Would Ronald Reagan endorse presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump? Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, an early Reagan supporter, thinks not. I think, on the basis of all available information, that Mickey Edwards, good fellow that he is – is wrong. President Reagan would have endorsed Presidential Candidate Trump. Here’s why.
Reagan, in whose 1976, 1980 and 1984 campaigns I worked, like most party conservatives often sucked it up and supported Republicans he didn’t see eye-to-eye with. Ironically conservatives begrudgingly supported elitist establishment candidates like McCain and Romney in sharp contrast to establishment Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton and yes, Mitt Romney’s father Michigan Governor George Romney had no problem bailing out on Barry Goldwater in 1964. In the case of Mitt’s stunning betrayal of Trump who endorsed and recorded multiple robo-calls for Romney it is clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Mitt, you see, really wanted to run in 2016 but he made the shrewd political calculation that the Jeb Bush juggernaut could not be stopped. Trump, the brash New York Billionaire and self-styled spokesman for the “silent majority” made short work of Jeb despite the letters gathering of hundreds of millions of dollars and perception as the un-anointed frontrunner.
But back to Reagan.
The latest from the #NeverTrump crowd is the suggestion that no, Ronald Reagan would never have done such a thing. Former Congressman Mickey Edwards – a solid conservative, out of office and politics for a quarter-century, contends:
“I met with [Reagan] in the Oval Office every week of his Presidency . . . I know Ronald Reagan would never have endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency. Not ever. No matter what.”
Mickey Edwards won his Congressional seat in 1976, he served throughout the Reagan years – and all the evidence from those years suggests Reagan would have endorsed Trump, because that’s what he ALWAYS did . . . endorse the Republican nominee, against liberal Democrats.
Moreover, Reagan would have endorsed Trump because he agreed with far more Trump opinions and proposals than many of the moderates and liberals he DID endorse, during his 30 years as an active Republican. Reagan was a conservative but he had a pragmatic streak and understood the importance of party unity and inability to reach out to moderates to win enough votes to defeat truly liberal Democrats.
That’s right – Ronald Reagan even endorsed liberal Republicans. He campaigned for them too. He endorsed people who voted against him more than any other Republican (and more than many conservative Democrats of the era). And – get this – Reagan declined to endorse conservatives who challenged liberal Republican incumbents in primaries while maintaining warm relations with the challengers.
Let’s look at the real Reagan record. The last Democrat Reagan supported for President was Harry Truman. Though still a Democrat, Reagan endorsed Eisenhower for President. Reagan, a fading Hollywood figure who had not yet set the world ablaze with his 1964 televised stump speech for Reagan approached Vice President Nixon in 1959 (Reagan had endorsed Nixon as a “Democrat” in 1950 and they enjoyed a lively correspondence and a good relationship). The Gipper told him he was willing to become a Republican and campaign again for Nixon. Nixon told him his endorsement would be more valuable coming from a “Democrat” and told Reagan to switch to the Republican party in 1961 whether Nixon became President or not. Reagan agreed to delay his departure from the party of his boyhood idol FDR.
Before winning a stunning victory to become Governor of the Golden State, his first step to the White House, Reagan had to defeat former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher in the Republican primary. Reagan maintained a cordial relationship with his opponent and the morning after Reagan’s primary victory Reagan personally called every Christopher County Chairman to ask them to Co-Chair the county Reagan-Finch (moderate Republican Bob Finch had been a top aide to Richard Nixon and would win a narrow primary victory for Lieutenant Governor in a multi-candidate race divided by several conservatives (Finch would actually win the election polling 180,000 votes more then Reagan himself). Reagan understood that politics was about addition, not subtraction,
But look who Reagan did support –
Thomas Kuchel, a liberal Republican Senator from his home state of California. Reagan backed him in 1962, and refused to endorse a conservative Republican, the fiery Superintendent of Education, Max Rafferty, in the 1968 California Republican primary. Rafferty defeated Kuchel – but not with Reagan’s help (then Governor).
Dozens of moderate and liberal Republicans who served in the California Assembly and Senate. Reagan needed them and together they took control of state government (held briefly by the GOP in 1969-70).
Lowell Weicker, outspoken and irritating liberal Senator from Connecticut – Reagan actually made a special trip from California in a private jet to campaign for Weicker in his 1968 election for Congress. Weicker reached out to Greenwich Republican moneyman Gordon Reed whose son Thomas S. Reed was a top Reagan assistant and the Gipper flew into Bridgeport. Reagan, already thinking about a 1972 Presidential bid, has veteran Goldwater strategist and political handler F. Clifton White with him. This was the day I met White who would become a mentor and friend, it was also the first time I laid eyes on Ronald Reagan in the flesh. Reagan endorsed Weicker again in 1982, when the first brother Prescott S. Bush Jr., brother of Reagan’s Vice President, was actively challenging Weicker whose sharp veer left had left him vulnerable in a Republican primary. Vice President Bush was unhappy about his older brother’s decision to challenge the irascible and arrogant Weicker who had refused to endorse the Reagan Bush ticket in 1980 but the Bush family money machine quickly raised millions for Prescott Bush named for his Connecticut US Senator father who had risen from chairing the town meeting in Greenwich directly to the US Senate while making millions of dollars financing arming the Third Reich’s war machine as an investment banker at Brown Brothers Harriman. The Feds would actually seize Prescott Bush’s bank for treasonous activity although the tall handsome well-connected banker was never prosecuted. This is well covered in my recent book Jeb! And the Bush Crime Family.
Reagan stumped for John Chafee of Rhode Island, another Liberal, elected twice with Reagan’s help in 1982 and 1988
Reagan backed Robert Stafford, moderate-liberal Senator from Vermont, re-elected with Reagan help in a close race in 1982
Reagan even backed Jim Jeffords, also of Vermont – the prickly liberal Republican Congressman who succeeded Stafford in 1988 and later upended the Republican majority by switching allegiance in 2001
Reagan saved Republican Senator Charles “Chuck” Percy of Illinois, a particularly smug and arrogant liberal who had been a Reagan critic. Because of Percy’s shift left he was underperforming in Northern Illinois where Republicans and Conservatives were unenthusiastic about his campaign. Percy, locked in a tight race and suffering from charges that he had abandoned Illinois and become a Washingtonian were hurting him badly was saved by a last minute campaign visit by a deeply tanned former movie star who traveled with 2 state troopers and Lynn Nofziger
Reagan even stumped for Margaret Heckler, longtime liberal Congresswoman who ran for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1982. Reagan not only gave her active support, but he later made her HHS Secretary and then Ambassador to Ireland!
Those are examples of people who did things and supported causes Donald Trump would never dream of doing – but Reagan endorsed them.
What about people Reagan didn’t endorse – but might have, if he’d really done as Mickey Edwards suggests and restricted his support just to strict conservatives:
Max Rafferty, California, 1968. Reagan, at the high-water mark for conservatives in California, could easily have ended liberal Kuchel’s career; Kuchel had endorsed Reagan’s moderate opponent in 1966 (the aforementioned Christopher). Despite that, Reagan refused to oppose a sitting Republican Senator, despite the closeness of many of his aides to Rafferty.
James Buckley, New York, 1970. Buckley ran as the Conservative Party nominee against a liberal Republican and a more liberal Democrat. He was Bill Buckley’s brother. Nixon would engineer Buckley’s victory in a bruising 3-way Senate race in which the republican candidate was former upstate Congressman Charles Goodell (yes, the father of Roger Goodell) who Nelson Rockefeller had appointed to the seat when US Senator Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles. Goodell had shifted sharply left to become a leading critic of the Vietnam war and Demnocrats nominated millionaire Westchest Congressman Richer Ottinger whose mother’s pockets were exceedingly deep. Nixon would send Agnew into New York to attack Goodell at a strategic moment in the closing days. The surge of liberals from Ottinger to Goodell allowed the portly James L. Buckley, later a respected Federal Judge, a seat in the US Senate. Reagan was nowhere to be found.
Former Reagan Aide Jeff Bell, New Jersey, who played a similar but more junior role for Richard Nixon as an “issues man” and researcher audaciously challenged veteran Liberal Senator Clifford Case. Case, an arrogant man who had taken to wearing a Beret in public. Case was very much in the pocket of the state AFLCIO and harbored some crazy lefty views on foreign and defense policy. Bell campaigned as an unabashed Reagan loyalist trying out the supply side economic themes that Reagan would later utilize in his drive for the White House. But Reagan did not endorse Bell or campaign against Case – only after Bell upset Case did Reagan happily lend assistance.
Reagan wouldn’t back Avi Nelson, Massachusetts, 1978. A Radiotalker Conservative challenging an incumbent liberal Republican Senator –Edward Brooke. No help for Nelson, who lost his bid to unseat Brooke.
Why all this support for moderates and liberals? Because they were the Republican nominees, because they were the Republican incumbents – and therefore preferable to the Democrats. Reagan was a party man – he knew that winning meant addition and multiplication of support, not division and subtraction.
Ronald Reagan, even in his weakened state, worked to defeat Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1992.
Reagan would have agreed with the Trump positions on taxes, government, military strength and a non-interventionist foreign policy based on having a strong military arsenal as a deterrent to America’s enemies around the globe. And when the Republican platform is written and approved at the Cleveland Convention next month, it will be, by a large, a Reaganite platform.
But, far more important than his opposition to the liberal Democrats or party regularity, Reagan was our last nationalist President elected before the Presidency fell to the globalists in the form of George H.W. Bush.
Would Ronald Reagan endorse Donald Trump? Absolutely. He would demand the defeat of Hillary Clinton and rejection of Obama Big Government and Liberal Incompetence.
Trump, like Reagan, is a nationalist. Trump, like Reagan, puts America’s interest first. The only greater proponent of the Eisenhower concept of “peace through strength” (a strong military as a deterrent to world troublemakers) than Donald Trump was Ronald Reagan. Both Reagan and Trump support American sovereignty. The Gipper would have backed The Donald.