Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. England must reject Scottish currency union (Financial Times)

It would be folly for the rest of the UK to enter such an arrangement voluntarily, says Martin Wolf. 

2. Empty Dave won’t be offering us any ideas (Times)

At least the Labour leader has a coherent philosophy, writes Philip Collins. The Prime Minster cares about little – but wants for nothing.

3. Giving 16-year-olds the vote can be Labour's Great Reform Act (Guardian)

Britain's rotten, bribery-based democracy discounts the young and the poor, says Polly Toynbee. Getting sixth-formers to vote is the first step to fixing it.

4. The Tories’ loop of vengeance could sink their election hopes (Daily Telegraph)

Many Conservative MPs are more fixated on internal battles over Europe than on winning the public vote in 2015, writes Fraser Nelson. 

5. Argentina is no danger to the world - but the eurozone is (Daily Telegraph)

Emerging markets are making headlines but it is the eurozone that is still in a really bad way, says Jeremy Warner. 

6. Germany, I apologise for this sickening avalanche of first world war worship (Guardian)

The festival of self-congratulation will be the British at their worst, and there are still years to endure, writes Simon Jenkins. A tragedy for both our nations.

7. Tory modernisers are getting their heads round mental health (Daily Telegraph)

Under true 'parity of esteem', the Conservatives seek to give equal weighting to mental and physical services in the NHS, writes Isabel Hardman. 

8. India is still in the great Asian race (Financial Times)

The chaos of democracy blunts the impulses that once held the threat of break-up, writes Philip Stephens.

9. The disturbing parallels between Syria's civil war and Spain in the 1930s (Independent)

Britons are joining in a foreign war just as they did 80 years ago, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.  

10. Immigration bill: political panic attack (Guardian)

The Tory rebels' defeat on the issue of powers to deport convicted criminals bore many of the attributes of victory, notes a Guardian 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