Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Eastleigh by-election is a warning for the Tories (Daily Telegraph)

The withered state of the Conservative Party’s grassroots bodes ill for the general election in 2015, says Paul Goodman.

2. The Lib Dems must not stand for any more lies over the NHS (Guardian)

The Tories have misled their coalition partners – and us – repeatedly over the true extent of their health service vandalism, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Settler policy imperils Israel’s foundations (Financial Times)

The country is losing legitimacy among allies around the world, writes Philip Stephens. Netanyahu bears responsibility.

4. Follow Marco or stay out of the White House (Times)

The smart young Republican has shifted on immigration, writes David Taylor. If his party wants power, it must follow suit.

5. Barely noticed, civil war is raging in Whitehall (Independent)

Government ministers are riding roughshod over the civil service, and that leads to government by cock-up and a loss of morale in Whitehall, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

6. Juries? It's time they went the way of the ducking stool (Guardian)

The soap opera that is the Vicky Pryce trial shows the archaic rituals of our courts to be little more than legal parlour games, writes Simon Jenkins.

7. Weaker pound is welcome but no panacea (Financial Times)

The challenge is to connect monetary and fiscal policy to promote demand while enhancing supply, says Martin Wolf.

8. A degree of good sense (Daily Telegraph)

With people working for longer, and jobs for life becoming a thing of the past, it makes sense for older people to return to higher education, says a Telegraph leader.

9. The Robin Hood tax takes a step closer (Guardian)

The aim of the financial transaction tax is to make banks and markets contribute more – and it's coming to 11 EU states soon, writes Algirdas Šemet.

10. A poorly disguised raid on Britain's aid budget (Independent)

If David Cameron wants to up military spending he should have the courage to say so, says an Independent editorial.

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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