Center for American Progress Action

RELEASE: Right of Reagan: Republican Presidential Candidates Set New Bar for Extremism
Press Release

RELEASE: Right of Reagan: Republican Presidential Candidates Set New Bar for Extremism

CAP Action report shows GOP’s rightward shift away from conservative idol.

Washington, D.C. — In the nearly 30 years since Ronald Reagan was president, his iconic status in the Republican Party has only grown, and he remains the gold standard for conservative candidates and causes. But as the 2016 Republican presidential field prepares to debate at the Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday, a new CAP Action report details just how much more conservative the Republican Party—most notably, those seeking the presidency—has become since President Reagan on issues such as immigration, gun violence prevention, climate change, the federal workforce, and negotiating with nuclear powers. Reagan was not a progressive, but he remains significantly more popular than today’s entire GOP field and set a standard that none of them are meeting.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) has said, “Reagan’s influence is a key part of who I am today,” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Reagan’s rise to the presidency was “a movement that transformed America.” Donald Trump went so far as to say that the Reagan administration was the last time “you felt proud to be an American.” Yet the intense adoration of President Reagan has failed to lead to emulation.

“If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be hard pressed to recognize his own Republican Party,” said Angela Kelley, Executive Director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “The GOP—especially those who want to follow in Reagan’s footsteps—have lost the art of pragmatic leadership and touch with reality on many key issues, instead staking out the most conservative ground. Congressional Republican obstruction on the very issues on which Ronald Reagan led—gun violence prevention, immigration reform, and climate change, to name a few—has resulted in no action on Capitol Hill to solve the nation’s problems, and sadly, GOP presidential candidates are doubling down.”

The new report details how President Reagan, during and after his two terms, provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants; stood up to the National Rifle Association, or NRA; signed the Montreal Protocol to tackle pollution; negotiated a nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union; grew the federal workforce to more than 5 million employees; and even closed tax loopholes favoring the wealthy. Today, Republican candidates have led the charge to shut down the government, called for mass deportation, attacked the Iran nuclear deal, and many refuse to acknowledge the existence of climate change. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) even suggested that when Republicans compromise, “we lose.”

“Hopefully, Republicans will spend some time in the library learning about their icon before taking the stage Wednesday night,” Kelley said. “Reagan was no hero for progressive policies, but his brand of pragmatic leadership is certainly a stark contrast to today’s crop of burn-it-all-down GOP candidates.”

Read “Right of Reagan” by Charles Posner, Molly Cain, and Anna Chu.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Benton Strong at [email protected] or 202.481.8142.