The team helping to fuel Donald Trump’s run for president is working to brand the real estate mogul as the new Ronald Reagan, a notion Reagan’s closest aides call “preposterous.”
Draft Trump 2012, an independent committee that supports his potential bid for president, is hosting a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday to “Bring Back the Reagan Revolution,” which they say will occur if Donald Trump is elected president. The group blasted out an ad for the event Monday, complete with shots of Reagan and Trump side by side with the tag-line, “From Ronald to Donald.”
Granted, it’s a Republican right of passage for a candidate to prove their worthiness of the Gipper’s legacy. But Trump?
The same Trump who called for a Canadian-style single-payer health care system just a few short years ago? The same Trump who wanted to raise taxes? The same Trump who once called the younger President Bush “the worst president in the history of the United States”? The same Trump who, on camera, once smooched with Rudy Giuliani while the former New York mayor was in full drag and makeup?
Yup, that Trump. But hey, Reagan started out as a liberal Democrat before taking office too, and he was an actor. That’s sort of like Trump, right?
Not even close, said Richard V. Allen, who served as Reagan’s National Security Advisor from 1981-1982.
“I could sum up everything I would have to say about the subject by saying: ‘Donald, I knew Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan was one of my friend[s]. And Donald, you’re no Ronald Reagan,” Allen told The Daily Caller. (Allen was invoking a famous moment in political history when Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen said a similar line about John F. Kennedy during a 1988 debate.)
“I consider that one of the more far-fetched things I’ve heard,” he added. “It’s totally preposterous.”
Others who knew and worked with Reagan during his years as California’s governor and in the White House laughed when they saw the Trump flyer. Some thought it was a joke.
“It’s the most audacious attempt by a potential candidate to wrap himself in Reagan’s mantle,” said Peter Hannaford, an adviser and speechwriter for Reagan. “It’s all bogus.”
To be fair, Trump is merely the latest among his peers to invoke Reagan’s legacy in an attempt to tie himself to the 40th president. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hosted an entire documentary on Reagan, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty points to Ronald Reagan as the reason he entered Republican politics and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney last year sung the Gipper’s praises at the annual Reagan Lecture at the Reagan Foundation. Even President Obama penned an entire column in USA Today expressing his admiration. (When’s the last time you heard a Republican coo for FDR?)
To some observers, Trump is just doing what he’s supposed to do, striving for that old Republican gold standard.
As he should, said Grover Norquist, who started the group Americans for Tax Reform at Reagan’s behest in 1985.
“Is it the correct position if you wish to be an elected Republicans to say, ‘I would govern as Reagan’? That is exactly the right thing,” Norquist said. “Now, he’s got to make the case.”
That’s not to say Norquist isn’t skeptical The Donald can pull it off. “It’s possible,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long campaign.”
Still, others who knew Reagan and have studied his presidency were less generous.
“I think it means that it’s amateur hour at the Trump presidential campaign,” said longtime Republican strategist Craig Shirley, who has written more books about Reagan than just about anybody. “They haven’t developed a winning persona or message so they’re going for what they think is the most compelling message, but Republican voters are more discerning than that.”
It’s still early in the game, but recent surveys of Republican voters may suggest otherwise. A Gallup poll released last week found Trump in a first place tie with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the GOP nomination.
Trump may pride himself on his ability to sell billions of dollars worth of real estate, but whether he can sell the American people on his Reaganism is yet to be seen.
“Everyone is a claimant to the Reagan mantle,” Allen said. “And there are very few who are deserving of it.”
For now, The Donald has a long campaign ahead of him, should he ultimately to decide to run, to make his case.