Trump is running on essentially the same message as Reagan. Reagan insisted that America’s problems were not as complicated or intractable as everyone seemed to think. “For many years now, you and I have been shushed like children and told there are no simple answers to the complex problems which are beyond our comprehension,” Reagan said at his 1967 inauguration as governor of California. “Well, the truth is, there are simple answers—there are not easy ones.” He made a similar statement in his famous 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, and he never wavered from it. The simple answer was to be tough—tough on cutting the budget, tough on domestic protesters, and above all, tough on the world stage. Reagan’s 1980 foreign-policy slogan promised “peace through strength.” He told audiences, “We have to be so strong that no nation in the world will dare lift a hand against us.”
.. When a Washington Postreporter asked him recently if he had encountered any campaign issue that turned out to be more complex than he initially thought, he wouldn’t take the bait. “This is not complicated, believe me,” Trump maintained.
.. The message—that simple solutions exist, but other leaders lack the strong will to implement them—was a central aspect of Reagan’s appeal and is key to understanding the Trump phenomenon. But in the long term it won’t pay off for Trump as it did for Reagan because of two major differences between the 1980 election and the 2016 election: the opposing candidates and the voters’ mood.
Reagan’s message worked beautifully against Jimmy Carter in 1980 because it drew on their differences. Carter’s speeches as president emphasized that there were no simple solutions—restoring America’s confidence and prosperity, he said, would take years of hard work and sacrifice (most memorably, he told people to turn down their thermostats and drive less). It was very refreshing for voters to hear someone saying the opposite.
.. And even if Trump were running against a Jimmy Carter, his task would be much harder than Reagan’s, for in 1980 the public’s mood verged on desperation. Events in Iran and Afghanistan dealt a serious blow to the confidence and pride of a supposed superpower still reeling from the humiliation of leaving Vietnam to the communists. Of even greater concern to most voters, the economy was in shambles, with real GDP shrinking at an alarming rate and inflation soaring to nearly 15 percent (the highest figure since the aftermath of World War II).
.. A recent poll found that 86 percent of Republican voters believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to 67 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats.
The more I watch Trump debate, the more fascinated I get by his obsession with polling. He’s the perfect pop-art reflection of the Nate Silver age, where quantification is what matters most. Trump’s answer to everything: _Hey, this is where I am in the polls; this is where you are. Need I say more? —David Graham
.. The more time that Donald Trump spends on debate stages, the more the novelty of his bombastic charisma will wear off, and the more his recourse to insults will wear thin. He can’t help himself but to be baited into pettiness. I don’t know that Rand Paul’s attack on him helped the Kentucky Senator, but Trump’s response—to mock Paul’s appearance—is the kind of thing that will cause him to lose in the end. —Conor Friedersdorf
.. Tapper keeps asking candidates whether they’d be comfortable with Trump’s “finger on the nuclear codes.” Even leaving aside the bungled metaphor, it’s an oddly out-of-place question. It helped sink the presidential aspirations of Arizona’s Barry Goldwater half a century ago; it took a Californian to combine Goldwater’s conservative faith with a less aggressive demeanor to capture the White House. The risk of Trump shooting off nuclear missiles isn’t what gives most skeptical voters pause. But the query raises another question: Is there a candidate on the stage who can sell Trump’s positions less bluntly, the Reagan to his Goldwater? And even if there is, that actually what people want? —Yoni Appelbaum