In perhaps the most famous moment of the 1980 presidential debates — when President Jimmy Carter thought he had Ronald Reagan in the cross hairs for his past radio commentary, speeches and printed statements — the Gipper simply cocked his head, gave Carter that eternal smile and said, “Well, there you go again.”

You’d think the critics of conservatism would have learned from that ill-fated attempt at dredging up distractions in the midst of a crucial campaign. Alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In recent days, liberal critics, establishment kingmakers and my opponents in the race for Congress in Minnesota’s Second District seem to be desperately searching to find something from 25 years of conservative commentary that might distract voters from the issues that really matter. (“Lewis facing strong criticism for past comments about women,” Feb. 16; “Lewis’ book offers provocative analysis on slavery and civil rights,” Feb. 18, Brodkorb blog on StarTribune.com.)

It’s unfortunate, but one of the things about standing on principle is that the attacks come fast and furious. So it was no surprise when these shopworn Democrat charges surrounding race and gender surfaced. That has long been an article of faith among the left — disagree with us and you must be against civil rights.

Yet isn’t it odd that I managed to sustain my radio job (and even a contributing columnist role at this newspaper) given the radical views I supposedly held all those years? Gee, why the feigned outrage now and not then?

Well, you know why and so do I.

The left-wing accusations are predictable. What is surprising is how many of my Republican opponents have agreed with this politically correct narrative. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

More than anything, voters in the Second District want a fighter who won’t back down. And it now seems clear from my opponents’ reaction to these orchestrated attacks that they are willing to stand with Democrat talking points for political expediency. Profiles in courage they are not.

Of course, the real story here is not what I said five, 10 or 20 years ago. No, that’s merely a vehicle used by those in power who feel threatened by an independent candidate they can’t control. The fact is, I am not a typical politician and I will not play politics as usual. I won’t be bullied.

Moreover, these drive-by allegations — taking my words out of context — are just as insulting to voters and are the reason Donald Trump (and yes, even Bernie Sanders) has tapped into so much frustration among the electorate. When critics mischaracterize our campaign, they mischaracterize all of you with whom I’ve been blessed to have a conversation for 20 years — and, by the way, whose only desire was, as Reagan put it, to get big government off their backs.

My opponents may have cut and run, but I won’t. As in 1980, there is too much at stake to let this campaign drift off track — a stagnant economy, unaffordable health care, porous borders and an insecure homeland vulnerable to further attack. Indeed, we are proud to have so many veterans supporting our plans for a strong national defense combined with military reform.

As my friend Chris Andryski put it, “As an Army infantry veteran and business owner, I support Jason Lewis for Congress in CD 2 for many reasons. The best way to support the troops and veterans is to ensure that we are solvent as a nation and veterans are taken care of. This is what Jason will focus on.”

He’s right, I will.

Reagan inherited an economy in shambles and malaise in America. So he embraced a rising tide that lifts all boats, cutting taxes and regulations, promoting a stable dollar, and returning power to the states. I’d say that sounds pretty good about now.

It’s not 1980 — but in this election the voters in the Second District really do have a “rendezvous with destiny.” Together, we can make this campaign about big ideas that actually make a difference or we can play the same old games that put scorched-earth tactics and winning at all costs above the things that matter.

 

Jason Lewis is a Republican candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Second District.