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BOOK EXCERPT: Were Trump and Reagan That Different?

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This is an excerpt from Reagan: The American President, which is being released by Post Hill Press in May 2019.

Old line Republicans (and phony newscasters) frequently harken back to the “good old days” of Ronald Reagan and his shrug-it-off demeanor and superb sense of humor. There were few insults that Reagan wouldn’t sweep aside with a joke or a story. Most of the time, activists didn’t bother him: once when confronted with a large crowd of student agitators in California—all standing in dead silent protest—Reagan calmly walked through the crowd and then turned, putting his finger to his lips, and said “Shhhhh!” They all laughed.

Dutch’s dismissal of Jimmy Carter with a “Well, there you go again” or of Walter Mondale with a “I won’t hold my opponent’s youth or inexperience against him” seems to contrast sharply with Donald Trump’s tweets and clever nicknames. But it only seems to.

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Reagan and Trump had a world of things in common. Each was the oldest man to ever hold the office at the time of his inauguration. Each was divorced. Each had adult children while in the White House. Each spent the large majority of his life outside of politics, and each had a full career before entering office. Both men had Screen Actor’s Guild union cards—the only presidents ever to hold such cards for regular work (not cameo appearances). Each had a somewhat wandering political past, with Reagan only becoming a Republican during Richard Nixon’s 1960 campaign and Trump flirting with the Reform Party. Each was disliked by a significant part of the GOP, although Trump by far exceeds Reagan in the sheer opposition and hatred of elements of the Republican Party.

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In terms of policy, both were accused of putting out “rosy” economic forecasts—only to meet or exceed their predictions. Reagan’s team—as newly uncovered evidence in my book Reagan: The American President shows—deliberately understated their internal projections thinking that they would appear “too rosy.” In reality, the economy performed exactly as they had predicted. The same is largely true with Trump: his “magic wand” on manufacturing jobs in particular and on jobs overall has been Harry Potter-esque!

But there were genuine, and often towering, differences. Reagan, having worked as California governor, had eight years to learn the ropes of political compromise. When the Gipper entered office, he had the full weight of the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups behind him with a fully outlined agenda, complete with research. No one supported Trump in that way. He entered office with his own program, and had to assemble the parts along the way. Reagan benefitted from a cadre of “good old boys” who staffed his cabinet and agencies immediately. Trump is still waiting on Mitch McConnell to deliver many of his nominees.

The area in which most people see a contrast, though, is style. Trump is brash, aggressive, impetuous, and unyielding. Reagan was subtle, funny, and as much as possible, cooperative.

Yet the key to each man is the age in which he came into office. Just as Abraham Lincoln—who was, let’s face it, not handsome and who had a high screechy voice—would never have gotten elected in the 1980s, it’s unlikely that for all his strengths Reagan would have gotten elected today. Our age is a much more immediate time, the time of the tweet and the sound bite. Trump learned in “Celebrity Apprentice” the value of celebrity and immediacy. Whereas Reagan could ensure his message would get through in an age or relatively fair news coverage and in which the “big three” television networks were beholden to carry his televised speeches, Trump can count on no such coverage. Indeed, all but Fox have decided that his rallies are “political” and therefore refuse to cover them at length.

No matter: just as Reagan went around the media by appealing directly to the people on television, so too Trump has gone around the media through Twitter and his rallies. (The genius of the rallies is still not appreciated: Trump gets largely unfiltered local coverage in each region.)

Our age demands a message cut through the noise in a way Reagan’s never did. Just as Abraham Lincoln’s slow, deliberate, rambling stories would not fit 1980s television, neither today would Reagan’s folksy approach. His enemies would viciously mock and discredit him. But for the 1980s, no one was better. And for our current times, Trump is the new Reagan—certainly not as refined or amiable, but not nearly as vulnerable either.

Indeed, for the first year Trump kept the media completely off balance for the most part by tossing “cheese into the maze,” wherein he allowed meaningless and often ridiculous stories to circulate and occupy the media’s time while he focused on ending horrible trade pacts, rebuilding the military, crushing ISIS, and pushing through a record number of Circuit Court judges. Even as he was achieving these things, the media was obsessed with “Javanka,” or Steve Bannon’s comments, or any multitude of baseless, irrelevant topics. Trump learned to play his media every bit as well as the Gipper knew how to play his (or Lincoln knew how to play his). In this, the three were immensely successful, to America’s great benefit.

 

Larry Schweikart is the author of Reagan: The American President (May 2019, Post Hill Press) and is the co-author with Michael Allen of the New York Times #1 bestseller A Patriot’s History of the United States, now in its fourth edition.

 

 

 

Big League Guns

Minnesota Had Record Numbers of Concealed Carry Licenses Issued in 2020

Red or blue, Americans nationwide are getting strapped.

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Gun sales have boomed all across America. And it’s not just the Red states. Blue states like Minnesota have also witnessed an increase in the number of concealed carry permits issued. 

According to Valley News Live, over 96,000 permits were issued in 2020, which represented the highest number of permits issued since carry permits became legal in 2003. Furthermore, 2020’s numbers represented a twofold increase from 2019 in the number of permits issued. 

Tom Knighton of Bearing Arms noted that roughly “400,000 permits have been issued in total in a state of just over 5.6 million people.”

The Valley News Live piece actually conceded that the increase in permits issued was largely the result of a “ rise in violent crime in the Twin Cities and the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd.”

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Minneapolis was the epicenter of social unrest after the death of George Floyd in late May 2020. With calls to defund the police and irresponsible political leadership that refused to decisively crack down on crime, Minnesotans began to take matters into their own hands.

Gun owners are ultimately the most effective first responders in times of crisis and overall breakdowns of social order. Minnesota’s gun laws are actually quite strict, which has earned it dismal rankings in Guns & Ammo magazine’s rankings for Best States for Gun Owners (39th place) and Best States for Concealed Carry (37th place). Regardless of the sub-optimal gun policies, Minnesotans still instinctively understand the importance of the right to carry.

2020 was a big year for gun sales and showed that the right to bear arms still has a massive constituency of people that can be targeted and activated for future occasions. Serious Republican campaigns should recognize this trend and make targeting gun owners a major priority throughout their get out the vote programs.

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