Is Donald Trump the next Ronald Reagan? Here are three reasons why he might be, and three more why he’s not.
1. He’s more cosmopolitan than his base.
My gay friends are worried about a rollback in their hard-won rights, and women I know worry about abortion choice. But no matter who voted for Trump, the man is from New York. He has gay friends in his blue state, and navigated “my own sexual Vietnam” in the 1970s.
Just as Reagan never did much more than pay lip service to social conservatives and had closeted gay actor Rock Hudson to a state dinner, don’t hold your breath waiting for alt-right wingers to get much of what they want, or really big jobs. Trump says he’ll pick Supreme Court conservatives, but George H.W. Bush made the same promise and delivered David Souter, who was much less conservative than he appeared.
The real test will be whether Steve Bannon, the hard-right, white nationalist-tinged Breitbart.com CEO turned campaign CEO, is treated like family or like the help. Nancy Reagan saw to it that the 1980s versions of Bannon (who were nowhere near as raw) got offices in the Executive Office Building — not in the White House itself. Melania, your turn. If Bannon is chief of staff or something close to the power, Trump’s no Reagan.
Madame Tussauds begins work on Trump wax figure
Sculptors at Madame Tussauds are working to complete a life-size wax model of Donald Trump ahead of the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.
2. He might be flexible.
Trump has proposed a long list of the farthest-out ideas ever, like throwing 20 million people off health insurance and deporting 11 million non-citizens. But he has also indicated that a lot of his proposals are starting points for negotiation. He could — could — turn out to be a lot like the Reagan, who raised taxes in 1982 after his 1981 tax bill blew out the deficit. Or he could be the president who fixed Social Security, as Reagan did with a bipartisan coalition. This is probably a Christmas wish, especially since he has GOP congressional majorities, but we’ve observed there is no real ideological core to Trump.
3. Part of his base looks a lot like Reagan’s.
Trump won Macomb County, Mich., by more than 11 percentage points, giving him more than his statewide margin of 13,225 votes. That’s one home of erstwhile Reagan Democrats, who of yore were factory workers and their kin. But next door in Oakland County, changes in the workforce mean that onetime bookend to Macomb went to Hillary Clinton by 8.5 percentage points. So that prize of “Reagan Democrats” is nowhere near as big as it once was. And to the extent that Trump’s base includes evangelicals, they’ve been on the run in the culture wars for years now. Democrats don’t fear them much.
And here are three reasons Trump is no Reagan.
1. Trump has no core critique of America that actually is true.
Reagan diagnosed the gathering stagnation of the late 1970s accurately — inflation was way too high, and so were taxes, with top federal rates of 70%. Trump’s critique is that manufacturing has shriveled — it actually hasn’t — thanks to deals allowing too-free access in and out of U.S. markets (false: the culprit in manufacturing job losses, only 100,000 in Obama’s two terms, is mostly productivity growth, plus more-open trade policies in Mexico that have let it lure German and Asian car plants). That meant the solutions Reagan sought might actually solve the problems he saw. With Trump, trade wars would make workers poorer without saving their jobs.
How Trump will recast global trade
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump promised nothing less than a restructuring of the rules of global trade—a system that has underpinned growth, but that has also cost America manufacturing jobs. The question is how much of the promised change will become reality. Photo: Getty Images
On top of that, Trump’s base has made clear that he thinks uppity women, blacks who complain about police tactics, and immigrants who want to work are annoying and a negative for the country. Tell that last one to Sergey Brin.
2. He doesn’t have a real mandate for change.
Trump ran as a change candidate, but where were his coattails? Republicans gained 12 Senate seats in 1980 when Reagan was elected, and lost two last night. Trump also lost the popular vote. In his favor is that the GOP faces an easy time in 2018 Senate races, when the party only has to defend 10 seats, giving them cover to hang together. But John Boehner and Paul Ryan haven’t been able to lasso their Tea Party caucus in the House, much of which doubts Trump is a real conservative. Let’s see if Trump can do better, and for how long.
3. Reagan had more personal goodwill.
Reagan got big deals made because Democrats like House Speaker Tip O’Neill liked and trusted him. Not so much with this guy. But Dems need to capture a house of congress for this to matter much.
Trump is the president-elect, so he will get at some kind of honeymoon, at least if he can keep party discipline. But Reagan had the gifts to scare Democrats and inspire Republicans to do more than loathe Hillary Clinton. It’s not clear if Trump can do either one.