Former Senate Majority Leader and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole slammed the state of the Republican Party over the weekend, telling Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that the GOP should be “closed for repairs” and lamenting that some of the most famous Republicans would have no chance at becoming party leaders in the Tea Party era.
“I doubt [I could fit in with the modern party],” Dole said. “Reagan wouldn’t have made it, certainly Nixon wouldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”
While Dole’s criticism of his party’s current platform could be debated, his assertion that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have prospered in the current political climate is pretty much unassailable. Here are five reasons that Republicans’ favorite Republican could never fit in with today’s party:
Although modern Republicans have posthumously deified Reagan as the patron saint of tax cuts, he actually signed at least 10 tax increases totaling $132.7 billion during his eight years as president, and had raised taxes several times before that as governor of California.
Ideologically “pure” Republicans like Eric Cantor may deny it, but if Reagan ran today, he would completely flunk Grover Norquist’s anti-tax test, and be eaten alive by the Tea Party.
Modern Republicans tend to portray the federal budget deficit as an economic and moral issue of the highest importance — an attitude that Reagan echoed when he declared the deficit to be “out of control” shortly after taking office in January, 1981. Once he was in the Oval Office, however, Reagan began enacting policies that would infamously lead Vice President Dick Cheney to scoff that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Within two years the deficit had nearly tripled, reaching $208 billion, and by the time Reagan left office it was at $155 billion; during Reagan’s two terms America went from being the world’s largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation.
In fairness, this is the one position on this list that the right may have been able to forgive. After all, as former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum once said, “We’re all Keynesians during Republican administrations.”
Long before Rick Perry’s “oops” heard ’round the world, the Texas governor’s presidential ambitions were already on life support due to his refusal to disavow a law providing in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants — a position that got him vociferously booed at a Tea Party-sponsored debate.
If the crowd couldn’t handle that benign position from Perry, they certainly wouldn’t have liked the fact that Reagan granted legal status to about three million undocumented immigrants when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. If you’d like to know what the right’s criticism might have sounded like, look no further than Tea Party representative Steve King (R-IA), who recently blamed the ’86 reform for President Obama’s election.
Reagan’s complicated relationship with Israel is yet another issue on which he and the Republican Party’s right wing could never have agreed — not after the Reagan administration called on Israel to adopt a total settlement freeze and place its nuclear facilities under international supervision, and sold highly advanced military jets to Saudi Arabia. Not to mention Reagan’s 1985 trip to Germany, where he initially declined to visit the site of a concentration camp but agreed to lay a wreath at a cemetery containing the remains of 49 members of the Waffen-SS. As Haaretz‘s Chemi Salev put it, “If Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.”
Even if Reagan had somehow managed to survive all of the other issues on this list, his support for expanded gun sale background checks and an assault weapon ban would certainly have killed his chances of winning over the GOP base. Although Reagan — who was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981 — makes for a sympathetic gun reform advocate, if Republicans can attack Sandy Hook parents, they could certainly have gone after the Gipper.
Plus, the “he only supported gun control because he was senile” excuse wouldn’t work quite as well for an active candidate.
(All photos except slide 5 courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library)
Photo: Para via Flickr.com