CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. By playing nasty, Labour is wrecking its own chances (Guardian)

Jackie Ashley says that the public likes the shift in tone to more amiable, co-operative politics -- but still Labour's leadership hopefuls are acting tribal, competing to see who can be nastiest to the Lib Dems.

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2. The Liberals have a history of splitting (Daily Telegraph)

What's unique about the Charles Kennedy silly-season rumour is that it doesn't matter if it's true or not, says Stephen Pollard. Most Lib Dems would feel happier with Labour.

3. Labor paid the price for its lack of principle (Times)

The Australian MP Malcolm Turnbull argues that on 21 August Julia Gillard learned that voters will forgive incompetence, but not failure of conviction.

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4. Can talks bring peace at last? (Independent)

Donald Macintyre looks at the Middle East peace process, and asks whether Binyamin Netanyahu remains the opportunistic rightist of old, or if he has decided he wants a real place in history.

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5. A missed chance to quell the fanatics (Financial Times)

Barack Obama's statement on the "Ground Zero mosque" looked vacillating, says Clive Crook. Whether or not he made the case for the project to go ahead, he could have sought to unify, and insisted on tolerance on both sides.

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6. Democrats' fright club (Guardian)

Obama's approval rating is fine, says Michael Tomasky, but his party's fear of the Republicans means they'll suffer at the polls.

7. Children of addicts deserve a chance of a better life (Times)

Looking at the coalition's proposals on cutting welfare for addicts, Libby Purves argues that it's not taking away benefits that will make a difference, but taking away children from damaging and chaotic parents.

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8. Cuts are one thing, revenue another (Independent)

Mary Ann Sieghart warns that if tax takes fall, we could end up with spending cuts, a spiral back into recession and a deficit just as big as it was before -- the worst outcome for the country and the coalition.

Read the CommenPlus summary.

9. Why Europe fears Petraeus's urge to surge (Financial Times)

General Petraeus is expected to push for a troop surge, notes Ahmed Rashid, but Europe wants a negotiated endgame and regional settlement -- and that must include talking to the Taliban.

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10. Generational warriors have a point. But go easy on the old (Guardian)

Political short-termism has failed the young, says Madeline Bunting. Yet attacking the elderly and sick instead of inequality will only help Osborne.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war