The Donald and The Gipper

Good morning, it’s Tuesday, July 9, 2019. Tonight in Cleveland, Major League Baseball showcases its luminaries in its annual All-Star Game. Last year’s festivities were held in the nation’s capital, where Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion. His feat enticed Nats fans into hoping that Bryce would stay in the town named after our first president — and that the All-Star Game itself would be equally sublime.

It wasn’t to be. Instead, the ensuing game was a home run orgy more akin to slow-pitch softball in a beer league; and Bryce signed a huge contract in the off-season with a division rival. In the town named after George Washington, Harper drew comparisons to Benedict Arnold.

But I’m not writing about baseball this morning. I’m writing about the 40th U.S. president and the 45th — and a curious comparison the latter made to the former

On Monday, President Trump retweeted a two-year-old Internet meme purporting to be from a conservative Twitter account called “The Reagan Battalion.” The tweet included a photograph of 41-year-old Donald Trump shaking hands with Ronald Reagan, then in his second term as president. Accompanying the photo is this quotation, attributed to Reagan:

“For the life of me, and I’ll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with a president.”

The photo is real. It was taken in a White House receiving line on Nov. 3,1987. The words are not. It’s a quite preposterous claim, actually, and easily debunked. How so? Let me count the ways.

First, the item Trump retweeted doesn’t really come from The Reagan Battalion, a respectable conservative account, but from an imposter whose Twitter access was suspended this week. Second, despite the folksy prose, it doesn’t sound like anything Reagan would say. Third, in the 1980s, Trump was publicly discussing raising money for Democrats; and he’d maxed out as a contributor to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Fourth, there’s no record of Reagan uttering these words, no source cited, in the bogus tweet — and officials at the Reagan Library have confirmed that the words aren’t the former president’s. In other words, no.

Trump was getting some attention that year, however. Ahead of the 1988 presidential race, a New Hampshire political activist was trying to start a “draft Trump” movement, and getting some media buzz. Newsweek magazine, in particular, was shilling for the guy. It put Trump on its cover in September, published a piece by one of its staff writers ruminating about how a future President Trump might commute between his Atlantic City casino and Mar-a-Lago, and printed letters-to-the editor about the possibility.

None of this would have impressed anyone in the Reagan White House, however, least of all the Gipper. That same autumn, Trump had taken out full-page ads in the Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post ripping the Reagan administration’s foreign policy. Some of the views and phrases in those ads would prove predictive of his 2016 campaign — and his presidency.

“To the American people,” Trump declared in his open letter. “There’s nothing wrong with America’s Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can’t cure.”

“We’re being ripped off and decimated by many foreign nations who are supposedly our allies,” Trump added. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.”

A staunch supporter of NATO, President Reagan never responded to this critique. But he expounded a more internationalist worldview his entire adult life. He did so on this very date in 1984. Noting that Congress had asked the president to designate July 9, 1984 as African Refugees Relief Day, Reagan issued a presidential proclamation doing just that.

“The United States and the American people have a long and proud tradition of helping those who are in need. In Africa, the needs of refugees cry out for continued attention,” it began. “So, too, do the needs of the host countries who, despite their own limited resources, have accepted the refugees in the best tradition of humanitarian concern. Their generosity has led them to make great sacrifices.

“We in the United States are mindful of the burdens that are borne by the refugees and their host countries. We are dedicated to the cause of meeting their needs now and in the future,” Reagan added. “As we reflect on the situation of refugees and their host countries, I hope Americans will be generous in their support of voluntary agencies that provide relief and development assistance to Africa. Further, I wish special consideration be given to the extraordinary hardships borne by women refugees, their children, and other vulnerable groups. The innocent victims of civil strife and war deserve our special concern.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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