Ronald Reagan, a legend and standard-bearer for his beloved Republican Party, was recognized for many things, but almost above all for his genial, beaming good nature. He was so well-known for his affability that it garnered headlines when he, in response to a debate attack by then-President Jimmy Carter, Reagan replied, almost in the gentle tones of a grandpa, “There you go again…” That, for Ronald Reagan, was cutting loose.
So what would he have made of a candidate who belligerently insults his opponents, makes graphic off-color remarks about a debate moderator, and attacks the wife of a rival as ugly? Moreover, what would he say about such a candidate dragging the GOP through that muck?
As the embarrassing sideshow groaned on, Ronald Reagan’s devoted wife of fifty-two years, Nancy Reagan, passed away on March 6. To many conservatives her death – sobering in itself – seemed almost symbolic, as if the decency and civility for which the Republican Party is known had also met its end. But as sad as her passing was, it seems to have galvanized many Reagan admirers to speak out about the current race.
For civility was prized by Nancy Reagan, according to California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. In an interview on MSNBC’s “The Place for Politics 2016” with Chris Jansing, he credited Mrs. Reagan with returning “dignity and a sense of propriety...to the White House.” He went on to say she “would have been horrified by some of the nasty things that are being said” by Donald Trump.
“Every time there’s a debate,” said Rohrabacher,”he’s insulting his opponents….Reagan would never have dreamed of that. [Mrs. Reagan] would be appalled at the lack of civility by Mr. Trump... Nancy, more than anything else, was someone who demanded a sense of propriety.”
Writing in Politico Magazine, former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer remarked ,”Now the most devoted keeper of the Reagan flame has been lost to us at the same time the party she and her husband did so much to shape finds itself again under siege—and confronting... a tone they would never embrace.”
“…[I]f you’re a Reagan Republican,” he later declared to OpportunityLives.com, “you don’t tweet out what Trump did about Megyn Kelly being a ‘bimbo.’ The things he’s said about Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, everyone – that wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s style. Ronald Reagan found the good in people.”
Longtime Reagan advisor Edwin Meese seems equally disturbed at the decline in decency, opining in National Review Online, “There are two tactical approaches for candidates seeking their party’s nomination in election campaigns. One is to strongly debate the issues and firmly advocate your positions, but to avoid personal attacks on your opponents or needless divisiveness. The other is to vigorously attack your fellow candidates, disparaging them personally and seeking to raise yourself up by dragging them down. Ronald Reagan was famous for epitomizing the former path. Donald Trump, unfortunately, has chosen to follow the latter course.”
Newsmax concurs, writing on March 7, “Ronald Reagan's famous political advice appears lost among the White House candidates who embrace him as a guiding light. It's known as the 11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican. The former first lady's death Sunday closed the Reagan era at a time when crude insults and incivility have shaped the party's 2016 presidential primary.”
David Boaz, also in National Review Online, puts it more simply. “I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.”
According to William Kristol, Leo Strauss once wrote in a letter to National Review, that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar.” Opines Kristol, “Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?”
Perhaps most tellingly, Michael Medved states in National Review Online, “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right. According to conventional caricature, conservatives are selfish, greedy, materialistic, bullying, misogynistic, angry, and intolerant...Trump is the living, breathing, bellowing personification of all the nasty characteristics Democrats routinely ascribe to Republicans.”
To be fair, most of these and other critics also denounce Trump for his decidedly less-than-conservative track record. But his lack of civility poses a threat not only to the respectability of the primary process but the perceived nobility of the party, as well as the nation itself.