Trump’s administration built (so far) using Reagan’s blueprint
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about politics, it’s to anticipate being asked the same question during each presidential election: “When will we see the next Ronald Reagan?”
After all, what made Reagan special was that his leadership style fit the era in which he was in the White House. In other words, he was the right person for his moment — or, as Reagan would likely have said, “our moment.”
But, like many others, after being taken aback by Donald Trump winning the White House last November, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate the whole “Reagan question.”
Ultimately, my answer’s unchanged: Donald Trump isn’t Ronald Reagan. But maybe that’s the wrong question to be asking.
Instead of comparing our new president to Ronald Reagan the person (who was truly one-of-a-kind), we should compare the two as presidents. From this perspective, even though the tenors are quite different, Trump’s nascent administration has adopted characteristics of the early Reagan White House.
In other words, the Trump White House so far appears to be using Reagan’s first 100 days in office as its blueprint.
The Reagan Blueprint
The “Reagan Blueprint,” as we can refer to it, combines three essential traits of presidential leadership, including conviction of character, pragmatic optimism, and moral fortitude.
Being that he was the first Republican to assume the presidency in the post-Watergate era, Reagan’s early challenge was building trust with the entire nation, which took his conviction of character to speak candidly to the American people to gain their faith.
On the other hand, Reagan, whose nickname was the “Great Communicator,” knew the importance of listening to all constituents, including both supporters and critics, and thus he showed conviction of character by answering concerns publicly in speeches or briefings.
Recall also that when he assumed the presidency, America confronted the worst economic downturn, at that time, since the Great Depression.
Reagan therefore used his first Inaugural Address to not only allay fears but also convey optimism by promising to “return the nation to prosperity.” But no matter the problem, Reagan’s solutions were always pragmatic.
To foster economic growth, for example, Reagan sensibly wanted to reduce the federal bureaucracy by returning decision-making powers to the states.
He also wanted the country’s businesses to grow faster, so he proposed to eliminate regulations and unencumber free trade but on terms that were fair for American workers.
Finally, since his first 100 days in office were during a particularly tense era in America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, Reagan’s moral fortitude led him to advocate a foreign policy based on peace through strength. He thus proceeded to rebuild America’s military capabilities and re-establish the nation as a moral leader around the world.
Trump’s First 100 Days
Now at about the midway point in his first 100 days in office, President Trump has fairly closely followed the Reagan Blueprint.
In his communication, like Reagan, Trump favors a plain-spoken and direct twitter-like style that fits the milieu of the times; and while Reagan’s preferred tool was the public speech, Trump’s is famously — or infamously — the tweet.
Specifically, if President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is familiar to you, perhaps that’s because its first use was by Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. One placard shows the candidate’s smiling countenance and, in white lettering below, the slogan, “Let’s make America great again.” President Trump claims he conceived it himself in 2012, and even trademarked the slogan, but one has to wonder if Reagan first planted the seed for the idea in his head.
Meanwhile, like with messaging, there are policy similarities between the two presidents.
Trump’s economic plan, which favors less bureaucracy, a return of states’ rights, and more business growth, practically echoes Reagan’s agenda.
Additionally, Trump’s initiated federal hiring freeze and reduction of non-essential diplomatic assets, his goal of fairer free trade for American workers, his proposed $54 billion military budget increase are four pages torn straight out of the Reagan Blueprint.
We’ll have to wait to see if, in the latter half of its first 100 days, President Trump’s administration continues following the Reagan Blueprint. But what we do know for sure, as this conversation attests, is that Reagan’s legacy is still embedded in the fabric of America.
As people, the comparisons between Reagan and Trump are not so obvious. Reagan’s demeanor was cool, calm and collected. Trump’s is, well, distinct.
Reagan was also respected by people from across the ideological spectrum, including congressional Democrats, who may have challenged him on policy, but found it hard not to admire the president as a person. Trump’s newness means his relationship with Democrats and even some Republicans is still developing, although the president has expressed his hope for bipartisan policies on issues like health care, immigration and school choice.
But talking about Reagan and Trump as presidents, it’s hard not to argue that, so far, President Trump is following the Reagan Blueprint.
John Heubusch is the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute and author of the forthcoming novel, “The Shroud Conspiracy” (March 14, 2017).