Skip to comments.Analysis: Who is the true heir to Ronald Reagan?
Posted on 03/25/2012 2:16:49 PM PDT by SmithL
Campaigning in former President Reagan's hometown before last week's Illinois primary, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum asserted that he was the only candidate "who stands on the pillars of what Ronald Reagan built as the modern Republican Party."
Speaking in the shadow of a statue of Reagan, Santorum proclaimed: "Let the voice of Reagan be heard across this land."
And it isn't just Santorum: During the GOP presidential debates, Reagan's name was invoked nearly 250 times by the GOP field.
But many historians argue that if Reagan had a true heir, he or she might raise taxes, compromise with Democrats and put aside the notion of taming the deficit during an economic downturn.
During his two terms in the White House in the '80s and as California's governor in the late '60s and early '70s, Reagan did all those things.
"I'm not sure how well Ronald Reagan would do in today's highly partisan environment," said Stephen Knott, an author of two books on Reagan and professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. "If he tried to do today what he did in compromising on a budget dispute with House Democrats in 1982, he'd be crucified."
Indeed, the historical record clearly shows that Reagan was much more conciliatory, pragmatic and centrist than any of today's major GOP presidential candidates, who have proposed such things as deporting millions of illegal immigrants and limiting contraception as they vow not to raise taxes under any circumstances.
"Republicans are trying to use Ronald Reagan as a symbol for all the things he stood for," said George Lakoff, author of several books that show Republicans have been better than Democrats in framing political issues. "But they may be calling up an image that doesn't fit."
To be sure, Reagan is rightly remembered for his disdain of government -- perhaps the single feature of his presidency that animates today's Republicans. Immediately after being sworn in January 1981, Reagan said that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
He also cast a baleful eye on welfare programs in a way that resonated with many Americans, often repeating the unsubstantiated story about the "welfare queen" who tooled around Chicago in a Cadillac.
Remnants of the catchphrase have seeped into this year's campaign, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accusing President Barack Obama of being the "food-stamp president," a phrase critics say has the same not-so-subtle racial undertones that Reagan sometimes used to energize the right.
Gingrich has boasted he is the true heir to Reagan, claiming to be a key lieutenant of the president -- though he once accused Reagan of "trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state" with his 1982 tax hike.
In his speech in Dixon, Ill., Santorum compared his outsider candidacy to Reagan's insurgency bid in 1976, when he challenged the GOP's establishment choice, President Gerald Ford. But a more apt analogy could be made between Reagan's re-election bid in 1984 and Obama's this year.
Both Reagan and Obama entered office facing the worst recessions since the Great Depression, with unemployment reaching historic numbers. But the economy brightened for Reagan, in time for his Morning in America campaign, and it seems to be turning around for Obama as he gears up his re-election campaign.
Obama has often been called a great communicator in the Reagan mold, inspiring Democrats with his "Change We Can Believe In" slogan. But the way he has governed -- at one point seeking a so-called Grand Bargain with Republicans -- has frustrated liberals who felt betrayed by his brand of compromise.
Reagan was also known for speaking one way and governing another.
In 1967, the first thing he did as California governor was raise taxes to fill a $500 million deficit left by his predecessor, Pat Brown. Later, he raised taxes by $2 billion to put together a $10 billion budget.
In his first year as governor, Reagan also signed the nation's most liberalized abortion law, saying at the time: "Liberalization of abortion laws is necessary." Later, when he ran for president, Reagan pivoted to the right in his attempt to expand the GOP base to include religious conservatives, becoming an anti-abortion candidate.
Bill Bagley, a San Rafael Republican who served in the Legislature from 1960 to 1974 and authored the second tax-reform bill that Reagan signed, said the Reagan he knew is not the Reagan that contemporary Republicans imagine him to be.
"He was there to govern. When we needed revenue, he acceded and did the right thing," said Bagley, 84. "He was there every day, negotiating. Every once in a while he'd break into a joke, but he had the ability to keep things going."
Reagan "never went for the jugular, and he was far from being a conservative," Bagley added. "What's happened recently is the ideologues have taken over on the Republican side, both nationally and in California."
"We cannot offer (voters) a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments," he told conservative activists. "Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be."
As president, Reagan jolted the nation by cutting the top income-tax rate in half. But a year later, he signed a $37 billion tax increase, the largest in U.S. history -- bigger than President Bill Clinton's $30 billion increase in 1993. And that was followed with another major tax increase in 1986. Both were progressive taxes that put more of the burdens on the wealthy. In his two terms, he signed 11 tax hikes.
Reagan promised to balance the budget, but he tripled the national debt to a record $2.6 trillion by the time he left office.
They say that Reagan's key contribution was in making taxes and spending -- and a principled opposition to big government -- the cornerstone of modern American political debate.
"Taking the top rate from 70 percent to 35 makes up for a lot of sins," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "He had a great handle on the principles of limited government -- even if individual policies weren't a furtherance of his world vision."
Other conservatives are convinced Reagan wouldn't have raised taxes now and that he would have been beloved by the tea party.
"Most people are in love with the ideal of Ronald Reagan in broad terms," said Jon Fleischman, a former California Republican Party executive director who writes the conservative FlashReport blog. "Raising taxes is a legitimate part of his history. But as a practical matter, a great number of conservatives will first learn that Reagan signed tax increases when they read this story. It's just not a part of the narrative."
This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I dont think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldnt get involved in the bedroom, we shouldnt get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals cant go it alone.
"I'm convinced that today the majority of Americans want what those first Americans wanted: A better life for themselves and their children; a minimum of government authority. Very simply, they want to be left alone in peace and safety to take care of the family by earning an honest dollar and putting away some savings. This may not sound too exciting, but there is something magnificent about it. On the farm, on the street corner, in the factory and in the kitchen, millions of us ask nothing more, but certainly nothing less than to live our own lives according to our values at peace with ourselves, our neighbors and the world.
These liberal Oakland punks will NEVER stop trying to sully the reputation of the greatest POTUS of the 20th century!!! (and Governor of CA, as well!!!)
WTH? Are you trying to be some kind of a “centrist,” or something?
marco rubio because of the charisma....Chris Christie because of the take no prisoners nerve...
The three don’t come close to Reagan, in any way, shape or means. Laughable!
Nobody is. The GOP is close to imploding. More and More a lot of the “good Guys” showing true colors as “Rinos”. very few I like and it dwindles.
Ronald Reagan brought the working class into the wealthy class and maintained conservative values and principles for the Republican Party. For decades, the Republicans fought to widen the party from the Wall Street elite class that only wanted another tax cut, to the more conservative, Bible believer, gun toter, free enterprise, Constitutional republic, types. The “RINO” name comes from the old Rockefeller republicans. Newt found the right combo and took the Congress by storm. If we lose the Christians, NRA, balanced budget, anti abortion, voters to just get a tax cut, we will lose to the socialists morons that just vote “D” no matter what. Romney came form Massachusetts for goodness sake! Barney Fwank, John Kerry, and a mountain of Kennedy’s, are considered “moderates” there. Santorum is a good man, but has NO chance against Obama. Newt is the one that could embarrass Obama on any subject. He is the closest thing we will get for R Reagan in decades. I’m not looking to drink a beer with the president, I want someone competent to serve. The only thing I hear about Newt is “I don’t like him”. They really can’t put their finger on it, but he just doesn’t smooze with the crowd and tells them they are all full of crap. Reagan called the Soviets an evil empire and told them to tear down the wall! Newt would do and say the same. It just ruffles feathers.
On the other hand, Romney has only been married once. Even Reagan couldn’t claim that. Romney has been a governor of a state, as well as done a few other things and been mildly successful.
I happen to believe that Santorum has a better chance to defeat Obama. I keep hearing this about Newt. I have yet to see him actually take off among any of the groups he needs to win the nomination, much less the White House. A net +5 postives is not going to allow him to go far. If he can manage to convince his way to the nomination, I will support him, but I cannot believe that will happen after Louisiana.
It shows it doesn't matter for a candidate to be GREAT. Your bozo obama was only married once. And has Obamacare and Mitt has Romneycare - he is VERY closely align with Barry.
Reagan was a PATRIOT and so is his protege, NEWT!
Old news about bozo - tell it to those who think once married means something when choosing a president - lest they make the same mistake. However, I doubt they will listen, they’ve already been brainwashed by a LIAR candidate.
No, it’s Anthony Kennedy, the most powerful man in America!
I guess that is why so many align with Romney, he says whatever you want to hear. Except he won’t say the ‘era or Reagan is alive and well’ will he.