Every time Republicans lose ground in federal elections, we hear the same chorus coming from the Beltway establishment: conservatism has had its day, Americans are moving left.
We heard it in 1982 and again in 1992, very clearly in 2006 and most definitely in 2008.
But, if you look closely at each of those elections (save 1982), the victorious Democrats had not defeated Republicans running on a Reaganite record, but Republicans who had adopted the Washington habits of their Democratic peers.
And let us recall that the most successful Democratic President since FDR, Bill Clinton, won not by opposing Ronald Reagan, but by co-opting his ideas. In 1992, he wasn’t running to expand the federal government, but to re-invent it (whatever that means) and to “end welfare as we know it.” He may have governed more to the left than he campaigned in his first two years in office, but, after Republicans won Congress in 1994, he quickly shifted gears and steered clear of tax increases and big-budget boondoggles.
No man has ever been elected president by running against Ronald Reagan. The American people have never repudiated his ideas at the ballot box. Indeed, the last Democrat to win the Oval Office did so by borrowing Reagan’s rhetoric, you know that stuff about “living beyond our means” and proposing “a net spending cut.”