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Columnists

Republican Voters Are in Trouble if They Can’t Pass the Reagan Test

To proclaim that Republicans need another Ronald Reagan is as useless a suggestion because of its obviousness as to say that the Chicago Bulls need another Michael Jordan, or broadcast journalism needs another Walter Cronkite.

What is more telling, though, is that a troubling number of Republican voters don’t realize how much their party needs another Reagan, and are now even siding against him, albeit indirectly.

In the fledging post-Trump era, Republicans have taken a disturbing and peculiar turn, with deep divisions emerging and growing farther apart by the day, because of the 2020 election and the January 6 Capitol invasion.

In his meteoric rise to the presidency, Trump managed to eclipse even Reagan in terms of uniting the Republican Party. But hindsight has revealed that the union was fragile and has now given way to three principal subgroups: Only-Trumpers, Never-Trumpers, and Maybe-Trumpers.

The Never-Trumpers were there from the beginning of Trump’s historic escalator ride in June, 2015 when he announced his candidacy. Some were sincere in thinking Trump’s tone so offended the solemnity and prestige of the world’s most esteemed office that they couldn’t possibly support him. Many more, though, couldn’t admit their real objections aloud: Trump’s populism, from tariffs to border security to skepticism about trickle-down economics and NATO alliances, flew in like a whirlwind threatening to topple their cozy establishmentarian fiefdoms. Ironically, the wrecking ball of Country Club Republicanism was the Republican who owns posh country clubs.

As nauseatingly hypocritical and truly loathsome as many Never-Trumpers are, Only-Trumpers are even worse. They’re truly Trump-or-Bust: they think Trump genuinely cares about them in a way no politician ever has before, and believe with all their hearts that he’s the only one – along with his superhero sidekicks, Kanye West, the My Pillow guy, and even freakier offshoots – who can rescue them from the evil, corrupt, Deep State swamp.

I waver regarding what’s scariest about Only-Trumpers: is it that they actually believe a pillow salesman has smoking-gun evidence of widespread election fraud no one else has managed to uncover, or that if Trump is not the GOP nominee in 2024 and forms a third party (the MAGA Party, no doubt), they’ll vote for him instead of whatever ‘RINO’ the real Republican Party nominates, just to make a point, without caring that they’d split the Republican vote and thereby hand over the election to the Democrats on a silver platter?

A small offshoot of Never-Trumpers are No-Longer-Trumpers, who are actually Only-Trumper defectors. They’re the ones who finally realized that Trump loves himself more than he loves them, that he’ll stop at almost nothing to win, and he’ll thumb his nose and give a Bronx cheer to any criticism about dishonoring the sanctity of the office in the process.

Who, then, are the Maybe-Trumpers? (I’m one, by the way.) They voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and will most likely vote for him again in 2024 if he’s the nominee. They’re able to separate the unpleasant things Trump has actually done from the much larger pile of exaggerations and outright falsehoods attributed to him by the major party establishment duopoly, the media, academia, Hollywood, and even Wall Street. And when it all boils down to a binary choice, they’ll take the worst of Trump any day of the week over any Democrat they can imagine (except maybe Andrew Jackson or John F. Kennedy, but they’re no longer alive).

Oh, and they never felt betrayed by Trump because they never cared about his motives in the first place. They only cared about results: like hiring the best firefighter, who may not necessarily have compassion about the people trapped inside the building.

Maybe-Trumpers are appalled at Trump’s post-2020 election antics, namely, insisting he lost because of widespread fraud, and listening to crackpot legal fantasies from desperate hangers-on that Mike Pence had the power to halt the process. Maybe-Trumpers understand that living in a country where the next president can be decided by a vice president’s whimsy would be even worse than one with Joe Biden at the helm.

We Maybe-Trumpers condemn Trump for petulantly avoiding Biden’s inauguration, and we’re upset with him for endorsing a motley crew of congressional candidates who cost Republicans the Senate.

However, we’re not quite ready to declare war on Trump. We’d gladly support someone else who wins the GOP nomination in 2024, as long as s/he’s not a Never-Trumper. And in that case, we hope Trump would resist the temptation to form the MAGA third-party and spoil the election for his Republican successor out of spite, not caring that whatever hapless candidate the Democrats nominate would thereby win by default.

Turning back to the Only-Trumpers, too many of them, whether they realize it or not, have become anti-Reagan. They either don’t understand or don’t care that Reagan would’ve been no less supportive of Ukraine than Biden’s been, because Reagan was committed with every fiber of his being to stopping Russian aggression in any way possible. Reagan also believed – it was dubbed his ‘Eleventh Commandment’ – that “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” But nowadays, besides the embarrassing buffoons who chanted “hang Mike Pence” on January 6, even their less extreme versions make jackasses of themselves when they call any Republican who doesn’t agree with Trump a RINO. They have no concept of what the word means and how it should be applied.

I wrote long ago that the Democratic Party had veered so far off course that it would no longer accept as its leader not only Presidents Truman and Kennedy, but also Clinton and Obama.
Alarmingly, the same may hold true for a large number of today’s Republicans regarding Reagan.

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