ByÂ Seth McLaughlin-The Washington Times
Rep. Ron Paul is warningÂ GOP voters thatÂ Rick Perry canâ€™t be trusted after backingÂ Al Gore for president, and the three-term Texas governor is pointing out thatÂ Mr. Paul thought PresidentÂ Reaganâ€™s tenure was so bad that he ditched the party. Former UtahÂ Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says some of his rivals are too â€œextremeâ€ to be elected, whileÂ Mr. Perry and former MassachusettsÂ Gov. Mitt Romney trade barbs over their career choices and job-creation skills.
Mr. Reaganâ€™s famous â€œ11th Commandmentâ€ â€” Republicans shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans â€” is being sorely tested in the heat of the 2012 presidential sweepstakes. Looking to distinguish themselves from rivals in the crowded, fluid race,Â GOP contenders are taking off the gloves and trading stiff punches on the campaign trail, questioning one anotherâ€™s loyalty to the party and blasting one anotherâ€™s records.
As the candidates gather Wednesday night for another debate, this time at theÂ Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library,Â Mr. Huntsman, for instance, is castingÂ Mr. Perry andÂ Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota as too â€œextremeâ€ to win a general election.
The friendly fire coincides with the growing sense that PresidentÂ Obamais vulnerable in the 2012 election. But oneÂ Reagan scholar says the former president would not have minded the intraparty tussles that have erupted this year.
Craig Shirley, author of â€œReaganâ€™s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All,â€ said the â€œtheologyâ€ behind the â€œ11th Commandmentâ€ has been misunderstood. SinceÂ 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.
â€œPeople use it sometimes as a weapon to say, â€˜You canâ€™t talk about this Republicanâ€™s political views,â€™ butÂ Reagan never meant it that way or interpreted it that way,â€ he said. â€œReagan believed it was all fair game to talk about voting records, but getting into gratuitous personal attacks wasnâ€™t.â€
ButÂ Steven F. Hayward, author of â€œThe Age ofÂ Reagan: The Conservative Counter-Revolution, 1980-1989,â€ said the trouble is that candidates often get caught in a â€œgray areaâ€ between personal and policy attacks.
â€œAt what point does a personal attack and policy attack overlap?â€ he said, adding that itâ€™s hard to expect a group of ambitious candidates to adhere to a literal reading of the philosophy. â€œThatâ€™s just the nature of politics,â€ he said. â€œThe 11th Commandment runs smack into one of the iron laws of politics â€” that negative campaigning works.â€
Both men said thatÂ Reaganâ€™s 1976 presidential bid started to gain steam only after he attacked President Fordâ€™s record, including his willingness to cede control of the Panama Canal. Although the notion was popularized byÂ Mr. Reagan, it originated withÂ California Republican PartyChairman Gaylord Parkinson, who hoped to avoid a repeat of the ugly Republican nomination race that contributed to Barry Goldwaterâ€™s landslide loss in the 1964 presidential election to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
Although it is unclear whether history will repeat itself in 2012, it is clear is that the sniping between theÂ GOP White House hopefuls is intensifying as they plunge into the post-Labor Day stretch of the primary season and gear up for a series of debates this month.Â Mr. Perry eventually will stand with the candidates on the same stage for the first time since entering the race nearly a month ago.
Since then,Â Mr. Perry has raced to the front in national polls, putting him squarely in the political cross hairs of his Republican rivals.
On Tuesday,Â Mr. Paul released a television spot that called into questionÂ Mr. Perryâ€™s loyalty to theRepublican Party. In it, the Paul camp contrastsÂ Mr. Paulâ€™s endorsement ofÂ Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention withÂ Mr. Perryâ€™s endorsement ofÂ Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic primaries.
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