NBC’s Andrea Mitchell accuses GOP of misappropriating Ronald Reagan to push conservative politics

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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On Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, the media are taking some time away from the play-by-play coverage of the protests in Egypt to reflect on a president revered by many conservatives.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, broadcast from the Reagan Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell said Republicans are misusing the legacy of Ronald Reagan. She explained Reagan was more of a pragmatist than a ideologue.

“I mean, he said, ‘This is – -the sound you hear around my feet is the concrete breaking around my feet,’ whatever the exact words were,” she said. “People are trying – Republicans in particular, obviously trying to appropriate Ronald Reagan for their own political purposes now. But his vision and his ability to work across party lines was so far broader. He stuck to his principles. He was authentic, which is I think one of the reasons why he’s so admired after all of these years. But he knew when he needed to compromise, and he did. And he reached out with Democrats, not just the boll weevils who were the conservative Texas Democrats, but with Tip O’Neill and liberal Massachusetts Democrats as well when he needed to get something done with the help the really — the guidance of people like Jim Baker. But the genius of it all was that Ed Meese was there, there were conservatives there, and, and Jim Baker, more moderate Republicans. And it was a bit messy at times, but he had a range of views. And Nancy Reagan bringing even more people into the — into play.”


Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan challenged Mitchell on that point, citing his “A Time for Choosing” speech given at the 1964 Republican National Convention, in which Reagan made clear his conservative values that are echoed by many Republicans today.

“Republicans are not, I think, trying to appropriate Ronald Reagan,” she said. “Ronald Reagan was a Republican. Conservatives aren’t trying to appropriate him. He was a conservative. Willie, he became a public figure in America two years before he was governor in 1964, and he laid out a speech as stern, if not sterner, in its conservatism in which he explained his views on taxes: ‘Cut them.’ His views on the size of government: ‘Too big, too bullying.’ His views on the Soviet Union: ‘Hold it back, it is expansionist.’ This was all very clear. As a president, as a governor, he was pragmatic in his operation.”

“Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory asked former Secretary of State James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff and Treasury Secretary, what the late president would have thought of the tea party movement. Baker explained he would have embraced it, but also stressed the 40th president was willing to compromise when necessary.

“He wouldn’t have any problem with it,” Baker said. “The, the Republican Party was, was divided actually when he came upon the scene and when he won. And he – and during the two terms of his presidency. But one thing that, that we ought to note here, since we’re here on his 100th birthday, Ronald Reagan practiced bipartisanship. He understood that we judge our presidents on how successful they are in getting their programs through the Congress. And I, I remember so many times I’d be sitting there in the Oval with him, we’d be debating whether we were going to do a — make a particular agreement with the Democratic House, for instance. He’d say, ‘Jim, I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.’ He said it all the time. So he was — he, he knew when to hold them, he knew when to fold them. He was an extraordinarily fine negotiator. He’d learned all that as head of the Screen Actors Guild.”