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Win One for The Gipper: Invoking Reagan at the GOP Debates

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Reagan has been mentioned 53 times in the Republican debates compared to 38 mentions for all other 42 ex-presidents combined; Gingrich leads the way with 21 with Romney last with zero

ronaldreagan10.jpgAlthough Ronald Reagan's name will not be on the ballot in 2012, one candidate in the GOP presidential field is behaving as if he would like to be a proxy for the former 40th U.S. President.

That candidate has invoked Reagan more than three times as frequently during the 10 Republican debates this year as any other White House hopeful.

And no other ex-president comes within shouting distance of The Gipper when it comes to being name-dropped on the debate stage.

A Smart Politics content analysis of transcripts from the 10 GOP presidential debates held since May finds that Ronald Reagan has been invoked by the GOP field an average of more than five times per debate (53 mentions) - substantially more than all other 42 ex-presidents combined (38 mentions).

(The analysis in this report excludes the Cain/Gingrich debate in Houston, Texas and the two candidate forums - the Paletto Freedom Forum in Columbia, South Carolina and the Thanksgiving Family forum in Des Moines, Iowa).

While a plurality of Reagan name-dropping occurred at the presidential library in California bearing his name in September, the 40th President has been mentioned at least once during each of the last nine debates dating back to the Saint Anselm College gathering in New Hampshire on June 13th.

Reagan's name was uttered twice in the first New Hampshire debate, then four times in Iowa, 24 times in California, four times in the first Florida debate, seven times in the second Florida debate, three times in the second New Hampshire debate, five times in Nevada, one time in Michigan, and three times in South Carolina.

All told, the 53 utterances of Reagan's name tally 58.2 percent of the 91 ex-president references made across these 10 debates.

Reagan has been invoked nearly three times as frequently as the next most mentioned ex-president, George W. Bush at 19.

Only five other ex-presidents have been named by the GOP field more than once: Abraham Lincoln (four times), Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (three each), and Thomas Jefferson and Lyndon Johnson (twice each).

Just getting on the scoreboard are George Washington, James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush with one each.

Number of Mentions of Ex-Presidents by GOP Field During Presidential Debates

Candidate
#
Percent
Ronald Reagan
53
58.2
George W. Bush
19
20.9
Abraham Lincoln
4
4.4
Jimmy Carter
3
3.3
Bill Clinton
3
3.3
Thomas Jefferson
2
2.2
Lyndon Johnson
2
2.2
George Washington
1
1.1
James Madison
1
1.1
Dwight Eisenhower
1
1.1
John Kennedy
1
1.1
George H.W. Bush
1
1.1
Total
91
100.0
Data compiled by Smart Politics.

And who do debate viewers have to thank for all this Reagan nostalgia taking place on the GOP stage?

While most of the 2012 White House hopefuls aspire to be Reaganesque, due to his great popularity with Republican primary voters, one candidate is far and away leading the pack.

Newt Gingrich has invoked Ronald Reagan 21 times and is responsible for 40 percent of all Reagan references made by the Republican field in the 10 debates.

In only one debate has 'Reagan' failed to pass Gingrich's lips: the second New Hampshire debate. Gingrich cited Reagan's name nine times in California, three times in Iowa, two times in each of the two Florida debates, two times in the second South Carolina debate, one time in the first New Hampshire debate, once in Nevada, and once in Michigan.

Here are a few such moments:

"President Reagan wrote in his diary that year that he signed the act because we were going to control the border and we were going to have an employer program where it was a legal guest worker program. That's in his diary. I'm with President Reagan." - Newt Gingrich (California)

"When I was a very young congressman, Ronald Reagan taught me a great lesson if you have Democrat in charge. And that is to go to the American people on principle, have the American people educate their congressmen." - Newt Gingrich (Florida #1)

"As I said earlier, I would explicitly adopt the Reagan-John Paul II-Thatcher strategy towards Iran." - Newt Gingrich (South Carolina #2)

"It's important to remember, this month, in the Reagan administration, September 1983, we created 1,100,000 new jobs." - Newt Gingrich (Florida #2)

"I think most of us are for tax policies that lead to jobs is because we have had two cycles in my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, and the Contract with America, both of which had the same policy: lower taxes, less regulation, more American energy, and have faith in the American job creator." - Newt Gingrich (Michigan)

Gingrich even cited Reagan to explain and justify what was viewed by the media as dysfunction early in his campaign:

"Like Ronald Reagan, who had 13 senior staff resign the morning of the New Hampshire primary and whose new campaign manager laid off 100 people because he had no money, because the consultants had spent it, like John McCain, who had to go and run an inexpensive campaign because the consultants spent it, I intend to run on ideas." - Newt Gingrich (Iowa)

After Gingrich's 21 mentions, Bachmann, Huntsman, Paul and Santorum are next with six each, followed by Cain with four, Perry with three, and Tim Pawlenty with one.

You may notice one name missing from that list.

And that is because Mitt Romney has still yet to invoke Reagan by name across the nine Republican debates in which he has participated this year.

Instead, the ex-president Romney has targeted is George W. Bush with seven mentions.

However, Romney often referred to Bush not to credit his presidency, but as a means to attack Rick Perry by contrasting his record as Governor of Texas vis-à-vis Bush.

"Under Ann Richards, job growth was under 2.5 percent a year, under George Bush was 3 percent a year, under Rick Perry it's been 1 percent a year." - Mitt Romney (Florida #1)

"Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor." - Mitt Romney (California)

But it is Ronald Reagan who, by a wide margin, gets invoked and praised with (near) unanimity on the debate stage.

Here are some other highlights from the Reagan reel by Gingrich's competitors:

"My approach is an extension of the Reagan approach: Peace through strength, which is peace through strength and clarity." - Herman Cain (Nevada)

"In terms of believing in this nation, Ronald Reagan was the one who said that we are a shining city on a hill. We've slid down the side of that hill." - Herman Cain (Florida #2)

"What is provable and what works was the economic miracle that was wrought by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. That's the plan that I look at." - Michele Bachmann (Nevada)

"Now the question is, we need to listen to Ronald Reagan who said no pastels, bold colors." - Michele Bachmann (Nevada)

"I like those days when Ronald Reagan -- you talked about -- when Ronald Reagan would ensure that the light of this country would shine brightly for liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets. We're not shining like we used to shine. We need to shine again." - Jon Huntsman (Florida #1)

"We need to be reminded of what Ronald Reagan told us so beautifully, that which is great about America, freedom." - Jon Huntsman (Florida #2)

"The last words Ronald Reagan said as president of the United States in his farewell address, he was concerned about the future of our country because we were forgetting who we were, didn't remember what America was really all about." - Rick Santorum (Florida #2)

"The bottom line is, Ronald Reagan was committed to America being a force for good around the world." - Rick Santorum (California)

"And Ronald Reagan said that Russia would end up on the ash heap of history, and he was right." - Rick Perry (South Carolina)

"I strongly supported Ronald Reagan. I was one of four in Texas -- one of four members of Congress that supported Reagan in '76. And I supported him all along, and I supported his -- his -- all his issues and all his programs." - Ron Paul (California)

"At least our leaders and Reagan talked to the Soviets. What's so terribly bad about this?" - Ron Paul (Iowa)

Of course, not every call-back to an ex-president has been positive, with Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter bearing the brunt of the criticisms when the field takes a break from attacking the policies of Barack Obama.

But even Reagan has received a jab, courtesy of U.S. Representative Ron Paul:

"Are you all willing to condemn Ronald Reagan for exchanging weapons for hostages out of Iran? We all know that was done." - Ron Paul (Nevada)

But while Gingrich's frequent delving into history and citing ex-presidents may begin with Reagan, it certainly does not end with him.

The former House Speaker has mentioned ex-presidents 32 times in the debates overall, twice the number of any other candidate (Rick Santorum at 16).

Gingrich has also mentioned Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter three times, and George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush once.

In fact, Gingrich weaves three ex-presidents into one sentence while answering CNN moderator John King's question about whether American foreign policy decisions should be influenced by its financial cost:

"The price tag is always a factor, because, as General Eisenhower once he was president pointed out, as Abraham Lincoln understood, as George Washington understood, that's part of the decision." - Newt Gingrich (New Hampshire #1)

But while Gingrich knows history, will he make history?

Mentions of Ex-Presidents by Candidate in GOP Debates

Candidate
Debates
#
Ex-Presidents
Gingrich
9
32
Reagan 21, Lincoln 3, Carter 3, Washington 1, Eisenhower 1, L. Johnson 1, Clinton 1, George W. Bush 1
Santorum
10
16
George W. Bush 7, Reagan 6, Madison 1, Lincoln 1, Clinton 1
Bachmann
9
10
Reagan 6, Jefferson 2, L. Johnson 1, George W. Bush 1
Romney
9
9
George W. Bush 7, Kennedy 1, George H. W. Bush 1
Paul
9
7
Reagan 6, George W. Bush 1
Huntsman
7
6
Reagan 6
Cain
10
5
Reagan 4, Clinton 1
Perry
7
3
Reagan 3
Pawlenty
3
3
George W. Bush 2, Reagan 1
Johnson
2
0
---
Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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