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The Big Difference Between Trump and Reagan: Freedom Is Key

The Big Difference Between Trump and Reagan: Freedom Is Key
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Friday, 05 March 2021 04:04 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The other day in The Wall Street Journal, my fellow conservative Dan Henninger penned an interesting column on the meaning of the term "Trumpism."

Regarding former President Donald Trump’s appearance at CPAC (which was invented for Reagan) last week, Dan outlined several points where during his speech Mr. Trump attempted to list a set of identifiable policies that could be defined as Trumpism (strong borders, lower taxes, constitutional originalism, etc.). Dan then wrote that these elements of Trumpism are "identifiable with Ronald Reagan."

Trump has been compared to Reagan ad nauseum since 2015. Indeed, while completely opposite in temperament I often have told people that Trump is "Reaganesque," at least in terms of policy overlap.

That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to say that these ideas can be categorized as something that just Trump and Reagan came up with.

What’s more, while I respect Dan’s opinions, I feel like there are several major differences between the two not mentioned that need addressing, which can offer clues about the direction the GOP needs in order to win again.

The ideas Mr. Trump parroted at CPAC and defined as “Trumpism” are really just longstanding conservative values that Trump tried to slap a label on and call his own. Those values can be traced at least as far back as Barry Goldwater, Reagan’s spiritual predecessor.

It’s the same set of conservative values, but the crucial difference, which Dan doesn’t point out in his piece, is how these values were messaged and executed or that Trump adopted them for his own convenience.

He does include, rightly, that Trumpism is populism based on grievances, and many of them legitimate to conservatives. This marks the first major difference between Trump and Reagan; Reagan was a populist, but he had the articulation and intellect of a statesman. Reagan, like Trump, ran at a time when many Americans also had grievances against the establishment. Unlike Trump, he made every talking point optimistic and every speech uplifting, something Trump could never do if his life depended on it.

Historically, optimism almost always works better in elections than anger (FDR, JFK, and Barack Obama are textbook examples), but Trump got lucky because he had the worst candidate of all time to run against in 2016.

Reagan brought old conservative values to the White House with a fresh set of lenses because he was able to win the battle of ideas by framing his arguments with optimism. He didn’t need the anger and viciousness for viciousness’ sake that Trump loves. All Reagan did was convince voters their lives would be better if they adopted his values, and it worked. Twice.

Which leads me to the second major difference not mentioned in the Journal piece.

Anger is good for mobilizing the grassroots of a party, but when it comes to Trump the anger was used in abundance to feed his need for attention and whip up his base at rallies.

After his election, Trump should have focused on building a coalition and expanding the conservative base to demographics it desperately needs, namely representation from our country’s growing minority populations. Trump never cared about expanding the base beyond his core supporters, and was happy to keep throwing angry talking points at the people who already loved him.

While many disaffected Democrats voted for him in 2016, this was less because they supported Trump and more because they reviled Hillary Clinton.

Contrarily, Reagan spent much of the 1980 campaign building coalitions, first with his selection of the far more liberal George H.W. Bush as a running mate, and tailoring his message to the working class voters long neglected by the GOP.

I often repeat the term "Reagan Democrat," but in 1980 and 1984 Reagan really was concerned about making the GOP a big tent party. It’s something the GOP sort of learned in 2020 by running successful candidates like Young Kim and Tony Gonzales, but the party must take this element of Reaganism to heart if it hopes to ever win national elections again. Clinging to Trump’s core support is a sure fire way to fail.

The last, and biggest, difference between Trump and Reagan is the fact that Reagan never believed himself to be inseparable from his movement. In his column, Dan compares Trump to the extravagant Louis XIV of France, and asks readers to consider if Trump the man believes he is inseparable from the Trump movement.

I think any reader with half a brain who knows a lick about Trump can safely say Trump fervently believes he is the movement. Say what you will about Reagan, but the Gipper never had any golden statues built in his likeness. Trump’s ego would never let him be separated from Trumpism, which is why the GOP needs to look to Reagan as an example.

Many conservative politicians ran, and won, long after Reagan left office and his death in 2004 by emulating his policies. Before Trump, Reagan was the Republican. I think it’s highly telling that in the CPAC straw poll conducted without Trump on the list, Trump’s own son couldn’t even break out of the single digits.

Even the folks at CPAC know the truth; sans Trump, "Trumpism," such as it is, is all flash and no bang without solid ideas and solid people to carry the torch.

Reagan created his movement based on ideas, not by personality alone. Reaganism didn’t need Reagan to endure. There are many fresh conservatives waiting to be the party’s next standard bearer like Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton, and Nikki Haley. Let one of them pick up the flag and add their own, fresh optimism to time-honored conservative values.

That, friends, is why Trump and Reagan are different. That is how the GOP will rise again, if wisdom, optimism and freedom prevail.

Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer, presidential historian, and four-time best-selling author. His most recent book is, ''Mary Ball Washington,'' a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Read Craig Shirley's Reports — More Here.

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CraigShirley
The other day in The Wall Street Journal, my fellow conservative Dan Henninger penned an interesting column on the meaning of the term "Trumpism."Regarding former President Donald Trump's appearance at CPAC (which was invented for Reagan) last week, Dan outlined several...
thegipper, america, history, conservatism
1001
2021-04-05
Friday, 05 March 2021 04:04 PM
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