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Trump is the Mythological Reagan

Looking for Mythological Reagan

Ronald Reagan’s legacy looms large over American conservatives. Everyone wants to be the new Ronald Reagan and Republican candidates can’t stop declaring his name with bated breath. Regrettably for conservatives, the visage of Reagan they broadcast has little to do with the actual president, but epitomizes a caricature forged in Republican media circles and punditry for the last 20 years. This Mythological Reagan is evoked as the tough, principled, provocative conservative who spoke truth in an uncompromising fashion. A man hated by liberals and leftists while he celebrated America’s greatness at home and abroad; a leader who would deliver America to be brighter future.

This Mythological Reagan has been invoked continuously for the last two decades, but it always acted as a theoretical model of emulation rather than an actual blueprint. Donald Trump, unlike any candidate before him, has successful embodied the myth of Reagan, and that is what frightens party insiders. The Reagan caricature they crafted has now been given life and it appears to be irresistible.

One Step Away from Destruction

As Trump picks up a number of conservative governor endorsements this week, it appears that some in the party’s establishments have accepted the Donald’s rise to the nomination as inevitable. While factions of the Republican base are still fighting to stop Trump from seizing the nomination, their familiar rhetorical tactics are beginning to fall on deaf ears. Writing for National Review, Curt Anderson argued:

This memo is for people who care about replacing Justice Scalia with a constitutional conservative, people who care about stopping abortion and defending unborn babies, people who care about rebuilding America’s defenses, people who want to protect the right to keep and bear arms, people who want to stop this mindless slide toward a culture of dependency on government, people who oppose the increasing secularization of American culture, and people who think free speech and religious liberty are of vital importance.

This inflated fear that the next election would see the end of all conservatives hold dear has been regurgitated so often that Anderson’s statements read almost verbatim to those made by countless Republican media figures since 1992. Eventually, said pundits would remind us that what we really need is a new Ronald Reagan to stand against this liberal onslaught. Nile Gardiner in the Telegraph echoed an all too familiar sentiment:

Ultimately, President Obama’s legacy to America will be the decline of a great superpower, weighed down by crushing debts and massive entitlement programs, and facing an emboldened set of adversaries, from Moscow to Tehran to Pyongyang. The damage inflicted by the Obama administration will ultimately be worse than the harm caused by the presidency of Jimmy Carter due to the scale of the long-term economic crisis now facing America.

Can this be reversed? Yes, but it will require a Herculean effort by a US president on the level of a Ronald Reagan, as well as a United States Congress that is willing to implement the free market measures and public cuts that will be needed to revive America’s economy as well as confront the budget deficit, and restore Washington’s standing abroad. The United States needs strong leadership based upon its founding principles of limited government and individual liberty, and driven by a sense of American greatness and exceptionalism. Nothing short of a political revolution of the kind that swept both sides of the Atlantic in 1979 and 1980 is needed to secure America’s future and ensure it is able to lead the free world for the next century.

The Mythological Reagan

For the last two decades, conservative media has lionized Ronald Reagan as the model for Republicans to emulate. Every Republican debate revolved around candidates proclaiming their affinity for the late president and making the case that they would further his philosophical goals and defend his conservative legacy. Right wing radio hosts made Reagan into a demigod of sorts for the Republican movement; he became a figure of indubitable integrity, unrelenting strength, and incontestable ideological purity. Through this revisionist lens, a caricature of Reagan was crafted to be mimicked and revered by the conservative base.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the memory of Reagan they constructed in the last 20 years has little to do with the actual man he is patterned after. This fictitious Reagan may be hard to pin down as it has taken on different forms to meet the needs of a politician or pundit on any and all issues, but a few key characteristics of fictitious Reagan are clear. Paul Kengor’s 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative expounds on “what his emulators today might take to heart.” According to Kengor, said principles include:


This freedom principle was not just an American principle; for Reagan, it was a universal principle. Freedom was not the exclusive domain of Americans. Reagan said that freedom was one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.” All humans aspire to freedom. And when governments permit people to express their aspiration for freedom, especially in the economic sphere, freedom works.

Aspirational, surely, but not entirely representative of Reagan’s record. Reagan’s long history with Latin American dictators is well documented, as was his policy towards South Africa and radical Islamists in Afghanistan. Alex Seitz-Wald, writing for Think Progress, states:

Reagan vetoed a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act which placed sanctions on South Africa and cut off all American trade with the country. Reagan’s veto was overridden by the Republican-controlled Senate. Reagan responded by saying “I deeply regret that Congress has seen fit to override my veto,” saying that the law “will not solve the serious problems that plague that country.”


Reagan fought a proxy war with the Soviet Union by training, arming, equipping, and funding Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan. Reagan funneled billions of dollars, along with top-secret intelligence and sophisticated weaponry to these fighters through the Pakistani intelligence service.

On Taxes


Reagan came to see the counterproductive nature of these excessive taxes. He thought the top rates so punitive they discouraged work, including his own….In speeches in the 1950s and 1960s, he blasted the progressive income tax as “right out of” Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Indeed, the Manifesto calls for “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

The reality was far different.

Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology,” Brinkley said.

On Small Government


Reagan felt that by January 1981, when he was inaugurated, the federal government had subsumed far too many roles and duties that should have been left to the private sector or to local and states governments…When Reagan invoked the mantra of “freedom,” it was about freedom not only from Soviet/communist tyranny abroad, but also from out-of-control big government at home.

Seitz-Wald again refutes these claims.

Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously. Reagan promised “to move boldly, decisively, and quickly to control the runaway growth of federal spending,” but federal spending “ballooned” under Reagan. He bailed out Social Security in 1983 after attempting to privatize it, and set up a progressive taxation system to keep it funded into the future. He promised to cut government agencies like the Department of Energy and Education but ended up adding one of the largest — the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which today has a budget of nearly $90 billion and close to 300,000 employees. He also hiked defense spending by over $100 billion a year to a level not seen since the height of the Vietnam war.

The list of contradictions between Real Reagan and Mythological Reagan are extensive, but the central theme to the myth of his presidency is tone and consistency. The aforementioned principles outlined by Kengor could be encapsulated in a single moment: Reagan’s 1987 speech in West Berlin. This speech, and its central line (“Tear down this wall!”), embodies the myth of Reagan more than any other specific moment of his presidency. Conservatives argue that this willingness to be “tough” and speak the truth above all other political considerations was what “defeated” the Soviet Union (the reality is far more complicated). The myth of Reagan overcoming his adversaries by sheer will and certainty has left the Republican Party with an idealistic understanding of the past and the political process.

Trump as the Embodiment of the Reagan Myth

Conservatives in opposition to Trump are quick to point out the significant differences between the candidate and Reagan, but these pundits have failed to recognize the elements of emulation being celebrated in the Donald’s meteoric rise. Reagan’s appeal as a figure of admiration is in the emotional response individuals have to his presidency. The real success of Reagan’s rise was in making Americans feel proud of their country after two decades of upheaval. The simplified narrative of an uncompromising truth-teller is made the central characteristic of Mythological Reagan as the tangible deal making and political compromise of his presidency is whitewashed from memory.

So when Trump proclaims that he will make America great again, calls for confrontations with foreign powers and belittles his opponents as weak and unprincipled, he comfortably dons the characteristics Republicans have celebrated in Ronald Reagan for the last 20 years. He is the living incarnation of their standard-bearer’s fabled principles, unrestrained and unbending.

The Mythological Reagan, much like the golem of lore, was molded to aid its creator. Coincidently, the forces unleashed by its crafting were uncontrollable. The Republican masses seem to no longer care what their leaders say about Trump; they rightfully see in him the very characteristics ferociously celebrated by the same figures for decades.

(Image: From Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Der Golem, 1916 – WikiCommons)

Staff Writer

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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49 thoughts on “Trump is the Mythological Reagan

  1. Reagan was indeed, not the small gov’t, less spending Pres he’s been made out, although in fairness, he wanted to spend big on the military and agreeing to the social spending the Dems, who controlled the House (iirc) was something he was willing to do.

    “The Republican masses seem to no longer care what their leaders say about Trump” Of course they don’t. Their “leaders” have been betraying them for a long time and they are waking up to that fact and they are pissed.


    • They betray themselves with their mean spirited dreams. Any party that would hold this as a possibility is in la-la land “people who oppose the increasing secularization of American culture”. WTF! That boat has sailed.

      We aren’t going back to 1855. Wake up, white people, time to move on. Put down the carbs, turn off the TV, get some exercise, find a passion besides hating gays and blacks. Maybe start a business.


      • Chuck,
        All societies move like pendulums. Or do you believe that humanity moves “forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”?

        All it would take would be a major shock and you’d see all the old habits return. You might want to remember that.


        • Call me a Whig, but even though there is going to be a bit of a random walk in the medium term, over the long run, society is probably going to move more forwards than backwards, more upwards than downwards casually drifting if, very erratically so towards freedom. The long run of history has seen a general increase in personal, civil and market freedoms. Liberalism, especially in its classical or neo-classical forms is a sort of ESS.


            • I suspect if you lived in Iraq or Russia you might feel differently. I think healthy societies move forward. I think America’s a great example of how that moving forward terrifies some people and leaves others behind and they fight to move things back to the way things (supposedly) were “in the good old days”. But in moving forward some things are lost and some things are gained. It seems in the U.S. case one thing that is getting lost is the middle class which for me at least has been the best thing about the U.S.


              • Where was Russia 150 years ago? Where is Russia now? Give the middle east a good 200 years of non-interference and they too will begin to look liberalish. Of course actually refraining from intervening in the middle east is a thing you Americans can’t help but doing so that may be too optimistic an expectation on my part.


                • I completely agree we should stop intervening in the middle east. As for Russia I think they are much further behind than their considerable brain power could have taken them.


                  • I think culture matters so, Russia (and China) which came from much more absolutist beginnings have much further to go. The point is not where they are now, but where they came from. It doesn’t all have to come together at once. Once people get a bit of the economic liberties and the economic security that comes with it, the others will come. One reason to think that good economic policy will come first is that rational stationary bandits will prefer general prosperity so that they can extract more wealth from the populace.


  2. I read this twice, and my take away is that this is not really an article about Trump as it is about Reagan.

    To the extend that it pertains to Trump, I don’t think you are on target… living in VA and enjoying the wave of political adds in advance of voting tomorrow… Rubio is the guy sending off the “Reagan Vibes” though clearly as a “Child of Reagan” not as a peer. Trump is not really pulling those strings, nor am I getting any sense from conservatives intrigued by him that there’s any sort of Reagan nostalgia. You mention Kengor, but drop principles 2 thru 4: Faith, Family, Sanctity and Dignity of Human life. Those are Rubio/Cruz talking points (as well as the other 8 principles). Kengor himself also notes that Rubio is the one going maximal Reagan.

    To the extent that this is an article about Reagan, meh, the simplest thing I might say is that Reagan was the right president for 1980. That the Republican party is still applying principles arguably appropriate to 1980 all the way in 2016 without appropriate corrections… sure that’s something worth saying – but not really what you do say.

    So, no, your attempt to suggest that Reagan is responsible for Trump does not really resonate; and, if we want to look at parties not learning from their past mistakes, well, there’s more than one in play.


    • Roland Dodds is not saying Reagan is responsible for Trump, he’s saying the Reagan *myth* is responsible for Trump.

      Though I don’t quite agree with that either. Ronnie is not really a gollum, he’s an avatar, a battle flag – a iconic symbol to rally everyone around, to unite groups with deeply divergent interests and preferences. As Reagan himself used himself back in the day.


  3. A while ago, Lee pointed to a quote that described nerds as people who take ideas seriously. As such they are probably more likely to be ideologically rigid, more likely to spend a great deal of energy coming up with a systematic and coherent worldview, etc.

    Most political writers whether they are on the left, right, or libertarian side are nerds and hence take ideas very seriously. Though I admit that the Right-wing and Libertarian-side seem to stress “first principals” more than the center-left. The center-left seems to be more of a grab bag of “Let’s see what works…..”

    The issue is that in order to create this consistency or to sell it to the masses, the right-wing created this mythical avatar of Reagan and all must be Reagan’s airs. At some point, myths become distorted and changed and edited to fit under immediate needs.

    I am not sure whether Trump is the mythological Reagan or not but the right-wing stress on first principals always struck me as eventually leading to disaster. The kitchen sink approach used by the center-left leads to another set of disasters.


  4. Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously… hiked defense spending by over $100 billion a year to a level not seen since the height of the Vietnam war.

    Since when does increasing defense spendng count as growing the government? Killing foreigners isn’t “government” in the bad sense of the word, ergo Reagan wasn’t a hypocrite.


  5. The mythologizing is not limited to Reagan. This bit is representative:

    “President Obama’s legacy to America will be the decline of a great superpower, weighed down by crushing debts…”

    The myth is that deficits are a problem created by Democrats, and the solution is to elect Republicans. Yet look at this fascinating chart:


    Part of it is unsurprising. The deficit skyrockets during a world war, for example. But look at the more recent decades. Start with 1977 and notice how the deficit quite suddenly begins falling. Now look at 1981 and it shoots up again, reaching the highest peak since WWII. It begins to fall a few years later, but rises again in 1989. It goes up for four years, then suddenly plummets, even turning into a surplus. Then eight years later is rises again, and after some hesitation it far surpasses the peak of the 1980s. Then it plummets again. You don’t need to be a professional historian to match these rises and falls to which party held the Presidency. It turns out that a Democratic President correlates nearly perfectly with lower deficits, and a Republican President with higher.

    Anyone remember how during that surplus period of the Clinton administration there was a plausible plan to pay off the national debt entirely? There were hand-wringing think pieces worrying about how the world economy would function without US Treasury bills.

    This seems to have gone down the memory hole. Just like the Beirut Barracks bombing of 1983. That never happened in the world of Mythological Reagan.


    • Anyone remember how during that surplus period of the Clinton administration there was a plausible plan to pay off the national debt entirely? There were hand-wringing think pieces worrying about how the world economy would function without US Treasury bills.

      Note that this was largely a combination of being at a really good place in the business cycle, plus productivity enhancements, plus spending restraint the likes of which had not been seen in generations and were not seen again until the next time a Democratic president faced an obstructionist Republican Congress. It maybe have happened because a Democrat was in the White House, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Democratic policies.


      • It becomes a partisan criticism this way-

        On the spending side-
        Both sides love to spend, they just love to spend on different things.
        Dems love to spend on infrastructure and social programs, Reps love to spend on the military.

        The difference is that military spending is almost always much much more expensive than any other kind of spending. I won’t belabor the point with examples with which you are all familiar, but even a small war would fund the most extravagant liberal agenda.

        On the revenue side-
        One side, and one side only, seeks to increase revenue. The other side seeks to minimize revenue, to starve the beast.

        So putting them together, the conservative agenda even in idealized form leads to higher spending with reduced revenue, i.e., deficits.


        • I won’t belabor the point with examples with which you are all familiar, but even a small war would fund the most extravagant liberal agenda.

          You won’t get a defense of our current levels of military out of me, but this simply isn’t true. The Iraq War cost something like $2 trillion total over ten years. The Federal government alone spends more than that on social welfare spending every year. Not even quasi-public goods like education, but straight-up cash and in-kind private goods. At its post-Cold-War peak around 2010, total military spending was under 5% of GDP, or about 1/7th of total government spending (federal + state + local).


          • When you say the government spends a trillion dollars a year on social welfare spending, you are referring of course to Social Security.

            Which is only true if you disregard the fact that SS is essentially revenue neutral- it takes in as much revenue from the payroll tax as it spends on benefits. And I have never heard a conservative publically call Social Security recipients as “welfare recipients” (although I would love to).

            Medicare is straight up spending, and can rightly be called such- but again, no Tea Party speaker has ever suggested that the Medicare recipients in his audience were “welfare moochers” (although I would love to).

            The conservative base, Trump’s audience, is overwhelmingly in favor of SS and Medicare- when they talk about social welfare spending these programs are strictly excluded.

            Once SS and Medicare are separated out, the level of social welfare spending drops off the cliff to a pittance, around 50 billion or so, which in perspective is about a week of active fighting in Iraq.

            The point here, is that the conservative agenda is inherently deficit. The things the conservatives want to spend money on- Defense, “non social welfare” social welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare- are all very expensive, while they are adamantly against raising enough revenue to fund them.

            I would go so far as to say that it is literally impossible to construct a “conservative budget” that is balanced and acceptable to the conservative base.


            • Once SS and Medicare are separated out, the level of social welfare spending drops off the cliff to a pittance, around 50 billion or so

              I saw that Facebook meme, too, but it’s off by a factor of 20 or so. In 2012, federal, state, and local means-tested spending was on the order of a trillion dollars.


      • Yabbut… Clinton was using his advantageous position in the business cycle to pay down the debt. Then Bush came in and starting blowing shit up while reducing revenues.

        One cycle through you can point to the business cycle. But we are talking over and over again for the past forty years. At some point it becomes reasonable to suspect something more than coincidence is going on.


        • Sadly, that’s impossible. We’ve been told for decades that Democrats are “tax and spend” whereas Republicans are all about fiscal responsibility.

          Don’t come here with your charts and graphs and suspiciously liberal numbers and argue otherwise. :)


  6. A million years ago, Vikram wrote a lovely post called “Why Republicans Will Have a Hard Time Gaining Asian Support“.

    The line I remember was “The problem isn’t their positions; it’s that we suspect they would in fact take some internal satisfaction in not getting our vote.”

    One of the things I’ve noticed about the Trump phenomenon is that he seems to be actively courting the… I am not sure about the best phrasing of this… let’s call it the “Juggalo” vote.

    His “I love the poorly educated!” quote was mocked by all kinds of respectable people… but, you know what? The poorly educated who heard that heard that for the first time from any presidential candidate.

    The Juggalos finally have someone who doesn’t merely want their vote to help him or her win, they have someone who not only acknowledges their existence without pity or contempt but tells them that he loves them.

    And the Republican Elite are doing an amazing job of communicating “they would in fact take some internal satisfaction in not getting” the vote of the juggalos.

    Trump is going to be compared to Reagan for a good long while. He’s going to get Reagan in ’80 election numbers.


    • I agree with you up to that last sentence.

      Trump will get the Juggalos vote, the low info GOP vote and the Juggalo sympathetic vote. He’ll fail to get the rest. One can note that Juggalos are a very large number of people but one must also consider that a large number of those people don’t consider themselves juggalos and would not appreciate being called as such. They’ll vote against Trump or at least they won’t vote for him.


        • I’ve never believed that Hillary will be a strong candidate in the general (the opposite in fact) but I’ve been lazily content to think she’d have a better chance than Bernie given his Socialism!!! But lately I’m seeing a shift in Bernie’s messaging on the TV/radio away from free college!! and towards less specifically “ideological” positions: get money outa politics, have the economic winners (Wall Street) pay their fair share in taxes, etc. Stuff that sorta generally – rather than specifically – resonates. All of which is to say, if he wins the primary (which is a long shot) it’ll be because he’s tacking back to the right a bit, and that strategy could play really well in the general. Better than Clinton, anyway.


    • People have always courted the votes of the “poorly educated” or jugalos. Always. They just used different terms, they used more neutral terms or just called them americans or Kansans or VFW members or whatever. The only thing Trumpy is doing differently is asking for their votes in his vulgar or unfiltered style. His schtick is saying the pretty much the same things pols or people have always said just in with an in your face, loud mouthed attitude.


    • But the big question is how much of the GOP vote is Juggalos and how much of the GOP vote hates Juggalos. If Trump is doing extremely well at getting 30% and alienating everyone else, that’s a losing strategy.


      • The Juggalos that I’m thinking of have never voted in an election before.

        “Well, why are they going to start voting in elections now? You can’t magically say ‘oh, I know that they will vote for Trump!’ and then pretend that they actually will!”

        This goes back to the primaries and caucuses having record turnout. I see that as an indicator for record voter turnout. (See, for example, 2008.)

        Democrats are experiencing anemic turnout. I see that as an indicator for anemic voter turnout. (See, for example, 2008 and 2012.)

        Trump could well be alienating people left and right (no pun intended) but he’s going up against Hillary Clinton who has alienation problems herself.


    • Juggalo’s don’t vote. So that’s a bad metaphor. The poorly educated that Trump was talking about are the old fashioned working poor (that used to be able to work the line somewhere to be middle class) who can’t get line work at manufacturing businesses anymore because they are a bad combo of unskilled and unwilling to work for the wages those jobs (to the extent they exist anymore) pay.


  7. I dunno. In my own explanatory theory, I don’t pin Trump’s appeal on Reagan mythology as much as another myth (or semi-myth, depending on how you look at it): the Great Man theory. People see in Trump a person who, by the sheer power of his will and force of his character, can achieve great things and alter the course of history (and the present) for the better. And even then, I don’t think that account is explanatorily complete since I tend to think a substantial (or at least not insignificant) factor driving his support is a “throw the bums out” sentiment as well.

    One thing I think we can reliably predict, tho, is that if Trump wins all the pundits and “smart guys” who simply cannot comprehend the Reasons for Trump (which is 99% of em, as far as I can tell) will eventually coalesce around one or perhaps two intellectually satisfying but still-confused theories which will then become the “established historical narrative”.

    So we’ll have created a Mythology about Trump that’s is wildly divergent from reality, just like the current mythology about Reagan is.


  8. >>Reagan’s appeal as a figure of admiration is in the emotional response individuals have to his presidency.

    My sense is that voters from both parties want someone who won’t go into the details. It’s true that conservatives are susceptible to appeals to loyalty & authority (“I’ll make them pay for it, you can trust me”). But liberals are equally susceptible to appeals to caring & expertise (“I’ve spent time with the victims, and I’ll get smart people to solve it”). So Trump gets away with ignorance by saying that he’ll just get it done, and Sanders gets away with it by saying that he’ll assign the right people. But both are getting away with it.


      • But that’s partly because Hillary has gone left to grab some of Bernie’s positions – obviously not as far as left as he is, but enough to blunt his momentum. Also, the actual ‘base’ of the Democratic Party (suburban women and African-American voters) never glomped on to Bernie like the actual ‘base’ (Southern and Midwestern working class whites) of the GOP glomped on to Trump.


        • Bernie’s a classic McGovern style excite the college kids type of candidate. The college kids have never managed to get out and vote though so if history is a guide that’s a losing constituency.


      • Are Sanders’ losses ideological or structural? It seems to me like he’s losing because of (a) poor ground game; and (b) poor connection with the black vote. There’s a chicken/egg problem, sure, but I don’t get the sense that either of these failures are due to his reliance on vague policy and experts; if anything, it’s that he hasn’t ramped up the “caring” dial enough.


        • trizz,

          I think it’s a bit … descriptively inaccurate … to say that Bernie is losing. I mean, well, it’s perfectly accurate of course, but he entered the race with pretty much a single purpose in mind: to pull Clinton to the left. And not only has he achieved that goal, he’s actually competitive, which is the real surprise of the overall Dem primary arc, seems to me. (It says something about Clinton as a candidate as well as the interests and concerns of the Dem voting base.)

          To your point tho, the blocs he’s losing are older whites and all AAs. So if you want to pin a reason for why he’s losing, it’d be poor support from those demos. And as I’ve said before, I’m surprised that Clinton has such a lock on AA support.


    • Yes, I agree that both parties engage in these types of appeals. Look no further than what the average Democrat thinks of JF Kennedy, often constructed entirely from pleasantries rather than policies.

      By focusing on the myth of Reagan and how Trump has captured it, I did not intend to say similar sentiments aren’t present to the “great Democrats of old.”


  9. More grist for the mill:

    Rand’s (Not Ayn or Paul, the corporation one) election survey is out.

    Check this out:

    Among people likely to vote in the Republican primary, people are 86.5 percent more likely to prefer Donald Trump as the first-choice nominee relative to all the others if they “somewhat” or “strongly agree” that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.” Using statistical techniques, we can conclude that this increased preference for Trump is over and beyond any preferences based on respondent gender, age, race/ethnicity, employment status, educational attainment, household income, attitudes towards Muslims, attitudes towards illegal immigrants, or attitudes towards Hispanics.

    Holy crap.


    • Using statistical techniques, we can conclude” … well, just about anything you want to conclude.

      {{“Have you analyzed the data?” “Yes, we’ve applied various statistical techniques, if that’s what you mean.”}}

      OK, with that outa the way, I think the conclusion is consistent with what a lot of folks have been saying all along: that Trump supporters feel left outa the gummental, policy-forming process for whatever particular reason.* How that left-out feeling manifests as support for Trump, however, is left outa the snipped analysis from Rand, and I’d guess it’s contained in a list of various preferred policy proposals they believe Trump will enact (or try to anyway). Which brings us back to immigration, xenophobia, bigotry, working class wage issues, ending political corruption (which is sorta ironic), ending ISIS, etc etc.. That is, the long laundry list of ostensible reasons why people support Trump over another candidate.

      But maybe I don’t fully understand the implications of the study.

      *I think the emerging CW is that this part of the analysis constitutes a repudiation of establishment GOP politics, not only as a political machine, but as a collection of national level policy planks.


      • Although — and to be clear, I am not saying you are wrong, Still, just playing Devil’s AD — it does seem like at every data point there is a reason to disregard his ability to succeed. And each time he makes a hash of those reasonings, those goal posts get moved further back.

        Which isn’t to say he’s going to win. More that I am growing more and more cautious about reasoned arguments for why he can’t.


        • Oh, I hear ya. One data point supporting the idea that nobody-knows-what-the-hell-is-going-on-anymore is the CNN poll posted today – the first poll after Trump either got his ass handed to him by Rubio or alternatively absolutely destroyed Rubio with some solid zingers! – which has Trump up to 49% nationally. It’s just a data point, but coming off a performance that (I’d bet) most “respectable” conservatives cringed over his poll numbers rose.

          So, you know, something weird is going on here. :)


        • I think there are two big things that come up –

          1. That you have to be shocked that 35-50% of the Republican primary vote (which to be liberal is say, 20% of the voting population) are white supremacists. I am not shocked by this at all. Trump is just saying the parts that other candidates, including Romney and every other Republican running has only inferred until now.

          2. That the other candidates running are actually good at politics – look at the entire 2016 Republican field – who among them had actually faced an opposition that could credibly oppose them? Even Scott Walker ran in low turnout midterm elections. I mean, maybe you’ve got John Kasich, but even Kasich is facing the Ohio Democratic Party, which is in a footrace every year with the Florida Democratic Party to be the worst Democratic State Party in the nation.

          OTOH, whether you like her or not, Hillary has taken a political punch or seven.


  10. I have read this post a couple of times and I guess that I’m just not getting the hook. Right from the beginning you link to an article counting the number of times that GOP candidates invoked Reagan, that notes Trump’s number as zero. The people most likely to evoke the name and legacy of Ronald Reagan are the folks who are right now doing everything that they can to stop Trump. I agree that Trump is a golem, but I’m not sure in what way he is a golem animated by the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

    The reason that Reagan is popular with movement conservatives is because he was an incredibly popular conservative. All the mythologizing stuff is window dressing. Reagan beat an establishment Republican candidate and then the sitting Democratic president. And he won re-election in, depending how you count it, the biggest landslide in the history of competitive presidential elections. At the end of the day, nothing succeeds like success.

    The point of all this is that whatever you think of Ronald Reagan, good or bad, he was a guy with a lifelong interest in policy, not someone who opportunistically weighed in on politics in the self-serving manner that Trump has. Reagan was the president of SAG during the HUAC days. He was hired by GE to draft and deliver speeches on economics and policy. He stumped for Goldwater, which culminated in the “A Time for Choosing” speech that paved the way for his California gubernatorial campaign. By the time Reagan ran in 1980, he’s already been a serving governor for eight years and been through one unsuccessful presidential bid.

    None of this is to say that you should like Reagan, only that the connection to Trump is tendentious at best. Donald Trump is a populist salesman. He’s a guy who showed up at the right time, saying the right things, which is generally what populists do. I’m not sure that it is much more complicated than that.


    • I hate to speak for the author but I think part of the point is that the Reagan myth is so deep in the heart of the base that Trump evokes it on a primal or subconscious level.

      His nonsense evokes Reagan’s “were dropping the bombs on Russia in five minutes” macho.


      • Yes, exactly. is right that Donald does not reference Reagan or necessarily hold any of the late president’s policy positions. It is that he has tapped into the elements of Reagan that have been celebrated and mythologized over the last 20 years. Now the likes of National Review and Mark Levin are throwing a fit as someone walks in an plays the very character they have crafted in adulation.


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