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Romney Rejects, Then Claims Reagan's Legacy

January 30, 2008

Tonight in Simi Valley, California, Mitt Romney and new GOP frontrunner John McCain will face off in the final Republican debate before the 22 Tsunami Tuesday contests on February 5th. It is altogether fitting that this key battle for conservative hearts and minds occurs at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Romney, after all, claimed the Reagan mantle from the beginning of his campaign. Sadly, that would be the same Reagan legacy the former Massachusetts Governor utterly rejected in 1994.
In Florida, both JohnMcCain and Mitt Romney laid claim to being Reagan's heir. Speaking after his victory in the Sunshine State contest Tuesday, McCain declared:

"When I left the Navy and entered public life, I enlisted as a foot soldier in the political revolution he began. And I am as proud to be a Reagan conservative today, as I was then."

But from the beginning, Romney has been even more insistent that he possessed the Reagan gene. Over a year ago, Romney addressed the Awakening 2007 conference in Georgia and declared, "My life experience convinced me that Ronald Reagan was right." In August, Romney told a Melbourne, Florida audience that he like the Gipper would score a 10 out of 10 on a scale of conservatism:

"Probably a 10 as well. I'm trying to think in what places we would differ. As I've gotten older, Reagan keeps getting smarter and smarter. I'm a believer in markets, I'm a believer in American freedom, I am optimistic about America's future. I share the same optimism that Ronald Reagan had. I wish I had his good looks."

On a December campaign swing in South Carolina, Romney again played the Reagan card. "I take inspiration from the strength Ronald Reagan talked about," adding, "It was his view that the right way to overcome challenges was for the country to strengthen itself."
Unfortunately, before Mitt Romney launched his presidential bid by running on Reagan's legacy, he launched his Massachusetts political career by running away from it.
As the Boston Globe first reported on January 11, 2007, Romney rejected the Reagan mantle during his failed 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy. Desperate to compete in pro-choice Massachusetts, Romney was not content to declare, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country." As a YouTube video shows, Mitt made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the Reagan-Bush years:

"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush; I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush. My positions don't talk about the things you suggest they talk about; this isn't a political issue."

(Romney's distinctly un-Reaganesque history doesn't end there. Mitt, it turns out, was an independent during most of his time in Massachusetts. In 1992, he voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the Massachusetts primary so that, as his adviser Eric Fehrnstrom comically claimed, "he got to vote against Bill Clinton twice.")
For its part, the McCain campaign has been quick to denounce Mitt as a Ronnie-come-lately. In December, McCain advisor Mark Salter called Romney's claim that he is the keeper of the Reagan flame part of "Mitt Romney's bizarro world." And on Tuesday in Florida, John McCain himself fired the first salvo at Romney in what will no doubt be a barrage at the Reagan Library tonight:

"Our party has always been successful when we have, like Ronald Reagan, stood fast by our convictions."

No doubt, Mitt Romney will claim that he is merely following in the tradition of Ronald Reagan, who went from FDR Democrat to conservative patron saint within a generation. As Romney has said more than once:

"Now, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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