Reagan the RINO Redux
The main problem is governing should be different than simplistic rhetoric.
The main issue with Reagan and the contemporary GOP is this: if one takes the prevailing rhetoric, especially from the commetariat, but also from think tanks and politicians, and uses it to measure Reagan on a number of actual policies, Reagan falls well short of the mark.
The two most obvious would be taxes and immigration.
Now, could Reagan the politician, win nomination? Certainly. But the reality of the Reagan presidency, at least in some specific areas, is simply outside the realm of acceptable mainstream Republican rhetoric at the moment.
A simple example: in a blind evaluation (i.e., sans name or other identification) of what Reagan signed into law on tax increases alone would make him an utterly unacceptable candidate to both the Club for Growth as well as the Tea Party.
Further, there are key components of the GOP coalition that would have nothing to do with a politician not named Reagan who signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Heck, when said persons scream about “amnesty!” what do you think they are talking about? Legislatively speaking, they are referring to the IRCA (whether they realize it or not).
Further, if Obama is personally responsible for every federal dollar spent since January of 2009, what would the deficit hawks have to say about the president who oversaw the deficit explosions of the 1980s?*
Really, the real problem with the “is Reagan a RINO?” question is that it underscores the extremeness of the rhetorical positions of the GOP at the moment. Reagan the politician could have run for office within the party, but the point is that Reagan’s actual record if divorced from his St. Ronnie persona was offered up to the RNC convention this summer, it would hardly be received with open arms. Rather, it would be burned on stage on live TV.
Indeed, a grand irony on the issues of both taxes and immigration from the simplistic POV that people like Grover Norquist demand these days: Obama has a far better tax record than Reagan, as Obama has not raised income taxes, while Reagan did. Likewise, using the simplistic demands of the anti-immigration coalition at the moment, in a blind test, ought to pick Obama over Reagan, as Obama has actually been one of the toughest (if not the toughest) presidents in terms of deportations while Reagan signed the amnesty bill into law.
And yes, on the one hand, the actual evaluation of presidents is more complex than that (but that is rather the point), but on the other hand, an honest and full evaluation requires actually examining and evaluating the actual policies of a given president.
Further, as was noted in some quotes in Doug Mataconis’ post yesterday, the fact that Romney is going to be the nominee shows that the Republican Party is not truly ultra right wing. Perhaps this is the case, but a few things are true. One, there is a substantial and troubling gap between the rhetorical demands being made on politicians and the reality of governing, and two, there is little doubt that Romney has had to cater to this rhetoric. However, the truly concerning reality is that it seems that the rhetoric is becoming reality, as we saw with the debt ceiling game of chicken and the fact that on the one hand the rhetoric says that the deficit is going to kill us, but on the other we cannot even discuss revenue nor the defense budget. The rhetoric does appear to be congealing into reality (and part of the point of the Reagan discussion is the he seemed to be willing to acquiesce to reality, whether it was on taxes or on negotiating with the Soviets).
What all of this underscores is that too many get caught up in the rhetoric wars and tribal politics and we ignore the actual policy and governance stuff.
*Of course, the main problem with simplification of deficit blame is that focusing it on a president ignores a) the role of the Congress (which is far more important), b) the state of the economy, c) the presence of crises, and d) programs that are automatic (such as food stamps). Of course, in the above I am not talking about nuanced understandings of fiscal policy.