Jasper: Trump candidacy shows Republican Party has abandoned Reagan

Mila Jasper, Op-Ed Contributor

Ronald Reagan is a mythical persona in American politics. My generation was not alive during any part of the Reagan presidency, yet I have seen students wearing “Reagan Bush ’84” T-shirts around Northwestern’s campus. During the Republican primary debates this year, Reagan adoration reached unprecedented levels, with every candidate claiming they were the second coming of Reagan. But with Trump as the Republican nominee, the vast gulf between the two  politicians make wearing a Reagan shirt alongside a “Make America Great Again” hat seem utterly bizarre.

Though Donald Trump does not shy away from taking Reagan’s name in vain, especially in his “law and order” campaigning, he has been less vocal and less reverent than the general Republican establishment in his veneration of Reagan. Although Trump’s ego too often precludes him from praising anyone other than himself (and Vladimir Putin), the candidate’s popularity marks a shift away from the dominant rhetoric of the conservative canon.

Despite the idealized portrayal of Reagan in society, and some basic platform similarities between the two figures, key differences in character set the two men so far apart that the continued Republican adoration of Reagan is irreconcilable with Trump’s candidacy.

Reagan is known to be one of the most principled political figures in modern American history.  Reagan was the first president to be divorced, but the love story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan captured the hearts of Americans in a way Trump, with his lewd remarks about women and his own daughter, can never match. Reagan was rugged yet refined; Trump is flashy, uncouth and boorish.

Reagan’s rhetoric had an eloquence that, it seems, Trump does his best to avoid using. Trump labels illegal immigrants as “bad hombres” and calls his opponent a “nasty woman.” Reagan was famous for phrases such as “shining city on a hill.” To his opponent Jimmy Carter during the 1980 campaign, Reagan jabbed: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Trump’s attacks against Hillary are largely irrelevant to policy; he calls her a “bigot,” “shameful,” and tells supporters to “Lock her up!” when he is not accusing Clinton of “constantly playing the woman’s card.”

I am baffled by present-day Republicans who adore Reagan and also support Donald Trump. Reagan and Trump represent two opposite ends of the character spectrum: One is principled with largely consistent and clearly articulated beliefs. The other does not appear to have any cohesive thoughts, moral compass or clear policies. Trump thrives on attention and the spotlight. His few policy plans seem disjointed and have been debunked as all but impossible by major scholars and economists.

Even Reagan’s own son, Michael, chimed in on Twitter to say the Republican Party had left his father behind.

Both Trump and Reagan are political outsiders and are often lauded for being straightforward talkers. But even these similarities seem to be emblematic of a shift in the Republican base’s beliefs. There is a difference between speaking straightforwardly and not thinking before you open your mouth. Reagan recognized this difference, but Trump does not. And, in choosing to select Trump as the nominee to the party of Reagan, it seems like many 2016 GOP voters don’t recognize the difference either.

Mila Jasper is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.