Return of the Reagan Revolution - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Return of the Reagan Revolution

Finally! In the immortal words of the late Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again. The Reagan Revolution is back. As both Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump illustrated vividly in a one-two punch in the Iowa Caucuses.

The other day, the New York Times front-paged this headline:

Unions Lean Democratic, but Donald Trump Gets Members’ Attention

The story read, in part, this:

WASHINGTON — Of all the voters who might be expected to resist the charms of Donald J. Trump, the two million members of the Service Employees International Union would most likely be near the top of the list.

The union, which endorsed Hillary Clinton in November, is widely regarded as one of the more progressive in the labor movement. It skews female and racially diverse — roughly the opposite of a Trump rally, in other words.

But the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, acknowledged that Mr. Trump holds appeal even for some of her members. ‘There is deep economic anxiety among our members and the people we’re trying to organize that I believe Donald Trump‘s message is tapping into,’ Ms. Henry said.

In expressing her concern, Ms. Henry reflected a different form of anxiety that is weighing on some union leaders and Democratic operatives: their fear that Mr. Trump, if not effectively countered, may draw an unusually large number of union voters in a possible general election matchup. This could, in turn, bolster Republicans in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all of which President Obama won twice.

The source of the attraction to Mr. Trump, say union members and leaders, is manifold: the candidate’s unapologetically populist positions on certain economic issues, particularly trade; a frustration with the impotence of conventional politicians; and above all, a sense that he rejects the norms of Washington discourse.

“They feel he’s the one guy who’s saying what’s on people’s minds,” Thomas Hanify, the president of the Indiana state firefighters union, said of his rank and file.

Over in the Wall Street Journal, columnist William Galston writes this:

Thanks to a recently released survey, a collaboration between the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution, we can now identify with much greater precision the sources of Mr. Trump’s support and the sentiments of his supporters.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 39% of the white working class backs Mr. Trump, twice his share of white college-educated voters. Fifty-five percent of his supporters are white working class, compared with 35% for the rest of the Republican field and only 32% for Mr. Carson.

Among Mr. Trump’s white working-class supporters, the demographic group most likely to back him is composed of men ages 50-64, with no more than a high-school education.

What is being described in these stories is what used to be called one leg of the three-legged stool that was the Reagan Coalition. One leg was filled with hawks on foreign policy (hawks, not neoconservatives, take note!). Leg two was social conservatives. Leg three was the economic conservatives. Blue collar and union members — aka “Reagan Democrats” — were part of all three legs of the stool. They were staunch anti-Communists, they were socially conservative, and most importantly they were concerned about their jobs and the economy. 

This group is exactly the target of the Cruz campaign. But, as the stories above indicate, a lot of these voters are leaning to Trump. As we learned in Iowa, Trump even made inroads with social conservatives, gaining 22% to Cruz’s 34%. For somebody accused of having “New York Values,” that’s pretty impressive.

But the real point here is that adding the Trump and Cruz percentages together — combined with Dr. Ben Carson’s — and it is plain as day that the Reagan Revolution is once again alive and well.

But if the Reagan Revolution is back — where has it been? Answer? The Reagan Revolution was shoved out the door by the Bushes and the GOP Establishment. It is worth recalling again (as I noted over here at NewsBusters in a post on conservatives and Fox News) that former Reagan campaign manager (in 1984) and White House political director Ed Rollins noted the following about Reagan’s decision to offer George H.W. Bush the second spot on the 1980 GOP ticket. Writing in his memoirs Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, Rollins said this of the addition of Bush to the ticket:

What I didn’t realize at the time was that we’d just cut the fuse on our own (conservative) revolution. The conservatives had won, but then surrendered the future back to the eastern establishment moderates.

… a phrase popped into my mind for the first time to describe my feelings about George Bush: Trojan Horse. The enemy was in our camp.

… In the end, Ronald Reagan had won the battle and handed his sword to the losers…. By [1988] … the Reagan mantle had passed to Vice President Bush. At the very outset of the revolution, the seeds had been sown for its undoing.

Catch that phrase that conservatives had won “but then surrendered the future back to the eastern establishment moderates.” The years since Bush 41 moved into the White House — from 1989 to 2016 — has been a 27-year stretch of the “future.” A GOP future that featured Bush 41’s “kinder, gentler” politics and Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism.” Both of which were shorthand for what Barry Goldwater once called the “dime store New Deal” and Reagan himself disdained as “fraternal order” or “pale pastel” Republicanism. Note well that Bush 41, after winning on Reagan’s coattails, lost his own re-election with a mere 37% of the vote. Bush 43 needed the Supreme Court to get him in the White House door, had a close-call re-election over John Kerry, and that every other GOP nominee since Reagan — Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney — followed a similar “moderate” or “Establishment” Republican path. Just as did Gerald Ford in 1976. Losing, losing, losing, and losing again.

Now come Trump and Cruz, and both have deliberately shunned (not to mention in Trump’s case, attacked) the Bush/Ford/Dole/McCain/Romney view of the GOP. And suddenly, out comes a gusher of support from social conservatives and blue collar and union voters. 

Imagine that. 

There is at this moment the usual cloud of dust, a chorus of charges and counter charges, flying not only between Trump and Cruz but in various combinations of Rubio, Christie, and Bush. The best advice for everybody as these candidates go at each other? To borrow from the British Royals: “Keep calm and carry on.”

One of them is going to win. And when it comes time to defeat Herself, everybody will need to pitch in. And bring back the Reagan Revolution so that we can “Make America Great Again.”

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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