In a Republican primary that has featured 37 presidential candidates, few have been as dominant as the late President Ronald Reagan. As today’s Republican candidates seek to trumpet their political allegiances, it’s no surprise that many of them have chosen to embrace Reagan as their favored leader.
At the same time, however, Reagan’s legacy and beliefs would be out of step with the direction of the modern day Republican party. When Reagan first took office, the political scene was very different from today’s. The president represented a party that was more focused on fiscal restraint, free trade, and limited government intervention. In stark contrast, the primary message of today’s GOP is one that leans towards protectionism, military interventionism, and deregulation.
Reagan famously championed the famous phrase “peace through strength,” inferring that US economic and diplomatic strength was the best way to discourage potential enemies. His belief that the Soviet Union could be forced to “tear down this wall” drove his foreign policy decisions. In today’s Republican Party such rhetoric is replaced with a fear of Islamic extremism and a more hawkish view of terrorism.
While Reagan’s fiscal policies still remain relevant, his stances on government spending and taxes have grown increasingly out of step with today’s Republican’s. Reagan cut taxes on the wealthy and drastically raised taxes on the poor. He also increased federal spending, while at the same time proposing sweeping cuts to entitlement programs. In contrast, today’s Republicans have proposed tax cuts exclusively for the wealthy.
It’s clear to see why Reagan’s image is prevalent in many of today’s Republican campaigns, as he remains a beloved figure in the GOP’s history. But it is equally clear that his views and policies are drastically out of step with the direction of today’s Republican Party. With the primary quickly coming to a close, today’s candidates have an important choice to make in regards to their political alignment. Do they embrace Reagan’s legacy, or do they steer away from the past and embrace the direction of the modern GOP? Whichever they choose, the outcome will be sure to shape the future of the Republican Party.