photo source: Wall Street Journal
The year is 1980, and Ronald Reagan has won the White House amidst a time of tension overseas and insecurity at home following the Presidency of a Democrat many Republican voters see as weak. His campaign slogan is “Let’s Make America Great Again,” and his running mate is a longtime G.O.P. stalwart.
The year is 2016, and Donald Trump has won the White House amidst a time of tension overseas and insecurity at home following the Presidency of a Democrat many Republican voters see as weak. His campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again,” and his running mate is a longtime G.O.P. stalwart.
It sounds similar doesn’t it? Well, the similarities end right there. With his victory in November, many of President Trump’s supporters see him as the second coming of President Reagan. Some critics of the 40th President might even try to draw more parallels between him and the 45th. But this is flat out wrong.
Many look to the election night map, and point out that Trump won traditionally Democratic strongholds, just like Reagan. Both men appealed to working class white men, or “Reagan Democrats,” but let’s consider election night again.
According to PBS Newshour, Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter by 10% points in the popular vote carrying 44 states, a total of 489 electoral votes. This was a landslide by any measure. Trump ran 2.7 million total popular votes behind losing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, carrying 30 states, a total of 306 electoral votes. Election nights 1980 and 2016 were very different, and Trump’s was not even the best since Reagan as he has claimed.
At this point, we can get into the candidates ideologies. Trump is no conservative. Period. One main difference in policy may define the Trump presidency – Reagan helped win the Cold War and bring down the Soviet Union, while Trump seems to be allowing Putin’s Russia to reemerge as a moral and globally powerful equivalent to the United States. Both men were once Democrats who made their way to the Republican Party, but a Democrat of the 1930’s or 40’s is much different from a Democrat of the 1990’s or 00’s.
Reagan’s ideological transition was gradual, working in Hollywood to combat communism, molding his beliefs after the likes of Eisenhower and Goldwater before becoming the Governor of California. Trump’s transition was all over the place, starting as a Republican, before joining the short lived Reform Party, becoming a Democrat during the George W. Bush years, and registering as an Independent in 2011. You can’t point his beliefs to being molded after any other conservatives, and you can’t say he has had any government experience.
In addition to these clear differences, look at the men themselves. Their characters are night and day. Reagan was a good natured, selfless, diplomatic “Great Communicator.” Trump is a mean spirited, selfish, bombastic “Commander-in-Tweet.”
Reagan’s 11th Commandment said “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” But ask “not a war hero” McCain, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, and Low Energy Jeb; they will tell you how this never concerned the 45th President. And Reagan would never go after anyone in the press the way Trump did to Megyn Kelly, or call them “failing fake news.” Even if he was displeased with them, he might give reporters a smile and a wave at worst.
Reagan had a long career in Hollywood, a successful run as Governor, and had some of the largest election victories in 1980 and 84. Yet he never dwelled on these accomplishments. Trump can’t seem to go a couple of days without reminding everyone how he beat Clinton or how his run on The Apprentice was supposedly much more successful than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. The very first days of his administration were spent debating if his Inauguration crowd size was bigger than President Obama’s. All you have to do is look at Trump’s properties, with his name plastered on in gold, to know he is all about “me.”
Ronald Reagan was a diplomat. A polite and polished leader. He made friends with his opponents such as George H.W. Bush, and reached across the aisle to work with leaders like Tip O’Neill. He could be as tough and partisan as anyone, but it was never nasty, almost always light hearted. Of course Donald Trump has no experience in government, so he can’t possibly be as fine-tuned as Dutch, but he hasn’t done much to work outside of his inner circle. Perhaps time will tell, but all the Kellyanne Conway’s and Reince Priebus’ of the world cannot make up for the diplomacy lacking in this President.
“The Great Communicator” was one of Reagan’s many nicknames for good reason. Every speech was beautifully prepared and presented. His Challenger speech brought our nation together, while his “Tear down this wall” speech brought together another. His Inauguration addresses were full of optimism. “We have every right to dream heroic dreams,” Reagan said in 1981. He closed his first Inaugural by saying, “It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.”
Trump, often speaking in 140 characters or less, is no Reagan. His press conferences become immediately confrontational, his continued rallies stoke partisan divides. He hasn’t had a moment like the Challenger tragedy to test his ability to unite the nation, so give him the benefit of the doubt. But much of his rhetoric paints America as a nation in decline. This passage from his Inauguration is nothing short of bleak: “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”
To say that Donald Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan is false. An Alternative Fact at best. They are just too different, despite what others may think. But don’t let this bother you too much. The next time a Trump supporter, or a liberal, looks at you and says Trump is just like Reagan, think of him. With a smile and a wave say, “there you go again.”