Since the 1980s and especially since the Bill Clinton years, the Republican Party had desperately tried to find the next Ronald Reagan. But it actually has him today — and doesn’t want him. Of course I’m talking about presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Now, I know this might sound crazy and even offensive to some, because they were temperamentally quite different. But they had two major things in common that are often overlooked: 1) They each possessed a supreme confidence that they could ride in on the proverbial white horse and save the day; and 2) They scapegoated an “out” group to do it.
In Reagan’s case, it was African-Americans. As governor of California, he criticized Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent resistance upon his death. When he ran for president in 1976 he made comments about “welfare queens driving Cadillacs,” and he kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss. — where three civil-rights workers were murdered 16 years earlier — and declared that he supported “states’ rights.”
Trump, of course, has made immigration an issue, claiming that he would force Mexico to build a wall to keep Mexicans out (though in fact more Mexicans are leaving than coming in) and suggesting that Muslims from the Middle East shouldn’t be allowed in due to fears of terrorism.
That demagoguery is part of Trump’s appeal.
Part of it, however, is also that Trump is a political outsider with zero experience in elected office, and that will prove to be his undoing should he get elected (which I don’t anticipate). Reagan, however, wasn’t — he’d been on the scene for a while, knew how to make deals with the opposition and used diplomacy in dealing with other nations, something that hasn’t occurred to those who demand a neophyte.
Which I don’t understand. Truly. A number of conservatives have said that a Trump victory will undo the Reagan Revolution — and they’re probably right. But Reagan did provide a blueprint for Trump to follow, and he’s doing it.