Craig Shirley: Trump Has Not Replaced Reagan
Updated: May 17, 2021
There’s an old saying in journalism that writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue
serge suit. No one notices but it gives you a nice, warm feeling all over.
I was reminded of this reading an opinion column by Al Hunt, an outspoken liberal formerly of Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, in The Hill Wednesday morning. The piece, written in regard to Liz Cheney’s ouster from Republican leadership, falsely postulates that the GOP has completely abandoned the principles of Ronald Reagan in favor of Donald Trump.
Al is a nice guy who I actually liked long ago when I lived in Washington, but I have to say a few things about his piece.
He does get a few things right to be fair. He’s right that Reagan personified forward-thinking conservative and that contrarily Donald Trump personifies rank negativism. He’s also correct that, unlike Reagan, acknowledging any mistakes is about as foreign to Trump as the sun is far from Pluto.
But things inside the GOP are a lot more subtle than the picture Al is painting. Al is an out and out liberal who didn’t much like Reagan when he was president and likes Trump even less by the look of it, and what’s more he’s a journalist who hasn’t ever worked in politics. So how would he really know?
So, as with any column, his words need to be taken with a grain of salt. Including his slobbering over fellow liberal reporters Lou Cannon and Karen Timulty. Lou is a very dear friend of mine and has written some very good books. Timulty’s ethics are questionable as she wrote a fawning column over Biden’s campaign manager who at the same time was supervising Timulty’s child. She is also a hard core liberal, so her judgement on anything, much less Nancy Reagan, could be called into question.
First of all, Al writes that hearken back to Reagan’s positive attitudes more than his actual policy or governance, which is not entirely true, but it’s a common mistake when trying to define the modern phenomenon of “Trumpism.”
What many liberals call “Trumpism” is a blanket term incorrectly applied to many long standing conservative values. I’ve written on this before, but essentially both liberals and Trump call things like lowering taxes, strengthening the border, and individual liberty “Trumpism.” In reality, Reagan and many conservatives before him embrace these tenants, while the true “Trumpism” as it were is Trump and his adherents’ hyper-aggressive pursuit of them.
Reagan won in two landslides because in part he made these time-honored conservative values look good with his sunny attitude. Trump lost the popular vote twice because he wouldn’t know what a sunny attitude is if it snatched his red hat and ran off with it. Don’t get me started on Reagan’s Electoral margins versus the Trumpster.
Moreover, while Al is also correct that the Republican leadership has embraced Trump either because they drink his Kool Aid or out of fear, Reagan certainly hasn’t been replaced as the party’s icon. This is because, quite simply, despite all their proclaimed loyalty to Trump, the people in charge of the GOP secretly hate him.
Mitch McConnell has been estranged from Trump since before January 6, and the Republican senators have more leeway to defy him generally given their longer terms.
But Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and soon Elise Stefanik don’t love Trump. Oh, they pretend to in order to keep the Freedom Caucus and primary voters happy, but you don’t get into leadership by giving into the base’s worst impulses. McCarthy and Scalise have been exhausted by the constant battle of running interference for Trump, and they’re biding their time while they appease Trump voters to stay in office.
That, in the short term, is not good for the country, but here’s the kicker: Trump won’t be around forever.
We saw from the CPAC polls that his children aren’t popular enough to hold high office themselves, and when Trump is no longer a factor that’s when the party will see a surge of Reaganism. Of conservative principles. The GOP leadership is just waiting for the day Trump disappears and another leader like Reagan rises. Yes, the Trump voters will still be there, and yes Trump’s style won’t vanish completely.
But for all its flaws, Republican leaders know they can’t win big if they fully double down on Trump. That is why Reagan was, and will remain, the “glue” that holds the GOP together. And Al Hunt needs to set aside his bottomless biases.
Reagan electoral margins