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Friday, September 23, 2016

Trump and Reagan

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Pence compared Trump to Ronald Reagan.  Indeed, there are some superficial similarities.
  • An entertainment background. Reagan became famous at the movies. Trump starred in reality TV and owned casinso. (Some Trump-branded facilities have strip clubs.)
  • Outsiderism.  Reagan launched his 1976 campaign by denouncing the Washington "buddy system." Trump talks about corrupt political insiders.
  • Age.  At 69, Reagan was the oldest person ever to take the oath for the first time.  At 70, Trump would be even older.
The differences, however, are much more significant.

The Wall.  Trump wants to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it.  In 1980, Reagan explicitly rejected that idea:
Rather than making them, or talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems. Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back they go back. And open the borders both ways by understanding their problems.

In 1986, Reagan signed legislation for comprehensive immigration reform.

Trade.  Trump opposes trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.  To a large extent, NAFTA was Reagan's idea.  From his 1979 announcement of candidacy:

American Exceptionalism.  Reagan believed in it, as he said in 1982:
But like you, I've always believed that we were put here for a reason, that there is a path, somehow, a divine plan for all of us and for each one of us. And I've also always believed that America was set apart in a special way, that it was put here between the oceans to be found by a certain kind of people, based on a quality that these people had in that they came from every corner of the world.
Trump rejects the idea:
 I don’t like the term. I’ll be honest with you. People say, ‘Oh he’s not patriotic.’ Look, if I’m a Russian, or I’m a German, or I’m a person we do business with, why, you know, I don’t think it’s a very nice term. We’re exceptional; you’re not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, ‘Why are you exceptional? We’re doing a lot better than you.’ I never liked the term.
Inclusion.  Trump insults his intraparty critics.  At a "unity meeting" during the summer, Trump predicted Senator Jeff Flake would lose his primary this year: Flake replied that he was not up for reelection in 2016. Reagan, on the other hand, strove to bring his GOP foes into the fold, naming primary opponent George H. W. Bush as his running mate and making Bush campaign chief Jim Baker his chief of staff.

Party shift.  Reagan gradually moved from the Democrats to the GOP, supporting Ike in the 1950s, and changing his registration in 1962.  Trump, by contrast, has flitted like a butterfly:
Ideas.  Books shaped Reagan's thinking.  Steve Hayward writes:
If Reagan wasn't the most intelligent or intellectual politician of his time, he instinctively grasped not only the power of ideas, but also the crucial relationship of ideas to power. It is a great injustice to suggest that Reagan got his ideas secondhand or in a superficial way. Lee Edwards recalls being once left along in Reagan’s study while then-Governor Reagan went to the kitchen to prepare cocktails. Edwards began browsing Reagan’s bookshelves, and was astonished to find dense works of political economy by authors such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek heavily underlined and annotated in Reagan’s handwriting.
Trump does not read books.  The Washington Post reports:
Trump’s desk is piled high with magazines, nearly all of them with himself on their covers, and each morning, he reviews a pile of printouts of news articles about himself that his secretary delivers to his desk. But there are no shelves of books in his office, no computer on his desk.
He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.