What Would Reagan Do?

Peggy Noonan, who once worked with Ronald Reagan to shape his words, has some useful advice for today’s Republicans in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

Finally, in foreign affairs the Republican candidates staked out dangerous ground. They want to show they’re strong on defense. Fine, we should have a strong defense, the best in the world. But that is different from having an aggressive foreign policy stance, and every one of the GOP candidates, with the exceptions of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, was aggressive. This is how their debates sounded: We should bomb Iran Thursday. No, stupid, we should bomb Iran on Wednesday. How could you be so foolish? You know we do all our bombings on Monday. You’re wrong, we send in the destroyers and arm the insurgents on Monday.

There was no room for discretion, prudence, nuance, to use unjustly maligned terms. There was no room for an expressed bias toward not-fighting. But grown-ups really do have a bias toward not-fighting.

They are allowing the GOP to be painted as the war party. They are ceding all non-war ground to the president, who can come forward as the sober, constrained, non-bellicose contender. Do they want that? Are they under the impression America is hungry for another war? Really? After the past 11 years?

The GOP used to be derided by Democrats as the John Wayne party: It loved shoot-‘em-ups. Actually, John Wayne didn’t ride into town itching for a fight, and he didn’t ride in shooting off his mouth, either. He was laconic, observant. He rode in hoping for peace, but if something broke out he was ready. He had a gun, it was loaded, and he knew how to use it if he had to.

But he didn’t want to have to. Which was part of his character’s power. The GOP should go back to being John Wayne.

When Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter tells you you need to be less trigger-happy and more like John Wayne, you probably need to recalibrate.