Comparison of 1980 and 2016: Carter-Reagan versus Clinton-Trump
A CBS News poll from mid-September found that 55 percent of Americans want “big changes,” while 43 percent want “some changes”; just two percent think things are fine the way they are. We need hardly add the observation: If 98 percent of the voters are favoring “change,” it will be hard for this not to be a “change” election.
Then the CBS poll asked: Which candidate can be trusted to change Washington? The answer: 47 percent trust Trump to do it, 20 percent trust Clinton to do it. In other words, Trump owns the “change” issue by a whopping 27-point margin. In a “change” year, that’s the stuff of landslides—as was 1980.
So today, when I see the polls showing Trump behind, I just smile: If the voters mean it when they say that they want change, well, then, they will get change—whether or not the pollsters can see it coming.
Meanwhile, the larger context of the times back then argued strongly for change—drastic change. At home, we were suffering from severe inflation and rising unemployment. At the same time, abroad, the Carter administration suffered the daily indignity of the Iranian hostage crisis. And elsewhere, Carter haplessly confronted the strategic challenges of the Soviet-aided communist victory in Nicaragua and the Russians’ outright invasion of Afghanistan.
So it was little wonder that, according to a Gallup poll, satisfaction with the condition of the country hit a rock-bottom 12 percent in the summer of 1979, and it stayed down in the teens all through 1980.
Yet for all that dissatisfaction, for almost the whole of 1980, it was no certainty that the voters would choose Reagan over Carter. After all, much like Trump today, Reagan was loathed by the media, and that depressed his numbers—or so we thought.
The Media vs. Republicans: The Song Remains the Same
Moreover, back then, there was no alternative media, and so what we now think of as the Main Stream Media was just…the media. You know, as in the broadcast networks, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. These outlets might not seem that important today—it’s perfectly possible to get all the news one wants without ever visiting a legacy site, and the LA Times is one of many newspapers to have gone through bankruptcy—and yet in those days, the longstanding media outlets were seemingly all-powerful.
So on every morning at Reagan campaign HQ, top people had already read a hard-copy version of The New York Times or The Washington Post; a little later, the same people would receive the clips—a thick batch of photocopies of news articles mailed or faxed from around the country. And at 6:30 pm, and again at 7 pm, everything would stop, because we all had to see how the campaign was playing on the nightly newscasts, which in those days were watched by most of the country.
Of course, we usually gritted our teeth as we watched, because the TV reporters, like the print reporters, despised Reagan; almost all of them regarded him as a crazy, maybe even senile, cowboy who would get us not only into a depression, but also into World War Three. (Carter, in their mind, was a well-intentioned failure; that was hardly a ringing endorsement, to be sure, but in the journalistic mind, Carter’s weakness paled compared to Reagan’s menace.)
So with Reagan being savaged every morning and every evening, it wasn’t surprising that our polling was dismal. A Gallup Poll from early January, for example, showed Carter leading Reagan by a nearly two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 33 percent.
That was the paradox: The American people knew that things were going badly, but the media kept insisting that there was no alternative other than to vote for Carter.
Four More Years? Really??
Meanwhile, back in 1980, the big issue was the condition of the country. On July 17, in his acceptance speech to the Republican national convention in Detroit, Reagan finally had his opportunity to speak to the bulk of the American electorate, unfiltered by the media. And in the course of making his overall case for change, he deftly jabbed at Carter:
Can anyone look at the record of this administration and say, “Well done?” Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Carter Administration took office with where we are today and say, “Keep up the good work?” Can anyone look at our reduced standing in the world today and say, “Let’s have four more years of this?”
Thus with the whole country watching, Reagan framed the key issue: Carter equaled “more of the same”; Reagan equaled “change.”
For his part, Carter had no new ideas for the future; he was truly the more-of-the-same candidate. In addition, he didn’t have much of a record to run on, and he knew that, too. So his plan, instead, was to demolish Reagan—just as Hillary today is attempting to demolish Trump. In his August 14, 1980 acceptance speech to the Democratic national convention in New York, Carter ripped into his challenger and all Republicans:
In their fantasy America, all problems have simple solutions—simple and wrong. It’s a make-believe world, a world of good guys and bad guys, where some politicians shoot first and ask questions later. No hard choices, no sacrifice, no tough decisions—it sounds too good to be true, and it is.
For a while, this strategy of ripping up Reagan appeared to be working. Gallup records that in early August, Carter was ahead of Reagan by sixteen points, 45:29. For purposes of comparison, we can note that on August 9 of this year, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Clinton was ten points ahead of Trump.
Yet back in 1980, for all the reasons noted, the country wanted change. And so by mid-August, Reagan had pulled to within a single point of Carter, and the two candidates stayed neck-and-neck all through September.
So if we might skip ahead 36 years, that’s almost exactly where we are today: According to the RealClearPolitics average, as of October 10, Clinton is 4.5 points ahead of Trump in the four-way race. So we might recall: Clinton is almost exactly where Carter was at this time, 36 years ago.
The last Gallup poll of the 1980 campaign showed Reagan up three points, 47:44; although as noted earlier, he ended up winning by ten points. To put that another way, although Gallup called the election correctly, it was still off by seven points—and that’s something to keep in mind as the 2016 election nears.
Indeed, we can all step back and ask: This November, will the country vote to renew its commitment to the sort of laxity that enables foreign terrorists to enter the country, even as others take to the streets to loot and burn? If the voters do reward chaos, it will contradict all historical precedent.
That’s the challenge to Hillary: Like Carter before her, she knows better than to run on overt “four more years” agenda, and so, instead, she figures that she must knock Trump out of the box with negative attacks—and coordinate her barrage, of course, with the MSM.
And in defense of her tactics, we might ask: What else can she do? She is trying, of course, to run on the Obama record—offering her presidency, in effect, as his third term. But does that really seem like a winning message?
However, she can’t run on her record, because, as Trump says to great effect, her 30 years in public life about to “all talk, no action.”
And she can’t run on Bill Clinton’s record for many reasons, starting with the fact the trade deals he championed are now in disrepute, and ending, as we have seen, with the sudden re-emergence of his own past sexual indiscretions—and have we mentioned the Clinton Foundation?
Finally, she can’t run on the Democratic platform published in Philadelphia; that was the most left-wing major-party platform in history—does she really want to get into a discussion of open borders in a time such as this?
No, not a one of those options are attractive for her. Thus she is left with just one last option—attack.
So now our comparison of 1980 and 2016 must end—we have to let the election play out. Quite possibly, just as was the lone Carter-Reagan presidential debate in ‘80, the next Clinton-Trump debate, to be held on October 19, will be decisive. Yes, Trump is behind, but as we have seen, in a “change” year, if the challenger can make himself seem acceptable to undecided voters, then the tide of change will sweep him into the White House.
And we also know this: Since Hillary can’t run on her record, can’t run on her vision for the future, and certainly can’t run on her own personal probity, then, like Carter before her, she has only one choice: Attack. That’s what she did Sunday night in St. Louis, that’s what all her campaign surrogates are doing and will be doing, and, of course, that’s what the MSM is and will be doing.
THE LIBERAL MEDIA’S PERPETUAL SMEAR CAMPAIGN
Today’s news is dominated by claims that years ago, Donald Trump made crude comments about women, or inappropriately touched women, or intruded into a women’s dressing room, and so on. Gone from the campaign are such issues as the economy, Obamacare, national security and immigration. As Election Day approaches, the news is all Trump scandals, all the time.
Some will say–I may have said–that Republican primary voters asked for it by nominating a man with obvious personal vulnerabilities, instead of a more upright (and more electable) Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz or whoever.
But what’s a Republican to do? Last cycle, we nominated the ultimate Boy Scout: Mitt Romney. Whatever you think of Romney from a policy perspective, he is as admirable a man as you will ever meet. To find a presidential candidate of better moral character, you probably have to go back to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Romney never said a rude word about a woman in his life.
So what happened? Did Romney and the GOP get credit in the press for the candidates’s outstanding character? No. Romney, who helped to create tens of thousands of jobs at Bain Capital, was denounced as a “vulture capitalist” and blamed, absurdly, for one woman’s developing cancer. The Washington Post made a front page story of the fact that 50 years earlier, when he was in high school, he and others had cut a classmate’s hair. Oh, and Romney was a racist, too. Does anyone remember why? I don’t.
The cycle before that, GOP voters nominated John McCain. McCain is a great patriot, a man of extraordinary character and courage who survived years of torture and abuse as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Did the liberal media give Republicans credit for nominating such a hero? No. The New York Times, to its everlasting shame, peddled a false rumor that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist. (Bill Clinton would have done that before breakfast.) It also berated McCain for failing to release his medical records–which, actually, he did, unlike Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Left’s permanent smear campaign against conservatives doesn’t just extend to Republican presidential candidates. Recall how the Democrat/media complex treated the Tea Party. Prominent House Democrats lied, disgracefully: they claimed, falsely, that Tea Party activists at a protest in Washington had hurled racial insults at black Democrats like John Lewis. The press ate it up. They printed the Democrats’ lies as facts, and to this day reporters and editors have never corrected the libel, even though a $100,000 prize to anyone who could substantiate the Democrats’ lies went unclaimed.
What’s the point? I’m not really sure. I certainly am not in favor of nominating candidates of poor or marginal character. But the hypocrisy of the liberal media is galling. In this election cycle, lewd comments made decades ago are apparently of earth-shattering importance. Really? Where was that standard when Bill Clinton was running for office? Or John Kennedy? Or Lyndon Johnson? And how about Barack Obama and Joe Biden? Has anyone actually investigated to see what they might have said about women over the last thirty years?
What is the point of nominating someone of extraordinary moral stature, like Mitt Romney, if the political press will not only unanimously refuse to acknowledge the fact, but worse, join in a campaign of deception to smear Romney in the eyes of voters?
These days there is lots of gnashing of teeth over the decline of our political culture. And it surely has declined, as manifested in the current presidential campaign. But one must ask, why has that happened? It seems to me that the media’s permanent smear campaign against the Republican Party, waged cycle after cycle regardless of the actual merits of Republican nominees, is the largest part of the answer.
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