I haven’t been Trump’s biggest fan, but he won fair and square. Let’s quote from Reagan’s autobiography and refer to well-known facts and then see how Trump measures up. Surprising.
The page (p.) and chapter (ch.) numbers are from Reagan’s autobiography.
Though they are dissimilar (see the bonus section, below), here are twelve + two similarities (so far) that must be noted.
- Both won Person of the Year right after their first election.
When Reagan won the 1980 election, Time magazine made him “Man of the Year.” Trump got the same award after his election.
This is insignificant in the bigger, substantive scheme of things, but the award shows they are influential.
- Both have strong personalities.
Reagan had a firm gaze and an unshakable attitude and outlook in his younger years and during his presidency. Trump seems equally unflinching and unflappable. Flintlike.
3. Reagan had a natural optimism and patriotism for the country, and so does Trump.
Neither Reagan nor Trump hesitates to wear his optimism and patriotism on his sleeve or lapel or face, though Trump could work on his smile because so far he can’t match Reagan’s. Still, their love for country comes through. It’s not wishy-washy, as Obama’s was.
- Reagan was no hard-core ideologue, and neither is Trump.
Reagan distanced himself from hard-core conservatives, calling them: “Right wingers” (p. 153); “radical conservatives” (p. 171); “conservative diehards”; “hard core conservatives” (p. 322); and “ultra pure conservatives” (p. 322). (One wonders how many radio hosts Reagan could relate to nowadays, even though many of them claim him as their patron saint.)
Trump does not come across as hard-core. It must be admitted, however, that Reagan did have core conservative principles, while Trump is developing his.
- Reagan was a Washington outsider, and so is Trump.
Yes, Reagan was a governor before occupying the White House, but he was just about as far from Washington as one can get in the forty-eight states. Trump has never been a Washington insider or even a politician.
Reagan came into D.C. to change things, and Trump says he is too. No more business as usual. That was / is part of their appeal.
- Reagan was intelligent, but no egghead intellectual, and so is Trump.
The media misjudged and criticized Reagan as an “amiable dunce,” and Trump has undergone similar sneers, even from conservative intellectuals.
But who cares!
Your and my parents never studied Aristotle or Plato. That’s what intellectuals do. Being an egghead intellectual is no virtue in ordinary life, but intelligence is. Maybe that’s why intellectual professors can’t relate generally to the common people, while nonintellectual (but intelligent) politicians can.
In their election victories Reagan and Trump appealed to the working class. That’s how to win. Savvy.
- Reagan deployed firm language in foreign policy, and so does Trump.
Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” After the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airline 747 Jet in 1983, Reagan wrote: “Inhumane barbarity” and went on to describe Soviet barbarity in Eastern Europe (p. 584). In the speech before the Berlin Wall in 1987, he slammed the Soviet system, using such words as these: “failure,” “technological backwardness,” “declining standards of health,” “too little food” (p. 682) and finally, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (p. 683).
Trump is not afraid to take China to task on social media and break with diplomatic protocol by accepting a call (or calling) Taiwan’s president. He has said that China is robbing, stealing, lying, and cheating the USA.
Reagan would never have signed the Iran deal—or even negotiated one. He didn’t like Iran because of the hostage crisis (pp. 217-19 and 236-37, etc.) and their sponsorship of worldwide terrorism (pp. 290, 408-09, ch. 64, etc). Trump will cancel the Iran deal.
Reagan was not afraid to call a foreign spade a spade, and neither is Trump.
- Reagan had an accurate and realistic view of Islamic terror, and so does Trump.
Reagan bombed Qaddafi’s military setups in Libya after the airliner blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, and Qaddafi’s other terrorist acts (pp. 517-21). Trump does not seem afraid to do something similar. It’s an easy prediction that if Reagan lived today, he would not be afraid to call terrorists by their full name after he learned of Islamic ideology: “Radical Muslims” (p. 290) and “Palestinian terror” (p. 408).
Trump has repeatedly called them by their real names.
- Gov. Reagan confronted leftist protesters, and Trump has confronted his own version of them.
Reagan talks about this in his autobiography (ch. 28): “Once the National Guard restored order on the campuses, no more policemen or other people were attacked by rioters and peace began to be restored to our universities” (p. 182).
As for Trump, it was an effective image when his route was blocked by protesters: he got out of his limo and stomped across a weedy field to get to a rally, during the primaries. Wow!
Maybe those of us who opposed him at that time should have acknowledged how courageous that was; maybe we should have seen the handwriting on the wall. Trump was going to win.
- Both built electoral coalitions that went beyond conservatives.
After Reagan defeated Gov. Brown in 1966 by 58-42, he said he won with middle-of-the-road voters in both parties (p. 153). When Reagan won the presidency twice, the coalitions grew on a much larger scale than those in one state.
Trump appealed to Democrats in the Rust Belt and won. But his coalition was not as big as Reagan’s, to judge from Reagan’s huge margins of victory. Trump lost the popular vote; Reagan didn’t. We’ll see what happens in 2020.
- Reagan cleverly and realistically negotiated with the opposition, and Trump seems willing to do that too.
Both Reagan and Trump have been successful negotiators—one in politics, the other in business.
Here is Reagan’s famous seventy-five or eighty percent victory excerpt in his autobiography: “If you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it” (p. 171).
All of us are nervous about the conversations Trump has had with Obama and the future ones he’ll have with Democrats, but at least he hasn’t shut the door on them. Recent cabinet appointments and news reports says he may work with the opposition—but hopefully not cave in to them. His appointments seem ready to challenge them.
- Reagan was not an annihilationist about government programs, and neither is Trump.
Reagan was an incrementalist, as he writes in his autobiography, parts of which are worth quoting in full, to teach future hard-core conservative politicians who hope to move ahead in politics (are you listening, Ted Cruz?) and to enlighten hard-core conservative radio hosts. Reagan writes:
Some of my conservative supporters tried to pressure me to wage an all-or-nothing battle to virtually eliminate the welfare program; but I believed we should not take aid from the people who really needed and deserved it, the truly impoverished elderly, blind, and disabled. (p. 189)
I never thought we could cut costs so fast that we’d balance the budget overnight. I knew it would take time. There were too many programs that people based their lives and businesses on; you couldn’t pull the rug out from under all of them at once. But I wanted to cut more around the waist of a middle-aged man. (p. 335)
Over time, we rendered a lot of fat out of the government; we reduced the size of bureaucracy and cut the rate at which the government was growing and spending money, and I’m very proud of that. But the vested interests that hold sway over Congress prevented us from cutting spending nearly as much as I had hope to, or as the country required. (p. 335)
No chainsaw for Reagan!
Apart from disastrous Obamacare, Trump does not seem to wish to annihilate government programs or agencies, but cut back on them (hopefully a lot). That’s wise. (Maybe annihilating the IRS in twenty-four hours would be heroic, but not realistic.) His cabinet appointments show they will challenge the gigantic bureaucracy. And he will, thankfully, cancel Obama’s executive orders immediately. It’s an easy prediction that if Carter had violated the spirit (or the content) of the Constitution as Obama has done, Reagan would have gladly canceled them. Reagan did not like powerful, intrusive government, even in the executive branch, but respected the Constitution.
13. Baker’s dozen: Pro-life
At first Reagan was pro-choice, but then as he went into the White House (or before), he became pro-life. Trump used to be pro-choice, but now he is pro-life.
One more similarity (which makes 14): Neither one was / is a lawyer. Neither one was / is bogged down with legal preciseness and obsessions. They could / can be visionaries.
Let’s wrap this up.
I spent a fair number of hours putting together articles criticizing Trump (type Trump in the search bar at this site). And I’m still taking a wait-and-see attitude. Let’s hope some Washington “Insiders” and the “Establishment,” both past and present, like Priebus, Pence, Newt or Ryan, can talk him out of a tariff war, for example.
I sincerely hope for his success, especially his roll back of the gigantic regulatory bureaucracy and cutting taxes, as Reagan did.
Maybe at the end of four years Trump will be far from Reagan. But Trump is growing in his conservatism, so he’ll probably be more like Reagan in 2020.
Whatever happens, the similarities at this present time have to be acknowledged.
Bonus: Their Differences
This post will make more intellectual liberals and conservatives cringe, so to placate them, let’s state some ways he is not like Reagan. And I don’t want to seem ignorant of their differences.
1. During their primaries, Reagan was a gentleman; Trump was not (though he seems to be calming down).
2. Reagan didn’t pick winners and losers in the free market; Trump is going down that path.
3. Reagan tried to reverse FDR’s government intrusion; Trump’s jobs program to rebuild infrastructure looks like FDR’s New Deal. (If roads and bridges need rebuilding, do it, but not as an economic theory to jump-start the economy).
4. Reagan was divorced, but his second marriage was extremely happy, without the slightest hint of his cheating on Nancy; Trump’s escapades? Let’s move on.
5. Reagan did not believe in tariffs (except one, to protect Harley-Davidson, pp. 347-49); Trump does.
6. Their career paths were different: Trump a businessman, and Reagan an actor and then a commentator and eventually a governor and president.
7. Reagan came from working class, Trump from the wealthy class.
8. Reagan was a democrat for a long time, but then the party left him (as he said), while Trump simply left the DNC to join the Republicans at the last minute.
9. Reagan was more receptive to illegal immigrants (to say the least); Trump is not (though he might be changing).
10. Reagan was a man of prayer (p. 379); is Trump?
The list could go on because no two persons are exactly alike. But the similarities are significant and must be acknowledged.