Bozell & Graham Column: Reagan's Lesson for Trump

It's something most conservatives a year ago would not have imagined: the opening act of Donald Trump’s agenda in the White House contains a real whiff of Ronald Reagan. To be sure, there's plenty the Reaganites won't like -- talk of trillion-dollar federal building campaigns, taxing business at the border, etc. -- but there's plenty to applaud as well.

He’s proposing dramatic across-the-board tax cuts. That’s Reaganesque. He’s reasserting American strength and resolve in response to the dictators who rattle sabers at America. That’s Reaganesque. He’s appointing judges and Supreme Court justices that follow the Constitution instead of acting like super-legislators. Ditto. He's working diligently to reduce the power of Washington. Mega Gipper there.

What's missing? Craig Shirley has emerged as perhaps the most knowledgeable historian of Ronald Reagan alive today. His fourth biography is out, and it's every bit as fascinating as the first three. Reagan Rising connects the dots between the 1976 and 1980 campaigns. President Trump and/or his closest advisors need to read this book.

Shirley drives home a key point. Reagan did not run against the Democrats. He did not run against the Left. He ran against the establishment, to be sure dominated by liberal Democrats but not limited to them. If he was to become president, first he had to defeat the GOP establishment -- the moderates whose collective blood curdled at the thought of this man becoming president.

Shirley writes on Jimmy Carter’s inauguration day in 1977, Gerald Ford told a reporter as he flew out of town that he would like to run again in 1980 and “I don't want anyone to preempt the Republican presidential nomination.” He meant Reagan. 

The establishment narrative was repeated constantly: Reagan was racist, sexist, homophobic, imperialist, an evil manipulator and dumb as a board, completely over his head.

Reagan championed American exceptionalism. He didn't wish greatness for America. It already was. He called for a return to it. America could become the strongest economic force in America -- again. America could become the leader of the free world -- again. America could become a civil society -- again. In advancing these themes, he was directly challenging and threatening the GOP establishment. They were content with bloated federal power, high taxes, live-and-let-live detente, and (foremost) the societal decomposition of abortion. 

Trump is facing the same establishment hostility because he poses the same threat (maybe an even larger one) to their power. But there's a huge difference -- his response. The issue is one of temperament, which Shirley captures so well because he understands Reagan so well.

Both had the same slogan, except for the one all-important missing from Trump's version. In "Let's Make America Great Again," Reagan was inviting America to join him, as his partner, in this crusade. As Shirley reminds us, Reagan’s acceptance speech at the 1980 convention in Detroit referred to “we,” “us,” and “our” more than 200 times. Compare that to these painful last 8 years when Obama used "I" or "my" hundreds of times -- in every speech. 

Candidate Trump -- The Donald -- has always tilted toward Obama's boastfulness. President Trump needs to stop that. Reagan's humility and confidence inspired the country. Trump must do the same if he wants to succeed.Trump has the refreshing confidence; he needs to find his inner public humility.

No one can tell Donald Trump that he doesn't know how to win in politics. Governance, as he's learning, is another animal. Trump sees himself as transformational, and that is good. He will not be content with just dismantling the disasters created by Obama, he will push -- is already pushing -- a boldness we haven't seen in GOP presidents or even most GOP candidates since Reagan.

MayBbe he should invite Craig Shirley to the Oval Office for a long chat. 

History Ronald Reagan Donald Trump
Brent Bozell's picture


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