Though there are important differences, the parallels between Reagan's political life and Trump's are downright chilling, from their media careers to the way that the press and their own party establishment viewed them.
Both positioned themselves as outsiders (Reagan, absurdly, ran successfully as a political outsider while he was the sitting president of the USA, and painted his opponent as the Beltway insider). Both offered economic platforms that didn't hold up to even the most cursory scrutiny. Both lied like crazy, about everything, and refused to answer any press questions that called them on this. Both are masters of deflection overall, brilliant at moving the focus away from their radioactively obvious shortcomings to the places where they shone.
Of course, both also had careers in forgettable, modestly successful media properties. Both had checkered pasts in which they dabbled in Democratic politics and painted that opportunism as a reason for Conservatives to vote for them. Both managed to court evangelicals despite their divorces.
Reagan's slogan? "Let's make America great again."
Shirley's memories are corroborated by reportage contemporaneous with Reagan's last two presidential runs. (There was also an abortive run in 1968.) A poll in 1976 found that 90 percent of Republican state chairmen judged Reagan guilty of "simplistic approaches," with "no depth in federal government administration" and "no experience in foreign affairs." It was little different in January 1980, when a U.S. News and World Report survey of 475 national and state Republican chairmen found they preferred George H.W. Bush to Reagan. One state chairman presumably spoke for many when he told the magazine that Reagan's intellect was "thinner than spit on a slate rock." As Rick Perlstein writes in The Invisible Bridge, the third and latest volume of his epic chronicle of the rise of the conservative movement, both Nixon and Ford dismissed Reagan as a lightweight. Barry Goldwater endorsed Ford over Reagan in 1976 despite the fact that Reagan's legendary speech on behalf of Goldwater's presidential campaign in October 1964, "A Time for Choosing," was the biggest boost that his kamikaze candidacy received. Only a single Republican senator, Paul Laxalt of Nevada, signed on to Reagan's presidential quest from the start, a solitary role that has been played in the Trump campaign by Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
What put off Reagan's fellow Republicans will sound very familiar. He proposed an economic program — 30 percent tax cuts, increased military spending, a balanced budget — whose math was voodoo and then some. He prided himself on not being "a part of the Washington Establishment" and mocked Capitol Hill's "buddy system" and its collusion with "the forces that have brought us our problems—the Congress, the bureaucracy, the lobbyists, big business, and big labor." He kept a light campaign schedule, regarded debates as optional, wouldn't sit still to read briefing books, and often either improvised his speeches or worked off index cards that contained anecdotes and statistics gleaned from Reader's Digest and the right-wing journal Human Events — sources hardly more elevated or reliable than the television talk shows and tabloids that feed Trump's erroneous and incendiary pronouncements.
Ronald Reagan Was Once Donald Trump
[Frank Rich/New Yorker]
(via Naked Capitalism)