I guess it was inevitable that America’s infatuation with reality TV and outrageous celebrities would eventually produce a presidential candidate. Lucky for us it’s Donald Trump.
I’ve never met The Donald, but my imaginary conversations with him go something like this:
Hi, I’m The Doug, and I don’t much care for the things you and your handlers are saying about The Ronald.
That would be Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States and former California governor.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
For years Republicans throughout government have tried to wrap themselves in Reagan’s cloak, walk in his cowboy boots and otherwise claim to channel the everyman essence that made him a beloved leader. Such is politics.
But when I heard Trump and his people selling the blowhard billionaire business mogul as a Reagan-style outsider, I almost threw up.
I worked for Reagan as a White House spokesman. And, borrowing a line Lloyd Bentsen famously used against Dan Quayle in their 1988 vice presidential debate, I promise you this:
Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.
In fact, Reagan was just about everything Trump isn’t. Unlike the vulgar, imperious, self-absorbed Trump, Reagan was down to earth, mannerly and cared about others.
Reagan crafted his policies after thoughtful study and with input from a wide circle of advisers. Trump seems to think he intuitively knows best about everything, although he did confess his thinking on military affairs comes from “watching television shows.”
Trump’s upbringing, meanwhile, was classic silver spoon. He was given control of his father’s real estate company at age 25. Reagan grew up above a variety store in Tampico, Ill., and worked his way up in life. He never forgot his humble roots.
In the political arena, Reagan believed wholeheartedly in the big tent, and was genuinely interested in – and appreciated the value of – people with different backgrounds and viewpoints.
Trump? If he had a tent, it would be a carnival tent, where he’d star in a one-man “Trump the Talented and Terrific” show, with obedient circus elephants the only creatures invited to watch.
When it comes to women, Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice. Trump’s misogynistic behavior is legendary, and he once said this about talk show host Rosie O’Donnell:
“Take a look at her, she’s a slob … Probably I’ll sue her because it would be fun. I’d like to take some money out of her fat-ass pockets.”
It’s frightening to imagine Trump as president, but some Americans do support him. Do they really believe his loudmouth “straight talk” equals the gravitas one needs to lead intelligently on the world stage? Do they really think his mean-spirited behavior would serve our nation well?
Reagan brought an end to the Cold War, negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev to initiate a substantial reduction in nuclear armaments. Can you picture Trump in a tête-à-tête with one of our global adversaries of today?
Trump’s position on immigration gives us a glimpse of how he’d approach diplomacy. He wants to build a wall along our 1,954-mile border with Mexico, even though one-third of the border is already blocked off and research shows walls don’t prevent illegal immigration.
But Trump likes to build things and says he can get the border job done:
“It’s not even a difficult project if you know what you’re doing,” he said. “And nobody knows what they’re doing like I do.”
To me, Trump is like the boorish, crazy uncle nobody wants to sit next to at family dinners. His candidacy toward eventual defeat is amusing, for sure. But shame on him for trying to bask in the Gipper’s glow.
Doug Elmets, who worked in the White House during the Reagan administration, is president of Elmets Communications.