Trump strug­gling to be Rea­gan heir

Woonsocket Call - - Opinion - Pat Buchanan Pa­trick J. Buchanan is the au­thor of a new book, "Nixon's White House Wars: The Bat­tles That Made and Broke a Pres­i­dent and Di­vided Amer­ica For­ever."

Three decades ago, as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor in the White House, I set up an in­ter­view for Bill Rusher of Na­tional Re­view.

Among his first ques­tions to Pres­i­dent Rea­gan was to ask him to as­sess the po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance of Barry Gold­wa­ter. Said Rea­gan, "I guess you could call him the John the Bap­tist of our move­ment."

I re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to lean in and ask, "Sir, if Barry Gold­wa­ter is John the Bap­tist, who would that make you?"

What brings the mo­ment back is Laura In­gra­ham's new book: "Bil­lion­aire at the Bar­ri­cades: The Pop­ulist Rev­o­lu­tion from Rea­gan to Trump." The­sis: Don­ald Trump is a con­ser­va­tive pop­ulist and di­rect de­scen­dant and right­ful heir to Ron­ald Rea­gan.

To never-Trumpers this is pure blas­phemy. Yet the sim­i­lar­i­ties are there.

Both men were out­siders, and nei­ther a ca­reer politi­cian. Raised Demo­cratic, Rea­gan had been a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, union leader and voice of GE, be­fore run­ning for gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia.

Trump is out of Queens, a builder-busi­ness­man in a Demo­cratic city whose Re­pub­li­can cre­den­tials were sus­pect at best when he rode down that el­e­va­tor at Trump Tower. Both took on the Re­pub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment of their day, and hu­mil­i­ated it.

Among the sig­na­ture is­sues of Trumpian pop­ulism is eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism, a new trade pol­icy de­signed to en­sure Amer­i­cans pros­per first.

Rea­gan preached free trade, but when Har­leyDavid­son was in dan­ger of go­ing un­der be­cause of Ja­panese dump­ing of big bikes, he slammed a 50 per­cent tar­iff on Ja­panese mo­tor­cy­cles. Though a free trader by phi­los­o­phy, Rea­gan was at heart an eco­nomic pa­triot.

He ac­cepted an amnesty writ­ten by Con­gress for 3 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally, but Rea­gan also warned prophet­i­cally that a coun­try that can't con­trol its bor­ders isn't re­ally a coun­try any more.

Rea­gan and Trump both em­braced the Eisen­hower doc­trine of "peace through strength." And, like Ike, both built up the mil­i­tary.

Both also be­lieved in cut­ting tax rates to stim­u­late the econ­omy and bal­ance the fed­eral bud­get through ris­ing rev­enues rather than cut­ting pro­grams like Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity.

Both be­lieved in en­gag­ing with the su­per­power ri­val of the day — the Soviet Union in Rea­gan's day, Rus­sia and China in Trump's time.

And both were re­garded in this cap­i­tal city with a cos­mopoli­tan con­de­scen­sion bor­der­ing on con­tempt. "An ami­able dunce," said a Great So­ci­ety Demo­crat of Rea­gan.

The awe­some vic­to­ries Rea­gan rolled up, a 44-state land­slide in 1980 and a 49state land­slide in 1984, in­duced some sec­ond thoughts among Belt­way elites about whether they truly spoke for Amer­ica. Trump's sweep of the pri­maries and star­tling tri­umph in the Elec­toral Col­lege caused the same con­ster­na­tion.

How­ever, as the Great De­pres­sion, New Deal and World War II rep­re­sented a con­ti­nen­tal di­vide in his­tory between what came be­fore and what came af­ter, so, too, did the end of the Cold War and the Rea­gan era.

As In­gra­ham writes, Trump­ism is rooted as much in the pop­ulist- na­tion­al­ist cam­paigns of the 1990s, and post-Cold War is­sues as eco­nomic pa­tri­o­tism, border se­cu­rity, im­mi­gra­tion con­trol and "Amer­ica First," as it is in the Rea­gan­ite is­sues of the 1980s.

Which bring us to the present, with our bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent, in­deed, at the bar­ri­cades.

The dif­fer­ences between Trump in his first year and Rea­gan in 1981 are stark. Rea­gan had won a land­slide. The at­tempt on his life in April and the grace with which he con­ducted him­self had earned him a place in the hearts of his coun­try­men. He not only showed spine in giv­ing the air traf­fic con­trollers 48 hours to get back to work, and then dis­charg­ing them when they de­fied him, he en­acted the largest tax cut in U.S. his­tory with the aid of boll wee­vil Democrats in the House.

Com­ing up on one year since his elec­tion, Trump is be­sieged by a hos­tile press and united Demo­cratic Party. This city hates him. While his ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions are impressive, his leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments are not. His ap­proval rat­ings have lin­gered in the mid-30s. He has lost half a dozen se­nior mem­bers of his orig­i­nal White House staff, clashed openly with his own Cabi­net and is at war with GOP lead­ers on the Hill.

More­over, we seem close to war with North Korea that would be no cake­walk. And the pres­i­dent ap­pears de­ter­mined to tear up the Obama nu­clear deal with Iran that his own na­tional se­cu­rity team be­lieves is in the na­tional in­ter­est.

Rea­gan was, as Trump claimed to be, an anti-in­ter­ven­tion­ist. Rea­gan had no wish to be a war pres­i­dent. His dream was to rid the world of nu­clear weapons. This does not sound like Trump in Oc­to­ber 2017.

Steve Ban­non may see the 25th Amend­ment, where a Cabi­net ma­jor­ity may de­pose a pres­i­dent, as the great threat to Trump.

But it is far more likely that a ma­jor war would do for the Trump pres­i­dency and his place in his­tory what it did for Pres­i­dents Wil­son, Tru­man, LBJ and Ge­orge W. Bush.

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