Why the Republican Party is the party of Thatcher

Updated
File photo dated 10/06/1983 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waving to well-wishers after her election win. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following...
File photo dated 10/06/1983 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waving to well-wishers after her election win. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following...
Press Association via AP Images, File

During the 2008 Republican primary, the struggling Fred Thompson campaign went abroad. In order to “support his foreign policy credentials,” the laconic TV star and former Senator was to deliver a speech at a London think tank. But more importantly, he was also going to pay his respects to a conservative icon, and bask in the light of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A few months later, his primary opponent Rudy Giuliani followed in his footsteps, trekking across the Atlantic for a meeting and photo opportunity with the Iron Lady. The normally staid Financial Times said that New York’s hard-nosed former mayor “gushed” about Thatcher.

“I think Lady Thatcher is one of the great leaders of the 20th century who’s had tremendous impact in so many ways on Europe, on freedom and democracy in Europe, on countries that are free now that weren’t before,” Giuliani told FT.

If Giuliani were referring to any other foreign leader, such effusive praise would have sounded out-of-character, if not downright peculiar. Certainly no Republican candidates went out of their way to visit Prague and kiss the ring of former Czech president and anti-Soviet dissident Vaclav Havel. Nor was Nelson Mandela on the itinerary. The only foreign leader who can compete with Ronald Reagan for the Grand Old Party’s affection, it seems, is Margaret Thatcher.

And no wonder, for there is no foreign leader who so deeply reflects the modern Republican ethos as Prime Minister Thatcher. In fact, the Republican Party platform is a document firmly rooted in the principles of High Thatcherism.

Thatcher’s economic philosophy is legible in Florida Governor Rick Scott’s attempts to privatize the state’s Medicaid system. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s use of a budget crisis to justify breaking up public sector unions is reminiscent of how Thatcher crushed the National Union of Mineworkers over a dispute involving pit closures. And one can practically hear Thatcher’s admonition that “there is no alternative” in Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s public statements regarding why he has put the city of Detroit under Emergency Management.

The definition of Thatcherism, according to former Thatcher cabinet member Nigel Lawson, “involves a mixture of free markets, financial discipline, firm control over public expenditure, tax cuts, nationalism, ‘Victorian values’ … privatization and a dash of populism.” The Yank equivalent to that list might sound something like this: Strip-mining the welfare state for spare parts, slashing the federal budget, legislating evangelical Christian morality, and promoting an aggressively jingoistic foreign policy. Sound familiar?

Republicans have also embraced Thatcher’s boisterous foreign policy and her disdain for homosexuality. It was Thatcher, after all, who the Soviets dubbed the “Iron Lady” for her hard-line anti-Communist posture. And it was Thatcher’s government which barred local governments from “promoting homosexuality.” While modern-day Tories have tried to distance themselves from the Thatcher government’s position on gay rights, even going so far as to endorse gay marriage, the Republican Party has been less eager to change.

There are policy differences between  Thatcher and the median Republican politician. In 1968, Thatcher voted to “decriminalize homosexuality and legalize abortion.” She was consistent in her austerity policy and raised taxes. She did not, as Think Progress would have it, support socialized medicine—recently disclosed documents show that she wanted to bring an end to the U.K.’s single-payer system.

The hallmarks of Thatcher’s legacy—the spending cuts, erosion of social democracy, union-busting and privatization—are alive and well within the Republican Party, particularly in GOP-controlled governors’ mansions. Following the Iron Lady’s death, Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt said hopefully that “there might be a Maggie Thatcher or two out there for the GOP.” In fact, he’s in luck: There are several.

Why the Republican Party is the party of Thatcher

Updated