Is it OK to Compare Trump and Reagan?

The Armchair Expert

In his future, the author is a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine. At the moment, he’s from Melbourne, in second year and trying to pass an arts degree. His column, The Armchair Expert, tries to make sense of world politics in the age of Trump, Brexit and Turnbull.

Trump supporters love to compare the current President to President Reagan. It’s hard not to agree with them.

On the surface, the lives of the current and former presidents are surprisingly similar. Neither were career politicians – Reagan was a B-grade actor and Trump an E-Grade television host. Reagan was the oldest President in history – before Trump was elected. Neither served overseas in the military despite WWII and the Vietnam War being waged. Both were Democrats before being elected as Republicans; both even used the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.

Dig a little deeper, and the seemingly perfect similarities that Trump supporters love to flout begin to flake away. Reagan was Governor of California and President of the Screen Actors Guild; he was ideologically charged throughout his career before running for the Presidency. The closest Trump got to politics before he took the plunge in 2015, was making a claim that Obama was born in Africa – because, you know, he’s black. Reagan enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in 1935 and became a lieutenant before the outbreak of war, only to be denied service due to his poor eyesight. President Trump avoided the Vietnam draft five times – four for college and one for injured feet. Reagan was born into a Democratic family before evolving into a Republican. The current President has been a member of the Republican, Independence and Democratic parties. If you’re American, that’s basically all of them.

To be fair, the two men do share some attributes. They both fixated on dream defence projects: Reagan’s Star Wars and Trump’s border wall. Both are willing to spend enormous sums of the budget on these miracle weapons. The effectiveness of Trump’s wall is yet to be seen, but if it follows the footsteps of the Strategic Defence Initiative, it will sound cool and do absolutely nothing.

Recently, in his first solo press conference, President Trump casually declared that his 306 vote win was ‘the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.’ It was not. Thanks to the press – and the 1st amendment – a reporter was quick to rebut that, ‘In fact, President Obama got 365 … and George H.W. Bush 426.’ Despite Trump’s glaring ignorance and impressive ability to lie, he was right about one thing: Ronald Reagan’s massive win. In 1981, Reagan won 44 states, 489 electoral votes and the popular vote by 8.5 million. Skip forward to 2016 and Trump loses the popular vote by 2.5 million votes. A shift of just 40,000 votes from Trump to Clinton in just three states would have given America her first female president. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two men is their popularity – and honesty about it.

Despite this massive margin in popularity, it is startling that Trump will probably have far more power than Reagan ever did. For all eight years of Reagan’s Presidency, the House of Representatives was in Democratic hands. The pedigree of a 1980 Republican was considerably further to the left of today’s bunch, too. Compare this to a Republican House, Senate and White House that Trump gets to play with. Trump has already had the opportunity to appoint another conservative to the Supreme Court bench, and with two liberal justices hovering around the 80-year mark, Trump may have an opportunity to create a 2:7 liberal to conservative ratio. For all Trump’s talk of his ability to negotiate, he won’t have to use it nearly as much as Reagan did. As such, he will most likely be able to achieve more of his campaign promises than Reagan did. Most of these being to repeal Obama’s achievements.

Republicans talk about Reagan as living proof of just how successful their conservative social, economic and foreign policy can be. They tout him as flawless – God’s representative on Earth carrying out a crusade against the Evil Empire. These people rely on the – admittedly convincing – logic of trickle-down economics and peace through strength justify their actions.

They focus on theory and romance rather than the fact that seven million additional people became homeless under Reagan, that he lost a surplus and created a deficit of over one trillion dollars, traded arms for hostages with Iran or the fact that taking a more aggressive stance with the Soviet Union was a 50/50 between victory and obliteration.

Perhaps in that respect, Trump is most similar to Reagan in that his supporters are remarkably willing to overlook reality and fact and believe in the man they want to see.