Newt Gingrich Compares Himself to Ronald Reagan (Again)

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The former House Speaker says his bid for the GOP nomination is 'exactly' like the 1980 Republican primary. He's wrong.

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For a self-described historian and a longtime observer of Republican politics, Newt Gingrich sure has some strange, if characteristically self-aggrandizing, ideas about how his current bid for the GOP nomination fits into history. Interviewed by Chuck Todd of NBC, he had this to say about the ongoing primary contest: "The fight I am in with Romney is exactly the fight that Reagan was in with the establishment in '80. It is amazing how none of the fault lines have changed."

This is a perfect example of a core Gingrich tick: he is so obsessed with comparing himself to great presidents of the past that he frames the world in nonsensical ways to further his grandiose fantasies. All sorts of fault lines have changed since 1980. No one is arguing about how to grapple with the Soviet Union, or tackle sky-high inflation, or what position the GOP should take with respect to the Equal Rights Amendment or abortion. Sure, there are fault lines that have endured over the last 30 years -- the GOP still has libertarians and social conservatives, there is a divide among tax-cutters and deficit hawks, there are foreign affairs arguments between paleo-conservatives and neoconservatives, and there are conservatives and moderates (and people who have different ideas about the role compromise plays in politics).

But the contest pitting Romney against Gingrich doesn't clarify any of those divides. Both men took most of the same positions during the Bush years, happily change their positions on domestic issues to track the Republican electorate, and puff themselves up to sound tough on foreign policy, where it is difficult to discern any principled difference in their respective approaches.

As Yuval Levin put it in National Review:

Substantively, their views are largely indistinguishable from one another. They're part of a very broad consensus on policy among Republicans this year, which is one of the under-reported stories of the year and is frankly in many ways a testament to Paul Ryan, who really defined the Republican agenda with his budget. The House Republican budget caused both Romney and Gingrich to take significantly more conservative positions on entitlement reform in particular than either one would otherwise have taken. Moreover, both of them have moved back and forth on the same key issues in recent years -- on health care, on climate, on immigration, on the social issues including the life issues; and these are obviously some of the most important issues to Republican voters. So the question of flip-flops, or the question of reliability, hangs heavy over both of them.
There is one final difference. The frontrunners in 1980, Reagan and Bush, both ultimately became president. It is highly unlikely that either Romney or Gingrich would name the other man vice-president, and less likely still that they'll both one day occupy the nation's top political office.

Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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