Can Margaret Thatcher make an American president?

Posted: Jun 25, 2007 2:15 PM
Can Margaret Thatcher make an American president?

Republicans may need a woman to win the White House -- though nothing as dramatic as enlisting Condoleezza Rice to beat down Hillary Clinton.

Instead, some Grand Old Partygoers are invoking Reagan-era glory by courting former British prime minister and staunch Reagan ally Margaret Thatcher. It's no secret Republicans are searching for the next Ronnie, a point that was reinforced in May, when Nancy invited presidential candidates to debate at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Gathering in California at Mrs. Reagan's behest is as close to a photo-op with the late Gipper as candidates are going to get. But if you can't have the man himself, the next best thing is to court one of his closest allies. And across the pond, Lady Thatcher is still taking visits.

Meeting with her can bolster a candidate's stature, showing the American people the candidate is not mired in local political squabbles but is prepared for world-stage events. And having a conservative icon, and strong American supporter make time for you definitely boosts how constituents view your foreign policy.

So there was Fred Thompson, days after all but announcing his run for the presidency, visiting the former prime minister while he was in London for a speech. The two reportedly talked about the special relationship the United States has with the United Kingdom.

And he's not alone in his grab for Brit cred.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney met with Thatcher last fall during her visit to Washington. And, in early March, columnist George Will compared Rudy Giuliani to Thatcher. Here's how Will introduced him to a ballroom of sometimes skeptical conservatives at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference: "Your next speaker's conservatism is the flavor of Margaret Thatcher's, of whom it was said she could not pass a government institution without swatting it with her handbag."

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., isn't surprised by Thatcher's presence in the minds and on the travel schedules of the Republican front-runners.

"Giuliani, Romney and Thompson, to their great credit, understand the value of the Anglo-American special relationship and see Thatcher as the embodiment of that," Gardiner says. "In contrast, Clinton and Obama never talk about Britain -- for the Democrats, it's all about winning popularity in 'Europe' (i.e., with the EU, France and Germany). Conservatives understand that Britain is and will remain Washington's most important ally."

There is also a rallying effect to Thatcher that makes her such an attractive asset for any GOP candidate. "With Reagan's passing, Lady T is the last remaining great conservative icon of our time," Gardiner says. "Thatcher was and remains one of the great world leaders of modern times. ... She represents in people's minds strong leadership and resolve at times of tremendous uncertainty."

However, being associated with conservative greatness is not an ironclad strategy.

John Blundell, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, highlights one of the drawbacks of all the '80s nostalgia on the presidential primary scene. Could uttering a candidate's name in the same breath as a conservative legend backfire? Are Republicans up for the historic comparison? What if they don't measure up?

While none of the candidates is going to be "another Reagan" or "another Thatcher," it's incumbent on each of them to show he has the capacity for leadership at that level. Reagan and Thatcher embody a leadership that the West -- threatened by a worldwide jihad -- needs in a president.

With all this talk about a female leader, I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the American woman running for the White House? Can she fit the bill? "Hillary is all about big government, state intervention, spin and the sacrifice of American interests on the world stage," Gardiner says. "Thatcher built her reputation on small government, free markets, conviction politics and the unwavering defense of the national interest."

And I doubt you would have found Thatcher spoofing "The Sopranos" (or "EastEnders") for campaign points during her run for PM.

This is a long election cycle, and it's also a critical one. One of these Republican candidates has to demonstrate he's up to filling Reagan's shoes and worthy of Lady T's counsel and stature -- not just up to carrying her handbag.