Jack Ohman

Comparing Trump to Reagan is laughable

Ronald Reagan was no Donald Trump.
Ronald Reagan was no Donald Trump. johman@sacbee.com

Quite a number of Donald Trump’s rotating cast of frightening campaign minions have posited their opinion that their candidate is like Ronald Reagan.

For example, Trump’s vice presidential candidate, a cyborg GOPbot who is the governor of Indiana, tweeted this the other day:

“Mike Pence @mike_pence. Like Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump has the honesty/bluntness to confront the challenges facing the American people from his 1st day in office”

Um. His office in the Trump Tower after Nov. 8?

The notion that Trump is remotely like Reagan is laughable.

Watching a recording a few nights ago of then-Gov. Reagan’s 1972 appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show,” I was struck by how dramatically unlike Trump he was.

I confess, I was not a Reagan person. That’s OK. A lot of people weren’t. You may not care for his politics, but you can appreciate his skill set. And it was on full display that night on “The Dick Cavett Show.”

Cavett’s interviewing style is almost quaint now. Low-key and witty, Cavett evokes the word “courtly” in his manner. When Reagan strode into his studio, there was palpable booing along with light applause, punctuated by loud cheering.

Tall and handsome, fit-looking in a dark suit, Reagan looked every inch a potential president of the United States.

Cavett immediately asked, “Did you really say, if you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all?”

“(Chuckle) Well, no …” and he went on to describe how his opponent, the late Gov. Pat Brown, said that he thought that. Reagan was gracious, not at all nasty, and didn’t turn the question back to his questioner. Nor did he call Pat Brown “Lyin’ Pat,” or “Crooked Pat.”

Cavett asked him what he thought about President Richard Nixon’s trip to China, and Reagan gave a thoughtful, supportive analysis of why it was a good idea.

He used complete sentences. He didn’t repeat himself. He didn’t call himself “tremendous” or “fantastic.” He just answered the questions.

Cavett asked about old Hollywood. Here was Reagan at his finest. A master storyteller, he walked through his designation at Warner Brothers as a “B” actor.

Cavett raised his role in the movie “Bedtime for Bonzo,” a comedy about a professor who raises a chimp as a child in an experiment.

“(Chuckle) Well … I had an affinity for him” and continued a hilarious anecdote about how maligned the movie was, but he loved the role. Reagan also showed something that he never had to read off a teleprompter or be coached to do: humanity.

All through the interview Reagan showed poise, quiet command, grace, warmth, humor and a compelling quality of strength that came naturally to him. At 61, he had been re-elected governor of California, and was preparing for the presidency as the other incumbent president from California was about to implode.

Perhaps Nixon could have taken a few cues from Reagan. But even in Nixon’s descent, no one ever accused him of not knowing basic facts of government, or that he lacked depth.

As the interview wrapped up, I found myself wondering why Reagan never really acknowledged the booing other than to note that it’s part of the job.

He didn’t say, oh, maybe they were Mexican.

After Reagan departed the set, Cavett also said something that would be unheard of now: He admonished the booers, saying that’s not how one should conduct themselves in public.

Reagan was raised poor, and that sticks with you. He never got a million-dollar loan from his father. But, wow, he was no Donald Trump. His party probably wouldn’t even listen to him today. Do you want to know why?

Because he was a gentleman.