Would Ronald Reagan be “too liberal” for GOP today?

Despite the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor through an unusual set of circumstances, California Republicans have been relegated to the sidelines for decades. (The party believes its fortunes will change in November’s mid-terms.)

The state is blue, but its GOP nominees are deep red. In the current climate, Republican businesswomen Meg Whitman, running for governor, and Carly Fiorina, running for the US Senate, are scrambling into far right field to win the party’s nomination.

Lou Cannon, journalist and Reagan biographer, says the beloved GOP icon would have a hard time winning the GOP nomination because the California Republicans have moved so far to the right. From the LA Times:

“Reagan would be hard pressed to get nominated today,” says biographer Lou Cannon, who has written several books about his governorship and presidency. “Today he would not be in the conservative mainstream. He just simply would not be.

“Reagan was practical. He had principles, but he wanted to succeed in office. That’s what is missing today in government. A lot of these birds, they don’t seem to care that much about whether the state does well.”

California’s budget is a huge mess and fixing it will require a combination of budget cuts and tax increases. But the GOP candidates insist that trimming waste, fraud and abuse will solve the problem.

You’d think there would be at least one Republican pragmatist running for governor — a pragmatic conservative.

Some wannabe governor willing to spend big for a worthy cause, raise taxes if needed, protect the environment from exploiters chanting “economic growth,” be tolerant on social issues, even support amnesty for hard-working illegal immigrants.

Too bad such a gubernatorial candidate probably couldn’t be nominated by GOP voters in California.

But wait! One such candidate was: Ronald Reagan. Nominated and elected governor and president. The classic conservative icon.

True, Reagan ran for office as a conservative. “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem,” he insisted.

But once in office, he usually governed as a moderate, a pragmatist. And he was easily reelected.

Today, Reagan would be branded “just another liberal politician” by the likes of Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.

Remember?

As governor, Reagan was the biggest California spender of the last half century. Under him, state spending leaped 177%. And as president, he spent like the proverbial drunken sailor to expand the Navy and the nuclear missile arsenal while winning the Cold War. He left Washington with a then-record national debt.

His first year as governor, Reagan raised taxes equal to 30% of the state general fund, still a modern record. And as president, he increased taxes several times, although conservatives pretend to remember only the one big tax cut.

As governor, Reagan protected the spectacular John Muir Trail in the Sierra from highway builders and Central Valley business interests. He blocked dam building on the Eel and Feather rivers. He and Republican Gov. Paul Laxalt of Nevada set aside their aversion to centralized, intrusive government and created a bi-state agency to control growth at Lake Tahoe.

Reagan signed legislation creating the California Air Resources Board, leading to the nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards.

Now Republicans Whitman and Poizner advocate postponing implementation of a law to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, Reagan would be tagged by his party as an environmental extremist.

The list goes on.

As governor, Reagan signed the nation’s then most liberal abortion rights bill. (He later called it a mistake.) He opposed a ballot initiative that would have permitted the firing of teachers for being gay.

President Reagan signed a bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Poizner runs attack ads accusing Whitman of supporting amnesty. Whitman counters with ads vehemently denying it.

“When Ronald Reagan was elected president [in 1980] he was the foul pole in right field. Today he’d be in center field,” says former Republican legislative leader Jim Brulte, now a consultant and chairman of Poizner’s gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, an initiative on the ballot today would vastly cut back the influence of both major parties in California, and good-government types are campaigning for it. But partisans on both sides are fighting it, so it probably won’t pass.

Democrats and Republicans have joined forces to try to get voters to reject Proposition 14, a measure that would replace the current partisan primary system with one in which all candidates run regardless of party affiliation and then the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election. Democratic Party leaders are warning their members that if the measure passes, they might have to choose between two Republicans; GOP leaders are offering similar warnings about the peril of having to pick between two Democrats. What they leave out is that under the top two primary, candidates would have to appeal from the beginning to a broad swath of the electorate instead of just their parties’ hardliners. It’s a route to more pragmatic officeholders and elections controlled more by voters than by political parties — which is why the Democratic and Republican parties both oppose it so adamantly, and why it would be a positive move for California.

438 comments Add your comment

Kamchak

June 8th, 2010
7:41 am

…a measure that would replace the current partisan primary system with one in which all candidates run regardless of party affiliation and then the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election.

Interesting proposition.

Hmmm….

resno2

June 8th, 2010
7:56 am

“…Democratic and Republican parties both oppose it so adamantly, and why it would be a positive move for California.”

It would be a positive move for the US in general, but that would require inserting common sense into Washington, and we all know when that will happen.

Tommy Maddox

June 8th, 2010
8:01 am

The prevailing problem we have today is that Obama is too liberal for the GOP.

I'm here from the government and I'm here to help

June 8th, 2010
8:06 am

Money = Power

You tube search, The Obama Deception HQ Full length version

resno2

June 8th, 2010
8:11 am

Tommy, the prevailing problem we have today is that obama is President.

T-Town

June 8th, 2010
8:22 am

“…Democratic and Republican parties both oppose it so adamantly, and why it would be a positive move for California.”

One would have to first check with the lobbyists to see if it’s ok with them. Remember, they now chose who we elect.

Preston

June 8th, 2010
8:27 am

So the ultra liberal AJC quoting the ultra liberal LA Times and anyone with a brain is suppose to take it serious? Too funny.

Jon but not Jon Voight

June 8th, 2010
8:27 am

The right wing is full of nuts.

Bill

June 8th, 2010
8:27 am

The prevailing problem today is that the fact of Obama’s presidency drives most republican’s into a frenzy. It seems they would be willing to destroy anything and everything to make sure he has no successes.

As the article points out, Reagan today would be considered liberal (that is extreme liberal in republican hyperbole). Ford, Nixon, and especially Eisenhower were to the left of Reagan. If this country moves any farther to the right, I am afraid it will tip over.

Koz

June 8th, 2010
8:30 am

…a measure that would replace the current partisan primary system with one in which all candidates run regardless of party affiliation and then the top two vote-getters face each other in the general election.

In states like California this basically makes it impossible for a conservative to win. It’s almost impossible now anyway. There are so many Libs there, most likely the top 2 vote getters would be liberals.

jw

June 8th, 2010
8:34 am

“Tommy, the prevailing problem we have today is that obama is President”

Yeah, we need something more like his predecesor that got us into the huge crap hole we’re in.

Jose

June 8th, 2010
8:37 am

Reagan being considered to be left compared to today’s Repubs can be debated all day. The truth is he would be a leader that would have dragged us out of this mess we are in thanks to far left policies just like he did with the Carter debacle. By the way Tuck, how about your thoughts on your girl Helen, “I never met a Jew I liked” Thomas? You write about Reagan and you ignore this story that shows us once again why mainstream journalist are not taken seriously anymore.

Jose

June 8th, 2010
8:38 am

Hey jon, and the left is full of libtards. What’s your point son?

ctucker

June 8th, 2010
8:38 am

Jose, Helen Thomas isn’t the subject of my post.

joan

June 8th, 2010
8:38 am

Reagan was not in office at a time when our country was so very deeply in an economic tsunami. It will take extreme fiscal discipline and responsibility if we are to ever pull out of this one. It simply can’t be business as usual. Tight financial controls have to be exercised. Budgets have to be cut, pensions have to be cut, government workers will have to have retirement ages raised and benefits trimmed. It will be tough, and there will be blood letting, but it will take someone with a firm hand to pull us up from the brink of fiscal disaster (where we are now). So yes, we do need a businessperson. If you want to call someone with a head for business extreme conservative, then keep on name calling.

ctucker

June 8th, 2010
8:39 am

Preston, The LA Times article quoted Reagan’s widely respected biographer, Lou Cannon.

Morrus

June 8th, 2010
8:40 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

AWJ

June 8th, 2010
8:42 am

Cali has been liberal for a long time and look where they are. They are a bad check or two away from bankruptcy. What if Reagan moved more towards the middle vs. his true stance in order to get elected. I don’t think that any conservative would have any problem with Ronny.

jw

June 8th, 2010
8:43 am

“As the article points out, Reagan today would be considered liberal (that is extreme liberal in republican hyperbole). Ford, Nixon, and especially Eisenhower were to the left of Reagan. If this country moves any farther to the right, I am afraid it will tip over.”

Bingo, Bill! To today’s right wing loons, centrists, democratic or republican, are hyperbolised as far left commies or worst. That’s why I can never support any tea party agenda. They think the answer is to move the country further right. Been there, done that. Wasn’t too pretty.

Jose

June 8th, 2010
8:45 am

Tuck, I know she is not the subject of your post. My questions was what are your thoughts and do you agree with her comments? I know that means you would have to possibly speak against one of the liberal icons but hey, you are a journalist right?

Bring It Back

June 8th, 2010
8:47 am

It’s so easy to see which side your bread is buttered on.

Jose

June 8th, 2010
8:47 am

JW, you most likely do not understand what the Tea Pary movement is about and really should study it before you make comments that you can not support. Just a thought.

Dan

June 8th, 2010
8:51 am

actually the current party is far left of reagan, 99% of Bush’s mistakes were in moving left. In response the country somehow elects one of the most junior and by most accounts the furthest left (based on senate votes) senator. Anyone claiming the GOP is to far right is not paying attention

jw

June 8th, 2010
8:51 am

So, Jose, as editor and chief of the AJC, you are now telling Cynthia what to opine about? Maybe in your next life. Helen Thomas gets my respect as an original straight talker, not fawner, to power.

Kamchak

June 8th, 2010
8:52 am

One would have to first check with the lobbyists to see if it’s ok with them.

Yep—and in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling in the Citizens United case, candidates will be chosen courtesy of corporate America. And before you play the union card, Goldman Sachs pays it’s top employees more annually than the total assets of all unions combined.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR

June 8th, 2010
8:52 am

Preston, The LA Times article quoted Reagan’s widely respected biographer, Lou Cannon.

At the end of the day it is still only ones opinion. Give us REAGAN.

Wprm

June 8th, 2010
8:52 am

Reagan switched parties..he used to be a democrat and I believe he was when Gov. of california..as usual, you just shoot from the hip without much research!

Evelyce

June 8th, 2010
8:53 am

Admired Reagan then, still admire him now. Today, politicians with character, principles, and the ability to do the right thing at the right time, regardless of political affiliation, are nowhere to be found. Obama has failed from day one. Looking forward to 1-20-2013, Obama’s last day in office. Sadly, at this time, I don’t see anyone of Reagan’s caliber to replace him. Hopefully, the right person will come along soon.

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
8:53 am

Reagan would fit right in with the Republican mainstream. Where he wouldn’t fit is with the extreme right end of the political spectrum- the ones making noise and trying to gain influence in the GOP- the ones the mainstream press would love to represent the GOP because it makes for interesting press- the ones who will be kicked to the curb by the vast majority of center right Americans as soon as the primary season hits full tilt.

Kamchak

June 8th, 2010
8:55 am

Helen Thomas—SQUIRREL!

jw

June 8th, 2010
8:55 am

Jose, now you’re telling me what comments I can and can not support. You certainly are a buzy body today. I’ve seen enough of the tea party to know I want no part of it. But on a positive note, the republicans, who are trying desperately to control and claim the movement, will probably be less electable.

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
8:55 am

@ SAMMY DAVIS, JR

“Give us REAGAN”

Jr. isn’t running. and Sr. is dead. While I know of no constitutional ban on electing a corpse or the undead, he did fufill 2 terms as President and is no longer eligable.

Jose

June 8th, 2010
8:56 am

JW, it is that sort of thinking and “opinion” as to why your party is in deep doo-doo this election and the next. You are out of touch with the majority and you were one the buffoons who helped elect a community organizer to run the free world. We see how this is working out so far.

T-Steel

June 8th, 2010
8:58 am

I’m going to say it until my dying day, until we American citizens take control of the vote by boycotting the vote, we are going to keep electing nonsense. Politicians from both parties have lost all my confidence. And as T-Town said, the lobbyists chose who we elect. The power we have is to leave those voting booths empty. But people find that a hard pill to swallow. I understand that fully. But our right to vote includes the right to NOT vote.

That would be a statement heard around the world. Americans boycott the polls and leave the system in limbo. NOW you’ll get their attention.

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
8:59 am

The Republicans have moved to far left fiscally and the Tea Parties have moved to far right (or out) socially. Reagan (along with Buckley and other GOP greats) kicked the John Birchers to the curb and treated the religious right as a constituency, not the heart and soul of the party.

We need a choice besides which flavor of big government we want. Right now it seems we have a choice of the party who wants to dictate our behavior through our spending vs. the party who wants to dictate our behavior through morality legislation. Where is the party that provides for the common defense, general welfare and lets us run our own lives like adults? (Thats classic conservatism and the Dems and GOP were both closer to it at one time).

THINK

June 8th, 2010
9:00 am

The ONLY answer is a true FISCAL conservative with moderate social views. That is who Reagan and Arnold are/were. The current Conservative Republicans aren’t the solution. They are soo far to the right that they are close lapping the field. They are almost standing to the left of Obama.

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
9:01 am

T-Steel

The problem with boycotting the vote is that you give up your constitutional power to select your representatives. Get involved earlier and on a local basis and you will find you have a surprising amount of power to elect the representatives you would like to see in office.

Voter apathy would do more damage to our Republic by enabling ambitious goofballs to represent us.

Helen Thomas

June 8th, 2010
9:01 am

I’m glad I’m accepted by the left…Whew!

jt

June 8th, 2010
9:01 am

President Reagan’s greatness is proven everytime the morally-bankrupt left dredges his memory up to make some type of point.

His words still resonate. Government IS the problem.

RIP Ronnie. Descent people everywhere miss you.

jw

June 8th, 2010
9:02 am

Jose, I personally am glad a hard-working, intelligent Obama is our President as opposed to the
alternative, McCain and Palin. Very glad indeed. Republicans have controlled the WH for 2 of the last three decades. Where did you think all of the accumulated national debt came from, Clinton?

Gator Joe

June 8th, 2010
9:02 am

Enter your comments here

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
9:03 am

Note: While some Tea Partiers are loony (just like Code Pinkers, etc.) a large portion of them are fiscal conservatives looking for a home and a voice. I think the Dems would be short sighted to consider the whole group and their sentiments merely an extremist group.

scrappy

June 8th, 2010
9:04 am

jw….the last 3 decades? GOP controlled WH when Clinton was in office?

Jose

June 8th, 2010
9:04 am

The Tea Party stands for controls on our taxes and fiscal responsiblitly. They do NOT go around speaking of social issues and yes, they do stand on the conservative side of those issues. However, I know a few that are moderate and a few that are farther right. The Tea Party was started solely for the purpose of fiscal issues. Think, you may have a good point of what we need.

WAR

June 8th, 2010
9:05 am

Jose
Reagan was an actor and he got elected.

Joe

June 8th, 2010
9:05 am

The issue is not Rep/Dem it is maturity and leadership which the country is now 10 years wanting. We now have Dean and Carville complaining about the President’s lack of leadership skills- that is hard to do-

John K

June 8th, 2010
9:05 am

I always find it funny to see the derisive Obama the Messiah comments from the right, while in the next breath they want Reagan to rise from the grave to save mankind.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR

June 8th, 2010
9:06 am

@ YOU ASKED: Jr. isn’t running. and Sr. is dead. While I know of no constitutional ban on electing a corpse or the undead, he did fufill 2 terms as President and is no longer eligable.

OK, I was wrong. You liberals are smarter than first believed.

jw

June 8th, 2010
9:06 am

Having a little trouble understanding English, Scrappy?

You Asked

June 8th, 2010
9:06 am

@jw – “Where did you think all of the accumulated national debt came from”

A Democratic congress under Pelosi and Reed that couldn’t spend fast enough and a weakly conservative President Bush who capitulated to their wishes because he was trying so hard to be bipartisan on the budget.

In short there were no adults willing to make the hard choices as long as people were flipping houses and mortgages to make paper money and generate taxes.