“I knew Ronald Reagan. Mr. Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.”
Last week, political pundits began likening Donald Trump, running for the Republican presidential nomination, to an earlier and for many, an iconic president. Trump also has been comparing himself—frequently and favorably—with Ronald Reagan. I knew Ronald Reagan. Mr. Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s relationships, professional and personal, were without reproach, and the professional so often became, “personal.” I don’t remember Ronald Reagan ever insulting anyone, foreign or domestic, friend or enemy. He was a consummate gentleman.
And his relationships were without distinction of “gender.” Can you imagine Reagan, in public or in private, calling British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, oh, “Frumpy”? The Reagan-Thatcher relationship was so strong that in later years, after he had retired, Dame Thatcher always travelled with a black dress in her suitcase so she would be ready, at the time of his passing, to be a part of the memorial. And so she was, in 2004.
Ronald Reagan was so considerate of others that, upon leaving a restaurant, he would not walk past a member of the staff without saying “Good night.” In meeting with the news media, he would typically answer any question from a reporter because he didn’t want to seem rude. I have been told that members of his PR staff were usually holding their collective breath, lest he say something that had not been programmed in advance. I am sure he did. And I am sure he didn’t much care.
Reagan was not afraid to speak his mind. Example? The 1980 Republican primary debate between Reagan and G. H. W. Bush, the cost of which had been personally underwritten by Reagan because of some legal issue about the media and “campaign financing.” In the middle of the show, the moderator tried to turn off Reagan’s microphone. Reagan showed that he was not some timid go-with-the flow political type but asserted, on-air, “I am paying for this microphone.” He was not bragging, he was speaking truth.
Reagan was a skilled negotiator—skilled enough to know when he was winning and willing to pull back a bit to get 80 percent of what he wanted, rather than push for 100 percent and thereby jeopardize the whole deal. At the same time, but would walk away from a bad deal, as he did, with Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1986 Summit Meeting in Reykjavik. Is this a contradiction? No, it is watching a master negotiator wading through what could be an existential swamp. And in the end, winning.
As I am writing this, with TV running in the background, I hear a Trump staffer proclaiming, “No one can make a better deal than Donald Trump.” But I didn’t hear any specifics. I can’t parse Donald Trump’s business or personal history. Can anyone? But anyone can track Ronald Reagan’s progress, day by day.
Every Republican operative or current candidate seems quick to ask, “Where is our Ronald Reagan?” Well, it is not for me to pick winners … or losers. It is up to you, the voters.
Ambassador Gilbert A. Robinson (Ret), is the principal author of the recently-issued Reagan Remembered, a collection of anecdotes and observations from 81 former Reagan appointees.