It looks like Bloomberg Insider published one of the more talked about pieces of the day, and it’s on one of my favorite subjects.
Ronald Reagan remains the modern Republican Party’s most durable hero. His memory will be hailed as The Great Uncompromiser by those who insist the GOP must never flag in its support for smaller government, lower taxes and conservative social values.
His record tells a different story.
During Reagan’s eight years in the White House, the federal payroll grew by more than 300,000 workers. Although he was a net tax cutter who slashed individual income-tax rates, Reagan raised taxes about a dozen times.
In June, Jeb Bush said Reagan “would be criticized” by today’s GOP. In May, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said Reagan “would be stunned by the party today.” Mike Huckabee said a year ago, “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take in 2010, arguing Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”
I’ve written a lot about this because I think it speaks to a larger truth. To my mind, the radicalization of the Republican Party is the most important development in American politics in at least a generation, and the GOP’s abandonment of the Reagan legacy helps capture just how far the party has gone.
As we discussed a while back, Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times, and he supported the precursor to the Buffett Rule. In his first term, Reagan raised taxes when unemployment was nearing 11% – imagine trying this today – and proceeded to raise taxes seven out of the eight years he was in office. It’s a fact the right finds terribly inconvenient, but “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people” as Reagan.
Reagan gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants, expanded the size of the federal government, tripled the deficit and added trillions to the debt, backed bailouts of domestic industries, and called for a world without nuclear weapons. Reagan also routinely compromised with Democrats, met with our most hated enemy without preconditions, criticized Israel, and illegally funneled arms to Iran.
And then there’s his gubernatorial record: in California, Reagan increased spending, raised taxes, helped create the nation’s first state-based emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded the nation’s largest state-based Medicaid program (socialized health insurance).
Reagan “could not get through a Republican primary today”? Reagan could not get through a Republican primary without being laughed off the stage today.
And why is this relevant today? For one thing, it’s at least interesting to appreciate the fact that Republicans have a religious-like reverence for Reagan – the RNC literally once labeled him “Ronaldus Magnus” – but they have no use for his approach to governance.
But more importantly, it should tell the American mainstream something important when the GOP moves so far to the ideological extreme that it’s no longer the Party of Reagan.