The GOP presidential candidates will stride on to the debate stage Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California and all proclaim undying fealty to the former president and conservative demi-god, while each claiming that only he is the true keeper of the Reagan legacy.
But how does Ronald Reagan himself compare to those who hope to occupy the White House in the shadow of his greatness?
Monday the Center for American Progress Action Fund will release a new report that makes a detailed case that the GOP presidential candidates are all well to the right of Reagan, and actually represent a break from core aspects of his approach to the presidency. The report may be one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to spell out this argument in an issue-by-issue fashion. Among the report’s assertions:
1) Ronald Reagan repeatedly raised taxes, including on the rich, and closed loopholes that benefited the wealthy. While it’s true that Reagan’s tax cuts were a lot larger than his tax hikes, the fact that he did repeatedly raise them does contrast with what we know of the plans from today’s GOP candidates, some of whom have already signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.
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2) Reagan signed immigration reform that included a path to legalization for nearly three million undocumented immigrants. The report digs up a quote in which Reagan appeared to express support for “amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” By contrast, of today’s GOP candidates, only Bush appears to be genuinely open to a path to legal status that would not require some sort of undefined state of absolute border security to be attained first.
3) The report argues that Reagan actually grew government, noting that spending went up on his watch – including deficit spending. (The report also argues that contrary to common wisdom, non-defense spending also went up substantially.)
4) Ronald Reagan advocated for the Brady law, which established a federal gun background check system. It’s hard to imagine today’s GOP presidential candidates backing the creation of a reform such as Brady; indeed, virtually all Republicans in the Senate opposed the bill to close the background check system’s loopholes.
The report concludes:
“Reagan was able to mix pragmatism with conservatism.... a closer look at President Reagan’s record and the positions of the current crop of GOP candidates reveals … how far to the right of Reagan they and the Republican party have moved.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign has been relying on the Center for American Progress’ blueprints as a guide to its own proposals and pronouncements, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we hear the above argument about Republicans and Reagan a lot more in coming days.