Ronald Reagan’s Journey: Democrat to Republican

Stacy McCain interviews Ed Yager, author of a new book Ronald Reagan’s Journey: Democrat to Republican.

A key exchange:

Q. Why is Ronald Reagan’s early identification as a Democrat important to understanding his political career?

A. Because over about a 17-year period, from 1945 to 1962, he struggled to make sense of the political world. And he learned from his personal experiences there in Hollywood. He also learned from his personal experiences while on tour [as a spokesman for] General Electric, and he consistently discussed and debated political philosophy and policy issues with friends and family. And he also learned from a variety of books and magazines. …

So he was an engaged citizen, trying to make sense of the political world during the postwar period. Through these different sources … he developed his own political philosophy of having a hard-line position toward the Soviet Union in particular and international communism in general. His domestic policy views, those evolved later, during the mid- to late-1950s.

His political development was over a long period of time. It was gradual and sequential. … So that by 1962, when he changed his party affiliation, he had a coherent political philosophy that would guide him throughout his political career.

There’s more in the interview and, I’m sure, the book. But the fact that Ronald Reagan actively struggled with his political ideals and spent years thinking, writing, and talking about them explains why he was so capable of articulating and carrying out his vision. And the lack of same likely explains why so few contemporary American politicians can.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. If you can determine what is right through rigorous debate and stick with what you know is right, it certainly makes it easier to articulate that vision later. I think that is the big difference with Hillary. She may have her version of what is right, but she didn’t arrive at it after the sort of rigorous debate that would sort out the rough spot and she isn’t as consistent on her position. A good example is health care. You can make the case for nationalized health care, but only if you acknowledge the fundamental problems of the nationalized health care as it has been implemented elsewhere and that many of those problems are inherent in the system.

  2. floyd says:

    James, Again I am resigned to the role of sycophant! good job!

  3. anjin-san says:

    Reagan was a much deeper thinker then he is generally given credit for…

  4. McGehee says:

    Reagan was a much deeper thinker then he is generally given credit for…

    Okay, that’s ours for 2007. Stop it. 😉

  5. dbt says:

    yaj: How is Hillary’s thoughtful journey from Ike Republican to New Democrat any less impressive than Reagan’s?

  6. Kent G. Budge says:

    In my opinion, being a ferocious autodidact is an important qualification for office. Not the only or the most important, but important. Reagan clearly fit this mold. So did Lincoln and most of the Founders, if only because formal aducation was less available then. Clinton v1.0, for all his other faults, appears to be something of an autodidact.

    Neither Bushes nor Kerry nor Carter appear to have this quality. Neither do any of the present front runners except possibly Clinton v2.0 and Romney. I don’t know about Obama. But I could be mistaken down the line, because the only time the press pay attention to this quality is when they loudly (and probably correctly) announce that it is lacking in Bush v2.0.

  7. thunderbird says:

    Reagan went from DEMACRAT to REPULICAN is becuase he saw the demacrats as the tax and spend party of wealthy left-wing special interests