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Citing Ronald Reagan not so helpful this time around

January 30, 2008 | 11:30 am

Tonight's Republican presidential debate will be held in just a few hours at the Reagan Library near Simi Valley, where the late president is buried and his legacy is on display. (And it'll be live-streamed here on this website starting at 5 p.m. PST.)

Ronald Reagan's name has come up quite a bit in the ongoing struggle for the GOP presidential nomination as the candidates seek to assume the political mantle of the revered California Republican. That's perhaps understandable given the unpopularity of the current president, whose mantle no one seeks this election year.

But according to an imaginative analysis by The Times' Ben Welsh of the words spoken at 15 major Republican debates during the current campaign, citing Ronald Reagan is not only unhelpful. It may be severely dangerous to your political fortunes.

The political power of the Reagan name, like the broad coalition of social, political and economic conservatives he built, may be crumbling.

According to Welsh's analysis, the Republican candidate who invoked Reagan the most is the longtime front-runner who was among the least successful candidates this time, never winning one primary and apparently giving up his effort today -- Rudy Giuliani.

During those 15 debates, Giuliani mentioned the Reagan name 44 times, including one single marathon debate answer that included Reagan's name 10 times (see below.)

Of the remaining GOP candidates, Mitt Romney has cited Reagan 28 times, Sen. John McCain, the new front-runner, 21 times, Mike Huckabee, the yet-to-be-front-runner since Iowa 15 times and Rep. Ron Paul, the 10-term House member with the libertarian ideas, only five times.

--Andrew Malcolm

To read Giuliani's full 10-Reagan answer, see below....

The following is from the Jan. 10 Republican debate on Fox News:

CARL CAMERON: Mayor Giuliani...

GIULIANI: Yes?

CAMERON: ... on the campaign trail over the course of the last several months when you've been asked about your conservatism, you've said that it was basically up for voters to decide. I wonder if you can explain why you're the complete conservative tonight without quoting George Will, and contrast that conservatism to the rest of the members on the dais here.

GIULIANI: Well, first of all, the reason Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 was because Ronald Reagan was seen as the strongest leader in comparison to Jimmy Carter. And Ronald Reagan ran a 50-state campaign.

Of course, it was built around peace through strength, which meant a strong military. And it was built around empowering people, which is why he lowered taxes. He didn't lower taxes just for the purpose of lowering taxes, he lowered taxes because he wanted to leave money in people's pockets because he felt that people spending money creatively is much better than government trying to direct the spending of money.

I worked for Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan appointed me associate attorney general of the United States. He appointed me United States attorney in the southern district of New York. And we're in different times. Ronald Reagan's principles would apply now, but they have to apply to different circumstances.

I'm a conservative because I believe in a strong national defense, the way Ronald Reagan did. I think peace through strength that Ronald Reagan proposed to deal with the Cold War is similar to what we have to do now in dealing with this terrorist war against us. That's why my first commitment to the American people is to be on offense against terrorists.

"I also believe that we have to pursue those principles of lower taxes, restraining spending, devolving power to people, getting power to governments that are closest to the people. I believe those are the core of the conservative coalition that makes us a 50-state party.

"There are some disagreements on social issues. Not on goals, but on some of the methods. But if we want to be a party that can run and win in states that Ronald Reagan won -- New York, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, states we haven't won in a long, long time, and states in which we don't even campaign any longer -- we're going to have to take a really good look at what made up the Reagan coalition. It was a broad outreach, an inclusive one, not one that kept people away."

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