‘Zombie Reaganism’: Conservative says many modern-day Republicans 'misunderstand' Reagan’s presidency

‘Zombie Reaganism’: Conservative says many modern-day Republicans 'misunderstand' Reagan’s presidency

Although Ronald Reagan died in 2004, his influence on the Republican Party remained long after that — and it wasn't until Donald Trump's 2016 campaign that the GOP started to replace Reaganism with Trumpism. But conservative Washington Post opinion writer Henry Olsen, in an October 12 column, argues that many Republicans have misunderstood Reagan's presidency and that Reagan was much more nuanced than they realize.

Olsen explains, "Republicans debating what they should stand for often invoke Ronald Reagan as the ideal standard-bearer for the party. It's a shame, then, that so many of them misunderstand the man."

The columnist adds that "many self-proclaimed Reaganites" fail to recognize Reagan's complexities.

"Their uncompromising agenda includes never raising taxes, foreign interventionism and a commitment to shrinking government spending, especially on popular entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare," Olsen observes. "This rigid approach has rightly been criticized as 'zombie Reaganism' and is the central point from which much of the intra-GOP policy debate takes its cues. Republicans who seriously engage in these debates increasingly seek to define themselves as either for or against this unholy trinity."

Back in 1981 — after Reagan had been sworn in as president — conservative George Will wrote a thought-provoking column in which he argued that all Americans were, in effect, children of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Yet Reaganomics were a major departure from the New Deal in many respects, and Reagan was so influential that the centrist Bill Clinton Democrats of the 1990s incorporated some of his talking points.

Nonetheless, Olsen stresses that Reagan wasn't nearly as dogmatic as many of the modern-day "Zombie Reaganites" who "invoke" his name.

"The real Reagan raised taxes when he needed to, both as governor and as president," Olsen writes. "He valued compromise over principled defeat. And he eschewed direct military confrontation with the Soviet Union or its powerful proxies. Those who criticize the withdrawal from Afghanistan should recall that Reagan withdrew U.S. forces from Lebanon in 1984 after suicide bombers killed 241 U.S. service members the prior year. That departure condemned Lebanon to decades of civil conflict and allowed the Shiite militia Hezbollah to entrench itself on Israel's northern border."

Olsen doesn't talk about Trump much in his column, but he does say that "Reagan's legacy…. counteracts some of the worst aspects of former President Donald Trump's influence."

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