Republicans clearly long for Ronald Reagan. Not only was he more politically successful than any of the current crop of candidates are likely to be; he seemed to have “it.”
But the problem for Republicans is: What is “it”? To some, the essence of Ronald Reagan was his dedication to religion and socially conservative values, even though he was a man of Hollywood, twice married and didn’t attend church. However, he did spearhead the religious right in this country, for which the Republican Party (and to some degree, the country) has paid for ever since. Reagan also came across with an “aw shucks” persona that’s appealing to people, at least to people who agree with you because it tends to symbolize comfort with yourself and your views. Lastly, he advanced an overall attitude (more than a specific agenda) in favor of limited government, the foundation upon which our country was founded but from which it has radically departed in the last century or so. Although Reagan couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything (aside from cut taxes) to make the government less intrusive, he certainly articulated this belief system very well. In today’s race, the appeal of Ronald Reagan is spread across several different candidates. Giuliani actually makes a fairly eloquent case for limiting government, reducing spending and cutting taxes even further–in a sense, he talks about taking the Reagan attitude and translating it into actual practice. This is why he appeals to a sizable number of Republicans. Those who liked Reagan mainly for his “aw shucks” charm or association with religious values, now seem to be turning (at least for the moment) to Mike Huckabee. Much is being made of whether or not Huckabee will take the front-runner status from Giuliani. What seems more likely to me is that there hasn’t been a front-runner in the Republican race as there has been in the Democratic race. Hillary Clinton was and still is the front-runner in the Democratic race; it’s hers to lose. She might lose it, but she probably won’t. What isn’t clear about the Republicans is whether there will eventually be a winner. Huckabee could win one primary; maybe McCain another; maybe Romney another; and Giuliani still another. Right now, this seems to be where it’s heading. My sense is that there probably will be a Republican nominee at some point, although it will not necessarily be Giuliani and whoever it is will be badly damaged. The Republican Party seems to finally be imploding.