Editor's Note: This columnist will do more with the phrase "anyone since Ronald Reagan" than anyone since Ronald Reagan.
As a state leader in an early primary state, Sen. Jim DeMint's endorsement is heavily sought-after. After putting 2008 pick Mitt Romney back on the shelf, the senator said that Sarah Palin was a possible choice. "We've never spoken, but she left me a nice message," he said. "I believe she's done more for the Republican Party than anyone since Ronald Reagan."
The chatter regarding Palin's presidential prospects is premature to say the least. Her brief stint as Alaska's governor lasted just a hair longer than her time on the 2008 GOP presidential ticket. More quirky than sassy, Palin was a reality show star before she had her own reality show.
Obviously, Reagan's shoes are difficult to fill, but just compare the pair's resumés side-by-side. Most notably, there are the two years Palin served in Alaska compared to the eight years Reagan ran California. And that was before the revered president had reached his prime.
But DeMint shouldn't be left to face the harsh light of this gaffe alone. He wasn't the first and he won't be the last to make such a bold comparison. Last October, ABC's Terry Moran grilled Sen. John McCain about his VP pick, and the former maverick was relentless in his support. "I haven't seen anyone since Ronald Reagan that — with certain individuals and large groups of individuals — who really have this passionate belief and support for her," McCain said.
Palin isn't the only one burdened with Reagan-esque expectations. Republican political strategist Vin Weber told NPR last year that he had high hopes for everyone on the primary ticket. "The presidential candidates are going to be talking about credible plans to reduce the size and scope of government, probably more ambitiously than anyone since Ronald Reagan," Weber said.
Once a candidate secures the nomination, he or she will likely face a wild barrage of these comparisons. Consider the praise heaped on George W. Bush. David Brooks wrote in 2005 that Bush had recast conservatism "more significantly than anyone had since Ronald Reagan." Former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed told The Washington Times in 2000 that Bush had tapped into the religious right, speaking authentically about traditional values. "He does a better job in speaking to these issues in a common language than anyone since Ronald Reagan."
Bush isn't the only decider-in-chief favorably compared to Reagan. The Washington Post noted in a 1992 editorial that President Bill Clinton was "articulate, well-informed, and more natural in the role of politician than anyone since Ronald Reagan." In an editorial commemorating President Barack Obama's inauguration, The Wall Street Journal noted the new president's cool demeanor. "He wore the pressures of an epic campaign as lightly as anyone since Ronald Reagan."
Of course, there's also the slim possibility that DeMint wasn't complimenting Palin. After all, the phrase "anyone since Ronald Reagan" is often used as a sarcastic insult thrown at Democrats. Like Republican strategist Alex Castellanos telling CNN in November that President Barack Obama was the leader of the GOP, asking "Who has done more to unite Republicans than anybody since Ronald Reagan?" In 2007, Pat Buchanan said the No. 1 Democrat uniting conservatives was Hillary Clinton. "She is as good at that as anybody since Ronald Reagan."
The truth is Reagan's leadership and presidential temperament drew support from both independents and moderate Democrats, particularly in the South. True "Reagan Republicans" had a "D" on their voting card prior to 1980. That kind of general election support is something neither Jim DeMint nor Sarah Palin can claim. In fact, DeMint and Palin have done more to drive moderates to the left than anyone since Barack Obama.