Republican Candidates Idolize Ronald Reagan, But You Won't Hear Them Praising These Positions Of His
Ronald Reagan was not a liberal politician. One of the best-known policies of the 40th president of the United States was "Reaganomics," which implemented massive tax cuts for the rich coupled with a significant increase in military spending — hardly a left-of-center pairing. Republicans love Ronald Reagan, but the Gipper wasn't the staunch, unwavering, far-right conservative today's GOP candidates tout him to be.
Reagan's popularity has steadily skyrocketed since he left office, with about three-quarters of the general public and over 90 percent of Republicans expressing approval, according to data reported by Mark Fahey at CNBC. Fahey also showed how mentions of Reagan's name during Republican primary debates have steadily risen over the past 15 years, culminating in 64 mentions at the September 2015 debate, which took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Beaming faces and starry eyes upon the invocation of his name have become a reliable feature of the 2016 GOP debates.
In 2012, researchers Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal studied ideological trends in the Republican party since 1879 and concluded that the Republican party is the most conservative it's ever been in that time frame. Former congressman and Republican candidate for president Bob Dole quipped in 2014:
I thought I was a conservative, but we’ve got some in Congress now who are so far right they’re about to fall out of the Capitol.
It's an odd choice, then, for today's GOP candidates to be placing a 1980's Republican on a pedestal, particularly considering the following policies and actions that go against the grain of today's more conservative rhetoric.
Amnesty And Open Borders
During his presidential candidacy in 1979, Reagan called for opening the borders between the United States and Mexico to allow people and goods to move freely. In a 1980 debate with George H. W. Bush, Reagan said we should stop talking about putting up fences and start expanding legal opportunities for people who want to come to America. He didn't follow through on these things in office, but he did grant amnesty to 3 million immigrants who were in the United States illegally in 1986. It should be noted that the bill included measures to tighten border security.
Just one year after passing the massive tax-cutting Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981, Reagan passed what was likely the largest tax increase in peacetime history. He signed off on additional tax increases every year from 1983 to 1988. The increases didn't reverse the cuts initially made (contrary to Stephen Colbert's assertion to Sen. Ted Cruz), but dug into them.
Flexible On Gun Control
He may have been a member of the NRA, and he may have voted down several gun control measures in office, but Reagan has a few pro-gun control notches on his belt. Most notably, in 1991 (after his presidency), Reagan spoke out in support of the Brady bill:
I support the Brady bill and I urge the Congress to enact it without delay. It's just plain common sense that there be a waiting period [7 days] to allow local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to buy a handgun.
The Brady Bill was named after Jim Brady, Reagan's former press secretary who was shot along with Reagan in an assassination attempt. Brady's wound left him permanently disabled.
Increased Federal Deficit
Today's candidates often emphasize the importance of "balancing the budget" and "reducing the deficit," something Reagan definitely did not do. Reagan added $1.86 trillion to the budget deficit, a 186 percent increase from where former president Jimmy Carter had left it.
Tough On Israel
In 1982, Reagan called for a settlement freeze by Israel, which would have stopped it from acquiring new lands on the West Bank and Gaza strip. He also condemned both Israel and Palestine for West Bank violence in 1987, saying that it was detrimental to "the self respect and world opinion of the Israeli people."
None of the positions or actions above would fare well on the Republican debate stage of today. But we'll still likely get an earful on the Gipper — or a version of him — during Thursday's debate.
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