Has Ronald Reagan passed the Republican Party baton to Donald Trump?
When I suggested as much a few days ago, critics objected that I was blaspheming the Gipper. They said his ideas of limited government, individual freedom, lower taxes and peace through strength will live on forever.
Amen to that. Yes, Reagan's ideals should always be the guiding light of the GOP. Radio talk show host Mark Levin, reminded his listeners that Reagan won two landslide elections, while Trump so far has won one narrow victory. Levin says that Reagan was a real conservative, and Trump isn’t, "Shame on you, Stephen Moore," he lectured.
But the critics are entirely missing my point. Trump won with states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which the GOP has rarely, if ever, carried since 1984. He put together a working-class coalition that included many longtime and union Democrats in a way that few Republicans — even George W. Bush in his two victories — were able to do. He appealed to these voters with a somewhat different set of policy promises than Reagan did.
It is true that many of the voters who crossed over to the GOP were the old Reagan Democrats. But I met many union workers who told me they voted for Trump and who never before voted Republican.
These are Trump Democrats. Andy McCarthy of National Review recently spouted the new favorite line that many Republicans would have beaten Hillary Clinton. Really? Does anyone really think Jeb Bush or John Kasich or even my good friend Ted Cruz would have crashed through the Blue Wall and vanquished Hillary?
Maybe. But I doubt it.
A new Trump party shouldn't and hopefully won't toss aside the growth policies employed by Reagan. In many policy areas Reagan and Trump overlap. Trump wants to cut taxes, as Reagan did. Trump wants to revitalize the American military, as Reagan did. Trump wants to deregulate, as Reagan did.
But Trump will be more skeptical of trade deals. He is willing to spend up to $1 trillion on new infrastructure projects. He is going to be less receptive to immigration than Reagan was. But the voters of 2016 wanted these policies. They were part of his winning formula. We can’t judge Trump by the standards of the 1980s – even Reagan himself might have different attitudes today about what is needed to recapture our culture and jump start growth.
Trump has made a series of promises to voters, and the party should keep its word. I’m not a huge fan of a wall, but this helped get Trump elected, so BUILD THE WALL. Let’s hope it has big gates for legal immigrants.
This isn't to say Republicans should turn into Smoot-Hawley trade protectionists, or throw out fiscal conservatism. When Trump is wrong, conservatives should challenge him. Reagan himself supported auto import quotas – and free marketeers were right to vote no.
Conservatives who are salivating over the prospect of three new Supreme Court nominees in the next four years, and pro-growth tax cuts, and vouchers for low-income kids, and the death of ObamaCare, and the end of anti-growth climate change derangement, need to understand that you might have to swallow some policies you don’t agree with to get the good ones.
Voters will render a verdict on Trump and the Republicans in 2018 and 2020, based on whether they deliver results (jobs) for the forgotten men and women of the middle class ("the deplorables"). The Democrats abandoned these Americans by pursuing far left economic and cultural issues that, it turned out, voters hated.
If there are losers in this new era, it won't be conservatives. It will be the ruling class of political operatives who want to rush for the exits. And good riddance. They are the ones who gave us 15 years of malaise.
Conservatives shouldn't fret too much over Trump's deviations from Reagan policies. So far the Cabinet appointments and the policy priorities of his incoming administration have been nearly impeccable.
He's also showing a willingness to reach out to the other side to score policy victories and avoid paralysis. That is right out of the Reagan playbook. The Gipper was a master political strategist, perhaps even more than he was an orthodox conservative. That's how you rack up victories that are durable, a lesson Barack Obama never learned.
Trump's party is an America First party. He is likely to end the left's unpatriotic policies that always apologize to the rest of the world for our nation's faults. It's about time we put American workers first, just as Trump did when he negotiated to save 1,000 Carrier jobs that were headed to Mexico. That's leadership.
I'm not cheerleading here. A lot can go wrong with this experiment. But it is simply a reality that the Republican Party has moved in a new direction, with a new voting bloc behind it.
Voters seem to know something big is on the way. Look at how investor and consumer confidence has soared since Election Day.
Something tells me Reagan would be smiling.