What President Trump Could Learn From President Reagan

President Donald Trump is considered a bad electoral joke by almost all of the Washington press corps and liberal establishment. And he continues to provide lots of evidence with angry TV appearances and tweets.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected President, liberals also considered him a bad electoral joke, a B-rated movie actor who had no clue how to run the country or deal with foreign adversaries.

Reagan had been elected President in 1980 with 50.7 percent of the popular vote but that win came against President Jimmy Carter, who had seemed to wreck the economy (home mortgage interest rates had risen to 18 percent) and he was seen as weak against foreign adversaries (52 American diplomats and citizens held hostage in Iran).

After the 1980 Reagan win, liberals couldn’t wait to see the B-list movie actor voted out of office in 1984.

In the 1984 election, President Reagan won 58.8 percent of the popular vote. His opponent, Senator Walter Mondale, won his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

What Ronald Reagan brought to the White House, despite all the liberal detractors in the press corps, were feelings of calm, confidence, and optimism. And a sense of humor.

Here, from the magazine Public Opinion in 1987, is columnist Mark Shields on Reagan:

At the use of humor to deflect criticism of his presidential performance, John Kennedy was good but Ronald Reagan has been better. It could be because Reagan—having received more criticism—has had a lot more practice. Typical of Ronald Reagan’s self-tweaking on the potentially sensitive subject of his own age was the president’s 1983 line at the Washington Press Club. After mentioning that the club had been founded in 1919, Mr. Reagan added, “It seems like only yesterday.” But truly effective self-deprecatory humor by a politician doesn’t come any better than President Reagan at the 1987 Gridiron dinner.

That was a time when confidence in the president’s job performance had plummeted, when doubt was spreading about whether 76-year-old Ronald Reagan was up to the job, and when the First Lady’s hostility to the White House chief of staff was an open secret.

Here’s how Ronald Reagan dealt with his political problems that night:

“With the Iran thing occupying everyone’s attention, I was thinking. Do you remember that flap when I said, ‘We begin bombing in five minutes?’ Remember when I fell asleep during the audience with the Pope?…Boy, those were the good old days.

“Nineteen eighty six was the year of hostile takeover attempts, inside maneuvering, high-stakes intrigue—and that was just at the White House.

“Nancy and Don [Regan] at one point tried to patch things up. They met privately over lunch. Just the two of them and their food tasters.

“It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figured why take the chance.”

In the midst of personal adversity, Reagan showed a robust sense of self-confidence that confounded his political enemies.

In a C-SPAN rating by presidential historians, the top rated presidents are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Barack Obama. Bill Clinton is 15th, George H.W. Bush 20th, Jimmy Carter 26th, and George W. Bush 33rd. In last place, ranked 43rd, is James Buchanan.

History lesson: My first exposure to Ronald Reagan was in 1966 while editing a group of papers in San Jose, California. Our political reporter wasn’t shy about his liberal tendencies and the then-governor of California was Edmund “Pat” Brown, a Democrat too moderate for our political reporter. He said he hoped Brown would lose in November to his Republican opponent, a movie actor. “That guy will be such as disaster that next time we’ll be able to elect a real liberal.”

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