Rowan Williams: a New Statesman reader

Ten of the best pieces on the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury from the NS archive.

1. Leader: The government needs to know how afraid people are (June 2011)

Published in the special edition of the magazine he guest-edited, Williams's celebrated leader accused the government of committing the country to "radical, long-term policies for which no one voted."

2. Interview: Rowan Williams (December 2008)

James Macintyre's long interview-profile of Williams included the Archbishop's reflections on sharia law, capitalism and the disestablishment of the Church.

3. Rowan Williams in conversation with William Hague (June 2011)

Williams's conversation with the Foreign Secretary ranged from the assassination of Osama Bin Laden to the Libyan intervention and the role of moral values in foreign policy.

4. Editor's Note -- after Rowan Williams (June 2011)

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley reflects on the remarkable fallout from Williams's political intervention.

5. It could have been me (February 2007)

In 2007, Williams reported on the plight of fellow Christian leader Samba Momesori, imprisoned for life without trial in Equatorial Guinea.

6. The week I was fired by the nicest man I know (July 2011)

George Pitcher explains the "schoolboy allusion" that led to his departure as Williams's public affairs secretary.

7. Leader: In praise of Rowan Williams (October 2011)

An NS editorial praised Williams's "admirable fearlessness" after he visited Zimbabwe to challenge Robert Mugabe's religious oppression.

8. Lethally polite bafflement (March 2012)

The New Statesman's culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire reviews Williams's "dialogue" (not "debate") with his fellow NS guest editor Richard Dawkins.

9. Leader: A global big society (June 2011)

In his second leader for the NS, Williams explores how the "democratic deficit" in Africa can be addressed.

10. Choosing an archbishop (September 2011)

The NS's religion blogger Nelson Jones asks why the appointment of Williams's successor should be left to "a faceless committee".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Show Hide image

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