Would Ronald Reagan Still Be a Republican in Trump's MAGA GOP?

Donald Trump MAGA
February 7, 2024 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: Politics Tags: Donald TrumpJoe Biden2024 ElectionU.S. PoliticsGOPMAGA

Would Ronald Reagan Still Be a Republican in Trump's MAGA GOP?

The Donald Trump MAGA wing has adopted a much more skeptical view of American involvement abroad than was standard in Ronald Reagan’s era.

For a generation, the GOP was Ronald Reagan’s party. The actor-turned Governor-turned President was the singular defining figure in the party – even as two Bushes came to power, even as prominent figures like Bob Dole and John McCain earned party nominations.

Despite wars, economic swings, and geopolitical realignments, Reagan remained the seminal figure in conservative politics.

Yet, the Reagan era appears to have ended, as it inevitably had to; even the most charismatic and influential leaders must eventually fade from immediate relevance (the GOP has long since stopped being Abraham Lincoln’s party).

That the GOP has moved on from Reagan, after nearly forty years, is no surprise. What’s surprising, is who replaced Reagan as the seminal, defining figure of the party – Donald Trump.

The GOP is Trump’s party now, which begs the question: would Reagan, the long-time GOP standard bearer, be relevant in the modern party? Would Reagan even be a Republican?

Donald Trump Dominates

In many respects, the modern GOP has departed from the traditional principles and demeanors that most people had come to associate with the party.

Beholden to Donald Trump, the post-Tea Party GOP is increasingly susceptible to the influence of hard-right zealots, commonly associated with the MAGA movement.

Firebrand politicians like Marjorie Taylor Green and Representative Lauren Boebert, who would have been marginalized as radical figures a generation ago, are just a degree or two removed from the mainstream.

And mainstream Republicans – like Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and Mike Johnson – are increasingly tied to the whims of their MAGA colleagues.

The most obvious change in the post-Trump GOP is with respect to demeanor and etiquette. The party, cast in the light of its standard bearer, is amenable to figures who communicate and behave in a way that would not have been compatible with Reagan’s GOP.

Matt Gaetz, for example, overtly running around with multiple young women would have been a tough sell in Reagan’s era. Or Boebert, caught on film making intimate contact in a crowded movie theater, likely would have been disqualifying in the 1980s.

Trump vs. Ronald Reagan on Foreign Policy 

But demeanor and etiquette aside, perhaps the most substantive change to the modern GOP is with respect to foreign policy.

The MAGA wing has adopted a much more skeptical view of American involvement abroad than was standard in Reagan’s era.

For example, the MAGA wing is reluctant to keep funding Ukraine’s defense (becoming maligned as isolationist in the process). Reagan, on the other hand, believed in a muscular and forward-facing US foreign policy.

Actually, Reagan aides have confessed that the only thing Reagan truly cared about was countering communism. Accordingly, Reagan committed his government to an arms race and weapons development and direct competition with the Soviet Union, and above all, the idea that the US should lead the world. Indeed, Reagan’s foreign policy stance may have been at odds with segments of the modern GOP.

Yet, Reagan was very much a conservative; Reagan was the president who neglected to mention the AIDS epidemic for years on account of the virus being so commonly associated with gays – even as tens of thousands of Americans died from the mystery virus.

Ronald Reagan

Reagan was the president who full-heartedly endorsed ‘trickle-down economics,’ nakedly calibrating the economy to benefit America’s richest citizens.

The point is, while the modern GOP may not be perfectly aligned with Reagan’s viewpoints, Reagan was a true conservative, and even today, the GOP would still be the Gipper’s best option.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

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