John J. Pitney, Jr. writing in The Bulwark does a compare-and-contrast on Trump, Reagan, and “Mourning in America”.
The Lincoln Project’s “Mourning in America” ad has been the defining spot of the 2020 campaign.
The ad is a play on Ronald Reagan’s classic 1984 reelection ad, “Morning in America.” And it seems to have triggered President Trump. Which was interesting, because his response only served to further underscore how different Trump is from Reagan.
Trump has been remarkably successful at quashing intraparty dissent by bullying and attacking his critics—often until they lose their seats to Democrats.
Reagan—who also faced elite opposition early in his national career—united the GOP in a different way. Longtime aide Lyn Nofziger explained: “The thing you have to understand about Ronald Reagan—which is one reason he’s a good politician for a non-politician—is he’s an includer. He believes you bring people in.”
For example, Reagan’s most formidable opponent in the 1980 nomination contest was George H.W. Bush, who defeated him in the Iowa caucuses. Reagan tapped Bush as his running mate, and after their victory, he named Bush campaign manager James Baker as his chief of staff.
On each of these matters, Trump is the un-Reagan:
- immigration policy
- trade and tariffs
- international cooperation
- American exceptionalism
In his Berlin speech, Reagan famously appealed: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”
Can you imagine Trump saying “Mr. Putin, Lower This Iron Curtain”? Right. Neither can I.
Reagan understood, as Trump does not, the roots of our exceptionalism. In his 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention, he told America’s young people to “love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism.”
By scorning such ideas, Trump has defined himself as the un-Reagan. “Mourning in America” should be a fitting epitaph to his nightmare-zombie version of Republicanism.
John J. Pitney, Jr., professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, is the author of Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump.