GOP Rivals Test Bounds of Reagan's Admonition

Article excerpt

Byline: Seth McLaughlin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Rep. Ron Paul is warning GOP voters that Rick Perry can't be trusted after backing Al Gore for president, and the three-term Texas governor is pointing out that Mr. Paul thought President Reagan's tenure was so bad that he ditched the party. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says some of his rivals are too extreme to be elected, while Mr. Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trade barbs over their career choices and job-creation skills.

Mr. Reagan's famous 11th Commandment - Republicans shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans - is being sorely tested in the heat of the 2012 presidential sweepstakes. Looking to distinguish themselves from rivals in the crowded, fluid race, GOP contenders are taking off the gloves and trading stiff punches on the campaign trail, questioning one another's loyalty to the party and blasting one another's records.

As the candidates gather Wednesday night for another debate, this time at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library, Mr. Huntsman, for instance, is casting Mr. Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota as too extreme to win a general election.

Mr. Romney is taking swipes at Mr. Perry's decades-long tenure in elected office by blaming career politicians for the nation's financial woes.

Mr. Perry, meanwhile, is hammering Mr. Romney's record on jobs, saying that as governor of Massachusetts, he failed to create a job-producing environment.

The friendly fire coincides with the growing sense that President Obama is vulnerable in the 2012 election. But one Reagan scholar says the former president would not have minded the intraparty tussles that have erupted this year.

Craig Shirley, author of Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All, said the theology behind the 11th Commandment has been misunderstood. Since Mr. Reagan first embraced the philosophy during his 1966 gubernatorial bid in California, Mr. Shirley said, the media and politicians alike have twisted its meaning.

People use it sometimes as a weapon to say, 'You can't talk about this Republican's political views,' but Reagan never meant it that way or interpreted it that way, he said. Reagan believed it was all fair game to talk about voting records, but getting into gratuitous personal attacks wasn't.

But Steven F. Hayward, author of The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counter-Revolution, 1980-1989, said the trouble is that candidates often get caught in a gray area between personal and policy attacks.

At what point does a personal attack and policy attack overlap? he said, adding that it's hard to expect a group of ambitious candidates to adhere to a literal reading of the philosophy. That's just the nature of politics, he said. …