Trumpism and Reaganism

Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan
FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images/Michael Evans

Nearly fifty years ago, former Vice President Spiro Agnew said, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

That perfectly sums up today’s self-delegated protectors of American conservatism as, in their desperation to stop Donald Trump at all cost, hurl every pseudo intellectual invective their tiny little brains can conjure up.

Their attempt to define American conservativism is equivalent to the federal government shoving Common Core down the throats of states.

The essence of their criticism is that Trump is no Ronald Reagan because Reagan spent nearly forty years refining his political views. They say, Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t have any philosophical underpinnings except self-promotion and changes his positions on a whim.

Reagan revisionism is quite prevalent as the “impudent snobs” create their own narrative of the Gipper that is at odds with reality.

Ronald Reagan understood the most fundamental lesson of politics — winning. Yes, he had strong policy views, but acted with a strong sense of pragmatism. Growing up in Dixon, Illinois, and surviving the depression tends to put priorities in focus at the expense of useless rhetoric.

Tip O’Neill understood that when he declared, after Reagan took over the presidency, “We will cooperate with him in every way.” And the Democratic Congress did work with Ronald Reagan, most notably passing the 1983 Social Security Reform Act and 1986 Tax Reform Law.

The impudent snobs forget that Reagan raised taxes as governor of California to balance the budget. He also was not a life-long supply sider, but rather adopted the economic model at the behest of Jack Kemp in the 1970s — arguably his most important policy decision since it was the basis for the Kemp-Roth tax cuts of 1981, which in combination with Volcker’s Fed policies, broke the back of inflation and got America working again.

Interestingly, it is these same impudent snobs who castigated and minimized Kemp by saying that he was not really a pure enough conservative since he wanted to help rebuild the inner cities and appeal to blacks.

Another inconvenient truth is that Ronald Reagan had the support of the Teamsters Union. While he had his differences with unions on many issues, he also worked with them which should be no surprise since he had been head of the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood (when he was a Democrat). And what is underreported is the role the unions played in his foreign policy vis a vis the Soviet Union.

And make no mistake, Reagan’s pragmatism could be construed as calculation. He took on Gerry Ford in 1976 — a sitting president of his own party. The case can be made that he was partly responsible for Ford’s defeat to Carter as he softened up the president in a very bruising primary campaign.

There are important similarities when you juxtapose this Ronald Reagan with Donald Trump.

Leader — sense of purpose — outsider — winner.

At their core, Reagan and Trump are men who know who they are. They were both successful before they entered politics and had an identity outside of politics. Ronald Reagan was purported to have said, in his self-deprecating way, “You know, it takes a little ego to run for president.”

And there is a certain transparency about both of them. They don’t pull any punches. Reagan did it with humor and humility interwoven with toughness. Trump does it with a caustic, in your face New York “state of mind.” And the voters get it — it resonates with them.

This is diametrically opposite those impudent snobs — Rich Lowry, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol et al — who sit in their K Street offices and Fifth Avenue media towers critiquing others. Clearly the impudent snobs don’t get it as evidenced by the slew of cancellations the National Review has gotten since its blind side of Trump.

And what exactly is “American Conservatism” these snobs are supposedly protecting?

The conservatism of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who just passed an outrageous federal budget that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were proud to support?

The conservatism of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who will jeopardize national security by not protecting our borders from illegal immigration and Muslim refugees all in the name of political correctness?

The conservatism of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who pursued disastrous foreign policies that led to the unraveling of the Middle East — begun under their watch and finished with abandon by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with a maniacal efficiency or stupidity, depending upon your perspective?

The conservatism of the corporate elites who use the mantra of “free trade” as a battering ram to sell out American workers and small business with adoption of multi-lateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership to enhance corporate profits?

The impudent snobs condemn Donald Trump for philosophical inconsistency and yet their notion of conservatism in 2016 is a mystery to many serious conservatives.

The allegations that Trump lacks a philosophy are a smokescreen to hide the real threat that Trump poses to those snobs and the political elite — access and money.

Simply put, Trump doesn’t need them — they have no leverage over the Donald.

Trump is operating totally outside the nexus of party insiders, the media, and corporate funders. He is truly independent unlike Ted Cruz, who likes to foster that perception, but in reality is owned lock stock and barrel by Goldman Sachs and the Bushes.

As Yogi Berra said, “It is déjà vu all over again.”

The 2016 campaign is becoming more and more reminiscent of the 1980 campaign when the establishment threw everything it had at Ronald Reagan. Reagan was characterized as a crackpot, b-grade movie actor whose foreign policy would cause World War III; his economic policies were “madness” and the tax cut proposal was “voodoo economics.”

Trump is in the same situation as Reagan was in 1976 and throughout the 1980 campaign until the convention in Detroit. And then, inexplicably to some conservatives, Reagan decided to put George H. W. Bush on the ticket as his vice president instead of Kemp.

Thus the political elites, inclusive of the impudent snobs, were able to salvage what would have been a near catastrophic situation — not having access and leverage on the presidency and the business of Washington.

Needless to say, politics is a very big business and, as the New York Times recently reported, Donald Trump is a nightmare for the political consulting business. The digital media buy alone for 2016 is estimated to be nearly $1 billion. Jeb Bush has paid one firm over $40 million for advertising through December. Additionally, $3 billion is spent annually to lobby Capitol Hill and the White House.

Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan, has interjected a positive dynamic into the U.S. political lexicon — an anti-political correctness that resonates with voters. It is healthy for our country and severely needed within the Republican Party.

Americans are embracing Trump’s vison of making America great again, just as they embraced Reagan’s vision of America as that shinning city on the hill. Trump is very much a disciple of Ronald Reagan, contrary to what the impudent snobs say.


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