a primary challenge to incumbent President Gerry Ford, who outlasted him but lost to Jimmy Carter in the general election.
Most of us remember the Jimmy Carter “malaise,” misery indices, and long gas lines. Carter was ousted after one term by an enormous Reagan victory, and the GOP began a clear shift to the right. After his first term, Reagan was challenged by Democrat Walter Mondale, who promised to raise taxes. Mondale won only 1 state, while Reagan won 49 in one of history’s biggest landslides.
Washington Post writer Richard Cohen recently authored a column titled: “The GOP needs an intervention,” in which he recommends psychiatric help for the Republican Party because, he alleges, it has become a “cult” in which all prospective GOP candidates are asked to sign a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” by Americans for Tax Reform and a “Pro-Life Leadership Pledge” by the Susan B. Anthony List.
Like most liberal opinion columnists’ work, Cohen’s piece is more eye-catching than accurate. . . here in Nevada, our two highest-ranking GOP incumbents, Gov. Sandoval and Sen. Heller, have signed neither. But the 2010 election results make it clear that the general public is no fonder of taxes, borrowing and spending than it was when Mondale ran.
So, is Huntsman tarnished by service as Obama’s ambassador? If his message is low taxes, reduced spending, and limited government, it should pose no problem.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)