Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

We Are Family, Part III: What Would Ronnie Do?

Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, is hawking a new book about her parents right now. So, she's doing the PR rounds, where the question on anyone and everyone's mind is: What would dad think about the current state of the GOP?

Davis has done numerous TV interviews (see here for one writeup), but her op-ed for The New York Times is the clearest and most thorough answer she's given to the question. Under the headline "My Father, Ronald Reagan, Would Weep for America," Davis writes:

I wish so deeply that I could ask him about the edge we are teetering on now, and how America might move out of its quagmire of anger, its explosions of hatred. How do we break the cycle of violence, both actual and verbal? How do we cross the muddy divides that separate us, overcome the partisan rancor that drives elected officials to heckle the president in his State of the Union address? When my father was shot, Tip O'Neill, then speaker of the House and always one of his most devoted political opponents, came into his hospital room and knelt down to pray with him, reciting the 23rd Psalm. Today a gesture like that seems impossible.

So what would my father say about the decline of civility and the ominous future of our democracy? I don't think he would address his party's front-runner at all. I think he would focus on the people who cheer at that candidate's rallies. He would point out to them that dictatorships aren't created by one person; they're created by all the people who fall in line and say yes.

In short, at least in Davis' view, the Gipper would not be a Trumper if he was alive today.

This is a question we've thought about a fair bit, and we're a little less certain than Davis is. The fact of the matter is that Reagan definitely moved with the political currents, and famously became more conservative over time, starting as a liberal Democrat in his youth, then becoming a centrist Democrat, then a fairly centrist Republican as governor of California, and then a much more conservative Republican as president. It is well within the realm of possibility that if he had been born in 1961, as opposed to 1911, that he would have tacked rightward with the GOP, and would be another Elise Stefanik or J.D. Vance.

That said, there are some very strong arguments that Davis is right, and that St. Ronnie of Reagan simply could not have tolerated today's Republican Party. We'll point out five of them:

  1. Backbiting: Presumably, anyone who reads this site is familiar with Reagan's 11th Commandment of Politics: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any other Republican." It is nearly inconceivable that he would have tolerated Donald Trump's constant attacks on any Republican who displeases him, not to mention the machinations of the Freedom Caucus.

  2. Negativity: On a related note, Reagan generally embraced positivity, not the negativity that is pervasive in the modern GOP. This was true in the 40th president's vision for America ("It's morning... in America") and in his interactions with political opponents ("I will not exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience"). That Reagan had a fundamental decency to him is indicated by his sharp wit and excellent sense of humor. By contrast, Trump couldn't make a joke if you spotted him a chicken and a road.

  3. Gridlock: It is true that a big part of Reagan's rhetoric was "government is bad." But that was mostly talk (excepting in the area of deregulation). The truth is that once the cameras were off, Reagan was very interested in huddling with Tip O'Neill and trying to get things done. Ronnie would have little tolerance for much of the nonsense that goes on in Congress today, particularly the sorts of shenanigans we've seen in the last month.

  4. Russia: There is much, when it comes to policy, where Reaganism and Trumpism are deeply at odds. But the biggest divide surely must be on Russia policy. Ronnie hated, hated, hated those godless pinko commie Russians, and there can be absolutely no doubt that if he was still alive, he would be all-in on giving Ukraine whatever it needs to fight Vladimir Putin.

  5. Institutions: Reagan was also an institutionalist. He certainly disagreed with Democrats on policy in many areas, but he believed profoundly in the Constitution and the American system of government. It is inconceivable, we think, that if he had lived to see 1/6, Reagan would have stood idly by, George W. Bush-style, and said nothing.

On balance, we think Davis is more likely to be right than wrong about her dad.

This isn't particularly important, of course, since Reaganism is clearly long dead and the Reagan family's influence these days is about the same as the Adams family's influence. Or the Addams Family's, for that matter. But it's interesting, and since we had two other "family" items, we thought we might as well include this. (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates