OPINION: Reagan Made A ‘Divided House’ Stand — And So Can Trump

Craig Shirley President, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
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While the prophesied “blue wave” that would carry the Democrats back into power ended up being more a leaky faucet, it still dribbled enough to wash the House of Representatives into Democratic control. For the first time, Donald Trump will not have the support of both houses of Congress. If he wants to achieve any substantive legislative goals before 2020, he’ll have to find a way to appeal to at least a fraction of a party that has made hating him their one unifying goal. Trump may not be one for history but he should (learn or) take a moment to recall how another Republican president, seeking to make America great again, did just that.

Not once in his two terms did the 40th president, Ronald Reagan, have the House in his corner. While there was never the combative relationship that exists between Democrats and Republicans today, there was always animosity and disagreements.

House Democrats opposed Reagan time and time again and could have crippled his presidency, however, Reagan realized that Democratic legislators are not always beholden to their party. They’re often beholden to their constituents and to the nation. Within the ranks of the Democratic House, there were Democrats of every stripe. Blue Dog Democrats, Boll Weevil Democrats, War Hawk Democrats, socially conservative Democrats and everything in between. By slicing his policies into sections that had appeal to a specific tranche of Democratic legislators, he was able to secure bipartisan support from factions that would otherwise have oppose him. Trump has somewhat the opportunity to do the same.

Oh, there were spastic outbursts among some of the Democrats about investigations and impeachment of Reagan, most level headed Democrats saw the opportunity to get things done. And they did, from tax reform, to Social Security reform to national defense. Of course, Reagan was a former Democrats and spoke their language and there were more conservative Democrats in those days, but that does not mean Trump and the House Democrats can’t find a small acre of common ground. But there were more principled Democrats in those days than there are now.

Unlike today, consultants did not rule the parties. They were regarded as distasteful but sometimes necessary things. Men and women of letters regarded political consultants the way they did a urine sample. However, it is a completely fabricated myth to say Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill worked together. They did not. O’Neill hated Reagan, told everybody, and bad mouthed him constantly. Reagan, however, did work with Dan Rostenkowski, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to radically reform taxes.

On the other hand, many of the Democratic gains came in districts that either voted for Trump or are deeply divided. Democrats may have run on removing the president from office, but if he can put forward an effective infrastructure bill, immigration reform, or a healthcare fix, he could force their hand. They would have to break ranks and vote with Trump or hold the line and face the wrath of their constituents in two years. Americans want to see their government work and will not hesitate to punish a branch of government they perceive as playing obstructionist politics.

Reagan was successful because he recognized the principles and obligations a leader has beyond party loyalty. If Trump can do the same, not only can he overcome their obstruction, in 2020, he could make the Democrats return to power one of the briefest in history.

Craig Shirley (@CraigSBPA) is the founder and chairman of public affairs firm Shirley & Banister. He is the author of four books on Ronald Reagan, the New York Times bestselling “December, 1941” and the critically praised “Citizen Newt,” the only authorized biography of Newt Gingrich. He has just completed Honored Madam, the first definitive biography of Mary Ball Washington.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.