How might President Ronald Reagan fare in 2016 GOP primaries?

Feb 22, 2016

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The Presidential primaries continue tomorrow, again in South Carolina and Nevada. For Republican candidates, and voters, it’s often asked who best exemplifies the leadership quality of Ronald Reagan? Reagan biographer, H. W. Brands recently visited Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. WGVU’s asks Brands how Reagan would fare in this year’s Presidential primary season?

“Could Reagan win the Republican nomination today? Could Reagan win election today?”

Historian H.W. Brands is author of “Reagan: The Life.” He explains the answer comes in two parts.

“Part one is: If Reagan had never been president, if he was running for president as he did in 1979 and 1980, then I think that Reagan would have a very good shot at winning the nomination and winning election because Reagan was that unusual combination in American politics of a conservative and an optimist. Conservatives tend to be pessimists. The reason they’re conservative is they think change is for the worst. Let’s hang on to what we have. But Reagan, while a card carrying conservative, a 100 percent consistent conservative, also believed that America’s future was going to be better than it’s past. That America remained a shining sitting on a hill and that America’s best days were ahead. So that’s Reagan as candidate. Now if Reagan were running for the Republican nomination today and he had to defend his eight years as president, then he’d have a hard time because Reagan understood the difference between being a candidate and being president. He understood that when you are a candidate you can promise the moon. In fact, American politics almost requires candidates to promise the moon. But when you are president, if you actually hope to make progress, if you hope to move the country in the direction toward your goals, you have to make compromises. You’re not going to get everything that you want. Reagan was reelected in 1984 with 60 percent of the popular vote. That’s a landslide in American politics but it meant that 40 percent of the country didn’t want him. And Reagan recognized that that 40 percent has the right to its views and it has to be accommodated. Reagan was a pragmatist. Reagan realized that progress came in increments. You don’t get everything you want, not all at once. So, Reagan the pragmatist would have a bit of a hard time, but Reagan the mere candidate he had that political magic and I think that it would still work.”

H.W. Brand is author of the book “Reagan: The Life.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.