We will, I can guarantee, hear quite a bit of gushing adulation for Ronald Reagan tonight at the debate for the Republican presidential candidates. Such hero worship would be expected at any gathering of leading GOP officials, but it will likely reach religious-like reverence tonight because the debate will be held at the Reagan Library in California.
The L.A. Times reports today that the “real” Reagan probably wouldn’t meet “today’s GOP standards.”
When the Republican presidential hopefuls gather to debate Wednesday night in Simi Valley, one thing seems certain: Lavish tribute will be paid to Ronald Reagan.
That is fitting: The event is being held at Reagan’s presidential library and burial ground, high on a bluff overlooking the Santa Susana Mountains.
It’s also smart politics. Reagan has become a sainted figure within the GOP who, not incidentally, is the most successful and popular of the party’s modern presidents.
But the Reagan reverie will doubtless overlook much of the Reagan reality.
Regular readers know I enjoy this subject, not only because it’s true, but because it reinforces a larger point about what’s become of the contemporary Republican Party. For all of the evidence of GOP radicalism, it’s tough to beat the fact that today’s Republicans would have perceived Reagan, their hero, as a sell-out RINO.
This came up a bit in July when Democrats, not Republicans, tied themselves to the Reagan legacy, noting that the GOP icon raised the debt ceiling 18 times, whereas today’s Republican officials consider a vote to raise the debt ceiling an “existential crisis.” To keep the budget deficit from spiraling out of control, Reagan also raised taxes 11 times, a step today’s Republicans consider fundamentally out of the question.
Indeed, the GOP agenda of 2011 — most notably the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan — would have made Reagan’s entire agenda impossible, including the military buildup that conservatives credit with winning the Cold War.
The disconnect between Republicans’ principles and their understanding of history seems important. On the one hand, Republicans have a religious-like reverence for “Ronaldus Magnus”; on the other, they have no use for his approach to governance.
It is, in other words, time for the mainstream to realize that this is no longer the Party of Reagan.
The evidence has become overwhelming. Two months ago, a House Republican went so far as to dismiss Reagan as a “moderate, former liberal” who “would never be elected today.” Mike Huckabee said around the same time, “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 last year, arguing Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”
I agree, but shouldn’t that tell the political world something about the ideological state of today’s GOP? What should Republicans take away from the fact that, by 2011 standards, their party would dismiss their demigod as a tax-raising, amnesty-loving, pro-bailout, cut-and-run, big-government Democrat?
Update: Over at Ten Miles Square, it looks like Heather Hurlburt was thinking along the same lines, and incorporates a few angles I hadn’t considered.