President Obama told reporters that Ronald Reagan "couldn't get through a Republican primary today" because the party has become so much more conservative. This is one of those kids-these-days stories that some Democrats like to tell themselves as they complain that their Republican rivals are worse than ever. Well, it isn't so! Take a look at the signature positions of the former president compared to the guys who want to be his second coming:
Reagan move: In 1976, he popularized the "welfare queen" mythology -- a black woman on food stamps bilking the government out of thousands of dollars. In 1980, he gave his first post-convention speech on "states rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi, which was most famous for horrific murders of three Freedom Riders. Was the area famous for anything else? No.
Rick Santorum equivalent: "I don't want to make 'blaaargh' people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money." (Critics say he meant "black people." Santorum says he just tripped over his tongue.)
Ron Paul equivalent: He used to publish racist newsletters under his name, but now he denounces their content.
Mitt Romney equivalent: One time he embarrassingly asked some black teenagers, "Who let the dogs out?"
Most conservative: Reagan by a landslide.
Reagan move: One time, in the 1970s, Arthur Laffer drew a graph on a napkin arguing that if the government cuts taxes, it'll make more money, because businesses will be more profitable. Economists say this idea is false. Nevertheless, it inspired Reaganomics. He campaigned with the promise to make the biggest tax cuts in America's history. Sure, once he was in office, he started liking taxes: a 5 cent gas tax, then the biggest tax hike in 40 years in 1982. He cut the capital gains tax to the lowest rate in decades but then raised it in 1986.
Santorum equivalent: He wants to eliminate taxes on manufacturers so they'll come back stateside and hire Americans.
Gingrich equivalent: He wants a flat 15 percent tax rate on income, with deductions allowed for mortgages, charitable giving, and a personal deduction of $12,000. He wants to eliminate the capital gains tax.
Romney equivalent: He wants to cut taxes on investment income only for people making less than $100,000 a year. He would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He would cut the six income tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Paul equivalent: Paul wants to eliminate the income tax, five federal agencies, and drastically cut funding to things like the CDC.
Most conservative: Paul, the libertarian, wins of course. As for second place, this one's a tough call, because it's not really possible to imagine a modern second-term president running in a presidential primary. Gingrich is more conservative than President Reagan was, but Reagan the campaigner's proposals were radical for their time.
Reagan move: On foreign policy, Reagan was so far right that in 1967, he said the government was lying about Vietnam: "I have a feeling we're doing much better in the war than we're being told, that the corner has been turned." He was right about the lying. He was really wrong about the direction of the lie.
Santorum equivalent: Speaking about the Afghanistan timeline for withdrawal in March, he said, "If this is the game plan, if the game plan is we're leaving irrespective of whether we're going to succeed or not, then why are we still there? Let's either commit to winning, or let's get out."
Gingrich equivalent: When asked whether it was time to leave Afghanistan, Gingrich said in March, "I think it is. I think that we have to reassess the entire region."
Romney equivalent: Romney does not like having an explicit timetable for withdrawal, "Because that only communicates ... to the enemy, that at some point certain you're leaving." On the other hand, he wants troops home "as soon as possible."
Paul equivalent: Paul wants to immediately pull out of Afghanistan. He wants everyone to chill out about Iran.
Most conservative: Reagan, obviously. If hawkishness equals conservative, that is.
Mitt Romney is winning the Republican primary this year. Mitt Romney is not more conservative than Ronald Reagan the candidate. The most anti-tax candidate of all, Ron Paul, has not won a single state.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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