Republicans Gone Wild - Reagan Couldn’t Win A GOP Primary Today
Ronald Reagan is the idol and icon of the GOP and modern conservative movement. They don’t have much of a choice but to make Reagan their hero since he is the only GOP president since Eisenhower who was popular when he left office. Nixon, Ford, Bush 41 and Bush 43 all presided over recessions and left office with low approval ratings. Nixon was responsible for the most serious political scandal in U.S. history. (Trump’s various scandals may surpass Watergate.)
The right wing media and historians present an airbrushed version of Reagan. He is falsely depicted as a staunch conservative who never wavered from conservative principles. They also tend to cherry pick his record — ignoring his many failures and highlighting what few successes he had as president. They also don’t mention his moderate policies. But who was the real Ronald Reagan?
As governor of California, Reagan signed off on what was then the biggest tax increase in the history of the Golden State. He also signed into law what was the most liberal abortion law in the country before Roe v. Wade. Reagan’s abortion law essentially legalized abortion.
During his 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns, Reagan railed against the deficit and described it as a great threat to American freedom and prosperity. As president, Reagan ran up the biggest peacetime deficits in U.S. history and tripled the national debt.
Reagan’s massive deficits stemmed from the large 1981 tax cut and his defense buildup. Reagan responded to the deficits he created by raising taxes every year between 1982 and 1987. The 1982 tax bill was the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history. Reagan reversed about 40% of the 1981 tax cuts.
In contrast, George W. Bush didn’t reverse one nickel of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. It was up to President Obama to clean up Bush’s mess — much to the fury of the GOP.
Reagan also violated current conservative orthodoxy when he signed into law an immigration reform bill in 1986 that resembled Obama’s 2013 immigration bill. Reagan’s immigration bill combined tighter border security with an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who had entered the U.S. before 1982.
Many of the 40th president’s national security policies would have been anathema to present day right wing Republicans. In 1983–84, Reagan sent troops to Lebanon to police that country’s civil war. On October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into a U.S. Marine base and killed 241 U.S. Marines. A subsequent bi-partisan Congressional investigation blamed the tragedy on lax security all the way up the chain of command.
Beirut wasn’t the only disaster in the Middle East associated with Reagan. His presidency was nearly brought down by the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan traded arms for hostages with the Iranian Mullahs who had held 52 Americans hostage between 1979–81. The proceeds for those sales were illegally used to fund Contra guerrillas fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Reagan did have significant accomplishments in the area of diplomacy with the USSR and arms control. In 1987, Reagan concluded the INF treaty with Gorbachev that banned intermediate range missiles in Europe. This landmark treaty laid the ground work for subsequent arms control treaties that cut the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia in half. The Trump Administration has recently repudiated the 1987 INF treaty.
As ex-president, Reagan once again went against current right wing orthodoxy by supporting Bill Clinton’s 1994 assault weapons ban. This was the only time the NRA has actually been defeated in Washington. A study by Louis Klarevas, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, indicated that: “ Gun massacres fell significantly during the time the assault weapons ban was in place, and skyrocketed after the ban lapsed in 2004.” Bush and a GOP majority Congress refused to extend the assault weapons ban and allowed it to expire.
The Republican Party has moved so far to the right since 1989 that Reagan wouldn’t be welcome in today’s GOP. At the time he was president, Reagan was the most conservative president since Herbert Hoover. Today’s GOP would demonize somebody with Reagan’s record and views and drum him out of the party.
Today’s GOP has been described by political scientist Norm Ornstein as follows: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” I welcome any disenchanted Republican into the Democratic Party. The GOP is purging heretics and we are welcoming converts. Please join us and help us take our country back from the radical right!