On Feb. 6, former President Ronald Reagan would have celebrated his 99th birthday. Since he's thought of as a conservative icon, some have wondered what he would have thought of the modern conservative movement, specifically the tea parties and the rise of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
If you listen to Reagan's son Ron, who has recently appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" and HLN's "The Joy Behar Show," and tends to have a left-of-center perspective, one might think Reagan would have looked down upon the tea party protests and Palin. That's not the case according to his other son Michael.
Michael Reagan, who is said to have played more of a prominent role with the former president's campaign than his brother, spoke with the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute on Feb. 12 and ardently disputed his brother's claim that Ronald Reagan would have looked down upon the conservative movement.
Interview Transcript Below Fold
Business & Media Institute: What would your father have thought of the grassroots tea party movement?
Michael Reagan: I think that my father would have been supportive of a grassroots movement, as he was always supportive of grassroots movements, you know, in this country. I mean, people need to remember without the grassroots, Ronald Reagan probably doesn't become president of the United States of America and he worked the grassroots on a regular basis during his political career and especially between the years of 1976 and 1980 after the loss in Kansas City. And it's interesting that my father, when he decided to run a second time there in 1980 for the presidency, when he brought the family together, he talked about the bellmen and the chambermaids of the hotels he would visit who wanted him to try it again.
So it wasn't like he was saying, "Listen, David Rockefeller has told me to run," it was because those people at the very grassroots, those people who are affected so much by government told me to run. So, he would look at the tea party movement and say, "Congratulations for what you've been able to accomplish, you know, in this year." I mean, you might remember, the Republican Party fell apart. You know, they gave up the keys to everything - the House, the Senate and the White House. And if it wasn't for the tea party movement, which was really born out of the town halls of last year, you know then we would probably have socialized medicine, which my father spoke against back in 1962, and we'd have a lot more problems than just the socialized medicine. So he would say "hear, hear" to those people who in fact out there rattling their sabers if you will to wake up Washington, D.C.
BMI: Are the similarities in the Reagan Revolution in the late 1970s, which led to his election in 1980 and the current political climate?
MR: I think the climate is very similar except that back then there was that Ronald Reagan guy we could look at in the future. You know, right now everybody is kind of looking for that Ronald Reagan guy, if you will. And I think it's really important - I think my father would be saying to the party today and to tea partiers, you know pay attention to the election coming up. I mean, there's 37 governors up for reelection in 2010 along with the House and the Senate. We need to get through those first and out of that may be born the next great leader of the conservative movement.
But what I say to the Republicans when I go out and speak, which is quite a bit, is don't be so much looking for Ronald Reagan that you walk past the next person who may end up leading this movement.
BMI: Your brother has been making rounds in the cable news media and giving his view of what your father would have thought of the tea party movement and Sarah Palin. Have you been asked to by those cable networks to offer your view?
MR: I was on CNN yesterday [Feb. 11] on "Situation Room," but MSNBC, you know I can't even volunteer to go on that station, on that operation. Even if I put out there and say I'm available - you know to them, I'm not available. So no, you know, nobody has really reached out on that and I just felt it was time. You know, I've seen Ron on MSNBC for a long time and I've read his screeds against George Bush.
You know, I know how he felt about his father, you know running and being president of the United States of America and I just didn't feel that I could just let it go anymore. I need to remind people - listen, there's another Reagan in the building who actually campaigned with my father and for my father in many election, whether it was a gubernatorial election or the presidential election.
The fact is, when my father was choosing his vice president of the United States, he had my advance man, Sandy Sanders by the way bring me to his room so I could be standing literally one foot away from him, leaning against the back of a couch when he decided to make George H.W. Bush his vice president. When in 1980, on the morning of the [Iowa Caucus], because I called him in Iowa and told him he was going to lose Iowa, that his staff was lying to him about how well he was going to do there. I was on the ground working it. So, on the morning of the New Hampshire primary in 1980, I'm the Reagan he called to read me the press release to fire his staff to get my approval - to fire his campaign staff back in 1980.
I was kind of there, so I feel that in some ways, I kind of have a head's up and so would Maureen [Reagan]. You know, I kind of have a head's up on where my father might go and where he may not go when it comes to, you know - a tea party movement or what have you.
BMI: Your brother has said your father would not have thought highly of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. What do you think he would have thought of her and her rise to prominence in the conservative movement?
MR: She's become a prominent figure. I think my father would have questioned why she would have walked away from being the governor of Alaska, but he would absolutely applaud her. She's using her celebrity, if you will, to raise awareness of the conservative movement, to in fact raise money for the party and to help conservatives and others get elected to office in Washington, D.C. and at the local level. This is exactly what my father did between 1976 and 1980. He helped people get elected, he helped raise money for the party and he did all of those things.
You might remember the last election, it was hard-pressed to find any of those on our side who had gone out and helped anybody in our party get elected to anything. So the people on the ground, the grassroots, had nobody to be beholden to because nobody had helped them move forward. So she is bringing and shining a light on grassroots America and I would suggest that any of the others that are out there who may in fact have an interest in 2012, you know, hit the ground running also and do what they can do to build the party.
BMI: Often some left-wing pundits and sometimes even the mainstream media suggest there's a division in the Republican Party driven by the conservative movement in a quest for ideological purity. Your father and his 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican," managed to keep division at a minimum. Is that a potential obstacle - this drive for purity?
MR: I think that's an environment we need to stay away from. I think what happens is when the conservative movement does not have a leader per se, then they're kind of all over the map. They need that person to be able coalesce behind. They haven't found that found that person, so they keep on searching and looking. So you have the purity tests that are coming up and what have you.
But you know my father, even though he wrote a book on say abortion in 1983, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," a man that was pro-life - remember as governor of the state of California, he signed an abortion bill. So would that be held against him in today's conservative world? You know, when he was governor of California, he raised taxes. Would that be held against him if he were running for president today?
Remember, if he ran for president today, we would have not had him as president, we would only know him as governor. So he did raise taxes, he did sign an abortion bill and no-fault divorce. Would the fight that he would have to have to win the nomination of the party be a fight coming from the Right or a fight coming from the Left? We have to look at the big picture. What's the big picture here? And Ronald Reagan always painted that big picture - he didn't let the minutia really get in the way of him. Therefore, he could write a book in '83, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation" and in 1992 support his pro-choice daughter Maureen for the House of Representatives because he looked at her and said, "You know something - we disagree on that issue and we always are going to. But the fact is I'd rather have you representing me in Washington, D.C. than the Democrat that they're putting out." ■