Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

How Donald Trump Transformed the Republican Party Forever

By Vaseline May27,2024

For a generation, the Republican Party was the party of Ronald Reagan. The actor-turned-governor-turned-president was the defining figure in the party — even as two Bushes rose to power, even as prominent figures like Bob Dole and John McCain earned party nominations.

Despite wars, economic fluctuations, and geopolitical realignments, Reagan remained the most important figure in conservative politics.

Yet the Reagan era appears to have ended, as it inevitably had to; even the most charismatic and influential leaders must eventually lose their immediate relevance (the Republican Party is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln).

It is no surprise that the Republican Party left Reagan after almost forty years. What is surprising is who has replaced Reagan as the party’s most important, defining figure: Donald Trump.

The Republican Party is now Trump’s party, which begs the question: Would Reagan, the longtime standard-bearer of the Republican Party, be relevant in the modern party? Would Reagan even be a Republican?

Donald Trump dominates

In many ways, the modern Republican Party has departed from the traditional principles and behaviors that most people have come to associate with the party.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the post-Tea Party Republican Party is increasingly susceptible to the influence of far-right fanatics often associated with the MAGA movement.

Firebrand politicians like Marjorie Taylor Green and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who would have been marginalized as radical figures a generation ago, are only a degree or two removed from the mainstream.

Lauren Boebert

And mainstream Republicans – like Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell and Mike Johnson – are increasingly beholden to the whims of their MAGA colleagues.

The most obvious change in the post-Trump Republican Party concerns behavior and etiquette. The party, cast in the light of its standard-bearer, is prone to figures who communicate and behave in ways that would not have been compatible with Reagan’s Republican party.

For example, Matt Gaetz, who was accused of openly dating several young women, would have been a tough sell in Reagan’s day. Or Boebert, caught on film making intimate contact in a crowded movie theater, would likely have resulted in disqualification in the 1980s.

Trump versus Ronald Reagan on foreign policy

But beyond behavior and etiquette, perhaps the most substantial change in the modern Republican Party concerns foreign policy.

The MAGA wing has a much more skeptical view of American involvement abroad than was common in Reagan’s time.

Donald Trump

For example, the MAGA wing is reluctant to continue financing Ukraine’s defense (and is denounced as isolationist). Reagan, on the other hand, believed in a strong and progressive US foreign policy.

In fact, Reagan aides admitted that all Reagan really cared about was fighting communism. Accordingly, Reagan committed his administration to an arms race and weapons development and direct competition with the Soviet Union, and especially to the idea that the US should lead the world. It may be that Reagan’s foreign policy position was at odds with parts of the modern Republican Party.

Yet Reagan was deeply conservative; Reagan was the president who failed to mention the AIDS epidemic for years because the virus is so often associated with gay people – even if tens of thousands of Americans died from the mysterious virus.

Donald Trump

Reagan was the president who wholeheartedly endorsed “trickle-down economics,” nakedly calibrating the economy to benefit America’s wealthiest citizens.

The point is that while the modern Republican Party may not perfectly align with Reagan’s views, Reagan was a true conservative, and even today the Republican Party would still be the Gipper’s best option.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with more than 1,000 articles on issues relating to global affairs. Harrison, a lawyer, pilot, guitarist and minor professional hockey player, joined the United States Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

Image credits: Creative Commons.

Related Post