Trump Is No Reagan

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Donald Trump’s attempts to burnish his conservative credentials by comparing himself to Ronald Reagan are wildly unconvincing. In his recent “Meet the Press” interview, Trump argued that his metamorphosis from left to right was akin to Reagan’s. He added that the late president was “somebody that I actually knew and liked. And he liked me. And I worked with him and helped him.”

Combined, we had the privilege of working very closely with Ronald Reagan over a five-decade period, and we must have missed the occasions when The Donald “worked with” the president, and overlooked The Gipper’s expressions of affection for him.

But quite apart from whether those assertions of affinity are true, we take even greater exception with Trump claiming the Reagan mantle to advance his political fortunes. Here are our reasons why:

--In his 1966 campaign for governor of California, Reagan popularized the so-called Republican 11th Commandment, stating, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” Calling his GOP opponents (or anyone for that matter) “losers,” “morons,” “dummies” or “idiots” would have been unthinkable for Reagan. Those words didn’t exist in his vocabulary—even for Democrats who called him names. He once wrote a note to us saying we had done “d--- good,” not being able to bring himself to spell out the word “damn.” Meanness was not in Reagan’s soul.

--Yes, Ronald Reagan migrated from being a liberal Democrat to the gold standard for conservative Republicans. But Reagan’s views evolved over four decades’ worth of life experience, a philosophical journey that took place gradually. His conservative credentials didn’t emanate overnight to match the political season. His was a slow and thoughtful transformation from the 1930s to the 1960s. Trump’s appears to be a midnight conversion just in time for the Iowa caucuses.

--Reagan vetted his ideas for governing with the likes of William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Barry Goldwater and Dwight Eisenhower. He got his information by studying and reading and listening to a wide spectrum of experts.  By all accounts, Trump appears to have no policy or philosophical patrons, characterized by his recent statement that his schooling on military affairs comes from “watching television shows.”

--Above all else, Ronald Wilson Reagan was genial and mannerly. He treated others with respect and courtesy. He was a gentleman whose personal decency was exceptional. On the occasions where he disagreed with our opinions or points of view, he did so without sharp words or rebuke, often apologetically. Yes, his political rhetoric could be tough and partisan, but it was never vulgar or personal. Donald Trump would benefit from the light-hearted humor that Reagan used to advantage in his communication.

--In the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan also said it was time to “make America great again.” But he did so while reflecting on what a wonderful country we live in, and that even amid the failure of our institutions, our nation’s promise of hope and opportunity stood out. It would have been unimaginable for Reagan to say, “Our country is going to hell,” as Trump regularly claims.  Optimism permeated Reagan’s thinking, and we don’t see any evidence of Trump using the uplifting and aspirational language that was so dominant in Reagan’s communications.

--Ronald Reagan was respectful of all people, but even more so towards women, with whom he was warm and courtly.  As a person who believed a soft answer turneth away wrath, his approach to Megyn Kelly on debate night would have been delivered with a wink and a smile.  He might have even said, “There you go again.” If Mr. Trump, as he insists on being called, wants to be like Mr. Reagan, he needs to replace churlishness with charm.

--Despite the acclaim he achieved in his motion picture, television and political careers, Reagan was never boastful. On election night 1980, as he prepared his victory remarks, there was no trace of gloating or conquest. And on the eve of his inauguration, it was the stirring emotion and spirit of the moment that moved him, not the notion that he would soon be the most powerful man in the world. It was America that was great, not him – a studied contrast with Mr. Trump’s overwhelming self-absorption.

We find no similarities other than both Reagan and Trump came out of the entertainment industry. We knew Ronald Reagan. We served alongside President Reagan. Ronald Reagan was our friend. And, Mr. Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan.

Stu Spencer managed Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. Ken Khachigian was chief speechwriter to the president.

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