REAGAN’S LIBERAL LEGACY, CONT’D…. California Republicans will nominate their next gubernatorial candidate today, and by all indications, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman will have little trouble defeating state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. The L.A. Times‘ George Skelton takes note of a candidate who would have fared poorly in the primary, had he run on his record.
As governor, Reagan was the biggest California spender of the last half century. Under him, state spending leaped 177%. And as president, he spent like the proverbial drunken sailor to expand the Navy and the nuclear missile arsenal while winning the Cold War. He left Washington with a then-record national debt.
His first year as governor, Reagan raised taxes equal to 30% of the state general fund, still a modern record. And as president, he increased taxes several times, although conservatives pretend to remember only the one big tax cut.
As governor, Reagan also helped create the nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards, signed an abortion-rights bill, and expanded Medi-Cal, the nation’s largest Medicaid program (socialized medicine). Immigration, not surprisingly, has been pretty important in this year’s gubernatorial primary, which also makes it worth mentioning that Reagan also backed an amnesty bill in 1986.
As Skelton put it, “Today, Reagan would be branded ‘just another liberal politician’ by the likes of Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.”
Reagan biographer Lou Cannon conceded, “Reagan would be hard pressed to get nominated today. Today he would not be in the conservative mainstream. He just simply would not be.”
Of course, it’s not just California Republicans. Newsweek‘s Andrew Romano recently noted, “[T]he GOP has drifted so far right that it’s retroactively disqualified the only Republicans since 1960 who’ve actually managed to, you know, win national elections.” Reagan, Romano added wouldn’t “come close to satisfying the Republican base” if he ran today.
Given Reagan’s willingness to break with conservative orthodoxy, this seems obviously true. Skelton noted his record as governor, but let’s also not forget that, once in the White House, Reagan grew the size of government, tripled the deficit, raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office, supported the Brady Bill gun-control proposal, negotiated with an “evil empire” that had vowed to wipe the U.S. off the map, and cut and ran from Beirut.
Just to be clear, I’m not seriously arguing that Reagan was some kind of centrist, because that’s just not what the record shows. He was, for his time, a pretty conservative Republican. The point is that the GOP has shifted so quickly and aggressively to the hard-right that the party has nothing but disdain for Reagan’s actual policies. The notion that today’s GOP would have the slightest tolerance for a Republican candidate with Reagan’s record is practically laughable.
So-called “Reagan Republicans,” in other words, should want nothing to do with Reagan.
Update: Adam Blickstein reminds me that Reagan also wanted to abolish all nuclear weapons. When Obama voiced support for eventually reaching that same goal, Republicans howled, suggesting the GOP also has no use for Reagan’s identical vision.