Democrats may hope that Rick Perry’s comments on Social Security would ensure his defeat in a general election. If so, they should ponder the fellow in whose library the debate took place. By the 1980 campaign, liberals had long been confident about beating Ronald Reagan. In a May 8, 1979 Esquire article titled “Why Reagan Won’t Make It,” Richard Reeves wrote: “Reagan seems like a nostalgia figure whose time has passed; he looks like the past; he talks about the past. It is hard to imagine America turning to a candidate whose standard pitch is `I told you so.’” In September 1980, the DNC circulated old newspaper clippings quoting Reagan as saying that the program should be voluntary. During his debate with Reagan, President Carter zeroed in on the issue, saying that such approaches “are very dangerous to the security, the well being and the peace of mind of the retired people of this country and those approaching retirement age.” And Democrats thought that one of the Gipper’s debate comments provided them with even more material: “The Social Security system was based on a false premise, with regard to how fast the number of workers would increase and how fast the number of retirees would increase.”
Reagan, of course, won big. And he carried the over-60 vote by a 13-point margin.