In 2013, after Republicans lost their winnable race against Barack Obama to deny him a second term, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin sounded off with a daring opinion piece: Tear Down This Icon
Normally, I would not give a fake conservative, open NeverTrump liberal the time of day. But her article arguing for removing Ronald Reagan as a rallying point for the Republican Party resonated with me in the past.
Reagan was a big spender, even in Washington. He had liberal positions during his governorship. He supported amnesty for illegal aliens, and he even pressed for an open border of commerce, trade, etc. with Mexico. Many national-populist types are turning on Reagan for precisely these issues, and even his major columnist supporter George Will would denounce the clash between Reagan's rhetoric and the reality of his administration nearly thirty years after he was elected.
Taking a closer look at Rubin's ruminations ten years later, this mystical hold of Reaganism still grips the Republican Party, especially the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, and even may governors today.
We should give some credit where it is due, anyway. Reagan presided over eight years of unprecedented economic growth. His foreign policy hearkened back to a more isolationist approach, in which he spoke softly but carried a big stick. His aggressive efforts to sanction and stop communism, especially the Soviet Union, are admirable. The USSR collapsed in large part because of Reagan's indefatigable commitment to consign communism to the ash heap of history.
Rubin writes: “But that myth has become a burden for the modern GOP. It has bound Reagan’s followers on the right to policies and positions that were time-specific.”
This is an accurate and effective criticism. The issues which Reagan faced in 1980 and 1984--inflation, recession, communism around the globe--were not the major issues of Election 2012. In fact, they are not the main issues today. As I mentioned above, Reagan's policies counter the goals and interests of conservatives today!
Today, Republicans want to secure the border, limit all immigration (not just illegal immigration.) We want to expand gun ownership and assure those rights. Also, China is a looming global (and globalist) threat which cannot be tamed with free trade.
Reagan's former solutions and past successes will not help the GOP today.
And with that, Rubin gave a stern warning to the Twenty-first Century GOP: “The Republican Party can remain a Ronald Reagan historical society, or it can try to endure as a force in national politics. But it can’t do both.”
I could not agree more with this sentiment. It seems to me that Republicans want to live in the past. They do not want to move with the times, i.e. get busy wining new fights. They hold onto this hope of merely coasting on prior victories. However, I do not agree with Rubin today that the party should move left on key cultural or economic issues. The last thing that the United States, or any country for that matter, needs is two liberal, progressive, leftist, communist parties, etc.
In her article tearing down Icon Reagan, she did not despise traditional values. She focused a great deal on outreach to other demographics in the country, and even the RNC Chairman at the time, Reince Priebus, acknowledged that concern.
In contrast to Rubin’s tough love, the Family Research Council rejected Rubin's suggestion, focusing on his two national victories across the country. The Family Research Council writers are correct, though, in that the Republican Party has eschewed fighting for the entire country, and instead got comfortable with barely getting by. Such pacificism never works in politics for the long term. California Republicans have followed that model since 2002, and now California is a deep-blue whole of progressive despair. Controlled opposition does not win the fight.
Rubin's main point remains relevant, i.e. the Republican Party needs to get beyond celebrating Reagan's old victories. There are new culture war issues that need to be fought, and just basking in the glories of Reagan's past is not going to help the party--or the country--today.
I submit that it's time to recognize President Trump as the new standard-bearer for the Republican Party. He accomplished a number of domestic policy goals which matter today. He fought to build the wall along our Southern border, not just talk about it. He focused on illegal immigration and mass immigration, which was decimating border communities and harming working people.
He is the most pro-life President we have ever had in the White House. He was the first President to address the March for Life in Washington DC. He repeatedly took efforts to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and other abortuary hate groups and institutions.
He focused on protecting and enhancing religious liberty in a nation where respect for the divine has been unduly tarnished and neglected.
He kept the United States out of war for four years.
He fought against the encroachment of domestic communism, including Critical Racist Theory and Woke ideologies. Reagan fought international communism, and that deserves merit and support. But we need to fight this corrupt, corrosive, evil ideology at home now, and we need a real culture war commitment to fighting and winning this fight.
Republicans have wanted to bask in the glowing of Reagan's old victories. President Trump's victories then and now deserve our new--and renewed--focus.
Most importantly, though, Trump should be the new standard-bearer because He Fights. He was a relentless pugilist in the fight to put America and Americans First. That spirit of trudging through tough times, of putting up one's dukes to fight and win, we need that kind of animus in conservative politics.
Ronald Reagan had his place, but it's time to move on. We need a new standard, a new pattern, a new example of conservatism that fights to win, that struggles to shape the culture, that moves forward to ensure and foster a movement.
It's time to replace Reagan, and replace him with Trump.