Today’s Republicans Are More Extreme Than Their Conservative Idol
In two days, the GOP candidates for president will head to the Reagan Library for their second debate. Most will likely espouse their love of Reagan and try to highlight similarities between the Gipper’s policies and their own. However, as a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows, today’s candidates are in fact far more extreme than their Republican idol. To be sure, Reagan was no progressive. He has a record that includes initiating failed trickle-down economic programs that only help the wealthy, creating the false narrative of the welfare queen that still exists today, and gutting President Carter’s clean energy and energy efficiency efforts.
But, unlike today’s GOP candidates, he also was not a pure ideologue who was unwilling to negotiate and work across the aisle. His former chief of staff, James Baker, explained it well: “If Reagan told me once, he told me fifteen thousand times—I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flags flying.” In practice, this philosophy meant that President Reagan adopted moderate, bipartisan stances on several important policy positions – positions that the current presidential contenders would find abhorrent. Over the course of his presidency:
- Reagan provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In 1986, Reagan supported and signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which provided a pathway to citizenship for 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. Current GOP candidates oppose a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, though creating such a pathway would boost the U.S. economy by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
- Reagan stood up to the National Rifle Association, or NRA, to establish background checks. He strongly supported the establishment of national background checks for gun purchases, as well as a ban on assault weapons. Current GOP candidates wouldn’t dare stand up to the NRA as most act to preserve their ‘A’ rating from the organization. Sens. Rubio, Cruz, Paul, and Graham have blocked legislation to expand background checks.
- Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol, a multilateral international treaty to reduce pollution. In the face of scientific research showing that chemical gasses were depleting the protective ozone layer, Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that phased out nearly 100 of these dangerous gases, many of which are also greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Current GOP candidates either deny that climate change is real or ignore the science behind it and have strenuously opposed the Obama administration’s effort to regulate pollution.
- Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear proliferation. As president, Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union, eliminating an entire category of nuclear missiles. Current GOP candidates have adopted an unyielding stance on national security, especially as it relates to President Obama’s recent deal with Iran. Mike Huckabee threatened to topple Iran using military force, and many of the other candidates also have stated that they would not uphold the current Iran nuclear deal.
- Reagan grew the federal government through deficit spending. Despite his public image as the champion of small government, Reagan tripled the national debt, increased the federal workforce by about 324,000 workers, doubled the U.S. Department of Education’s budget, and created a new federal agency, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Current GOP candidates have embraced uncompromising positions on the federal budget, opposing any deficit spending, even in the face of pressing national need. Sen. Cruz demonstrated astounding fiscal irresponsibility, costing the economy $20 billion by orchestrating the government shutdown in 2013.
- Reagan closed tax loopholes favoring the wealthy and raised taxes to reduce the federal deficit. In fact, he raised taxes 7 out of his 8 years in office and has said that tax loopholes “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy.”
To be clear, Reagan was no progressive hero, but at times he was able to mix pragmatism with conservatism, something the current GOP candidates refuse to do. As the Washington Post puts it, despite their proclaimed love of Reagan, current GOP candidates “actually represent a break from core aspects of his approach to the presidency.”
BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of what the GOP candidates say in Wednesday’s debate, the reality is their positions are far to the right of Reagan’s actions on a number of critical issues. Despite the folklore, it is hard to imagine any of these candidates claiming fidelity to Reagan and his principles in a way that the 40th president could embrace.
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