Crusader isn't a word usually applied to either President Obama or Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Close associates describe both men as reserved, analytical, and empirical, usually happier when diving into a spreadsheet of data than a room of outstretched hands. Neither is entirely trusted by his party's ideological vanguard.
And yet their competition for the White House in 2012 could produce the greatest issue divergence between the parties in decades. "In ideological terms, this is probably the starkest contrast we've seen since at least 1984 between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale," said veteran Democratic strategist William Galston, the issues director for Mondale in that campaign and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Others reach back even further: On the central issue of the role of the federal government in American life, the distance between Obama and Romney may be wider than the differences between any two nominees since Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In 2012, few people are likely to complain that this election is offering a choice, not an echo. "We don't have "˜small ball' this year," says Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who was director of strategic initiatives in George W. Bush's White House. "We're not arguing over midnight basketball. It's not going to be a convergence of views. It's going to be a philosophical clash."