The Republican presidential candidates are making their quadrennial journey to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for Wednesday’s debate, where they will try and claim the mantle of one of the party’s most revered figures. But this large group of candidates faces much different challenges than burdened the Gipper when he was in office.
Reagan remains how many conservatives view a successful presidency, as he largely accomplished his two main goals, defeating communism abroad and shrinking the role of government at home. But that has left his party with a quandary that it has struggled with since: What does conservatism look like in a world where the Soviet Union does not exist and the highest income tax rate has dropped from 70 percent when Reagan entered office to 39 percent today?
The two Republican presidents who succeeded Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, tried and failed to create a vision of conservatism that unified Republicans. So Republican presidential candidates in 2008, 2012 and now in the 2016 cycle have invoked Reagan as a model for their presidencies, even though the world they seek to lead is one the Gipper may never have imagined.
“Peace Through Strength?”
On foreign policy, nearly all of the GOP candidates invoke a form of Reagan’s view that the U.S. can achieve “peace through strength.” That framing by Reagan was largely about combating the Soviet Union. It does offer some guidance on how Reagan may have dealt with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursions into Ukraine. (He likely would have condemned Vladimir Putin in much stronger terms than President Obama did) and how Reagan might have dealt with Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons (He would likely have been more supportive of military action in Iran than Obama, or at least used rhetoric that suggested he was.)
But many of the questions of modern foreign policy are about how the U.S. should deal with groups that are not traditional powers, but non-state actors like ISIS. Some of the core questions are not about whether the U.S. should deploy troops and use its military strength, but how it should handle crises like the refugees fleeing Syria. And while Republicans regularly suggest they would deploy troops to a number of countries in the Middle East, the reality is that there is limited desire for such military action from voters in either party, still scarred from memories of the …Read More