Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour is betting everything on its new brand of pothole politics (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband hopes local activism and 'viral’ recruitment will be an antidote to voter apathy, writes Mary Riddell.

2. How can prisoners 'work harder' when they've got nothing to do? (Guardian)

It may not be what he intended, but Chris Grayling's criticism exposes the flaws of privately run prisons, says Frances Crook.

3.  I hate Abu Qatada too – but the law’s the law (Times)

Do we seriously want the Home Secretary to ignore the pesky courts and just shove this man on a plane, asks Daniel Finkelstein.

4. Young IDS should pick his battles with care (Daily Telegraph)

Only a foolhardy politician would ask pensioners to sacrifice their free bus pass, says Joan Bakewell.

5. Why the Baltic states are no model (Financial Times)

What is possible for small, open economies is close to impossible for the large and relatively closed, writes Martin Wolf.

6. Michael Gove is winning the hearts of state heads (Daily Telegraph)

Teaching unions don’t want you to know, but head teachers support Michael Gove's education reforms, says Anthony Seldon.

7. Ed Miliband will fail if he locks himself into Tory austerity (Guardian)

Falling living standards make Labour favourite to win the next election, writes Seumas Milne. It needs policies to match the scale of the crisis.

8. Vive la change between us and the French (Daily Mail)

An Anglo-French alliance as reformers of the EU may yet come to pass, says Andrew Alexander.

9. Cash-hungry countries have encouraged the rise of tax havens (Independent)

A desire to protect the oppressed, and generate revenue, has got us to here, writes Hamish McRae.

10. What Queen Elizabeth can learn from Queen Beatrix (Guardian)

Britain's monarch enjoys huge support – but therein is the royals' vulnerability, writes Simon Jenkins. They should look to the Netherlands.

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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