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Opinion Morning Plum: GOP presidential candidates are well to the right of their hero Ronald Reagan

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Later this week, the GOP presidential candidates will stride on to the debate stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California and all proclaim undying fealty to the former president and conservative demi-god, while each claiming that only he is the true keeper of the Reagan legacy.

But how does Ronald Reagan himself compare to those who hope to occupy the White House in the shadow of his greatness?

Today the Center for American Progress Action Fund will release a new report that makes a detailed case that the GOP presidential candidates are all well to the right of Reagan, and actually represent a break from core aspects of his approach to the presidency. The report may be one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to spell out this argument in an issue-by-issue fashion. Among the report’s assertions:

1) Ronald Reagan repeatedly raised taxes, including on the rich, and closed loopholes that benefited the wealthy. While it’s true that Reagan’s tax cuts were a lot larger than his tax hikes, the fact that he did repeatedly raise them does contrast with what we know of the plans from today’s GOP candidates, some of whom have already signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. And while it’s true that the tax plans offered by Bush and Marco Rubio include some middle class tax relief, they also give the wealthy a big tax cut, and it’s hard to imagine any of the GOP candidates calling for any tax hikes, even on the highest earners (with the astonishing exception of Donald Trump).

2) Reagan signed immigration reform that included a path to legalization for nearly three million undocumented immigrants. The report digs up a quote in which Reagan appeared to express support for “amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” By contrast, of today’s GOP candidates, only Jeb Bush appears to be genuinely open to a path to legal status that would not require some sort of undefined state of absolute border security to be attained first.

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3) The report argues that Reagan actually grew government, noting that spending went up on his watch — including deficit spending. (The report also argues that contrary to common wisdom, non-defense spending also went up substantially.) It also notes that many of the GOP presidential candidates have come out for a balanced budget amendment, which would probably require deep and destructive cuts to government.

4) Ronald Reagan advocated for the Brady law, which established a federal gun background check system. It’s hard to imagine today’s GOP presidential candidates backing the creation of a reform such as Brady; indeed, virtually all Republicans in the Senate opposed the bill to close the background check system’s loopholes. Jeb Bush has said he doesn’t envision any federal role in gun laws (though his campaign subsequently clarified that he doesn’t support any new federal laws). It might be worth asking the candidates whether they support repealing the current background check system that Reagan advocated for.

The report concludes:

Reagan was able to mix pragmatism with conservatism. And at critical moments on critical issues, Reagan took positions that are anathema to the leaders of today’s Republican Party — advancing sensible immigration reform, supporting pollution control, curbing nuclear arms, closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, and advocating gun background checks….a closer look at President Reagan’s record and the positions of the current crop of GOP candidates reveals…how far to the right of Reagan they and the Republican party have moved.

The Hillary Clinton campaign has been relying on the Center for American Progress’ blueprints as a guide to its own proposals and pronouncements, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we hear the above argument about Republicans and Reagan a lot more in coming days.

* TRUMP-MENTUM CONTINUES TO RAGE: A new Post/ABC News poll finds that Donald Trump has 33 percent among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents nationally — up nine points since July. Ben Carson has 20 percent, and all the rest are in single digits. Noteworthy:

He does well with most groups of GOP voters, but his strongest support comes from those who do not have a college degree and those with incomes below $50,000.

This again confirms that Trump is building a foundation of support among blue collar white Republicans, which in turn suggests that his support could prove more durable than GOP elites might have hoped.


Given what you’ve heard or read about them, would you say you support or oppose Trump’s proposals on immigration?

Republicans support them by 56-3339 percent strongly. By contrast, Americans oppose Trump’s proposals (which include deporting the 11 million and building a wall on the Mexican border) by 57-34. Gosh, the source of Trump’s appeal to Republicans is such a mystery!!!

 * AMERICANS DISAPPROVE OF HILLARY’S EMAILS: The Post/ABC poll also finds that Hillary Clinton still leads Bernie Sanders among Dems nationally, 42-24, though her support has dropped sharply. Joe Biden gets 21 percent. Note this:

A majority of Americans (55 percent) say they disapprove of the way Clinton has handled questions about her use of a private e-mail account while serving as secretary of state. An almost identical percentage (54 percent) say that she has tried to cover up facts. Asked whether Clinton stayed within government guidelines or broke the rules by using a private server, 51 percent say she broke the rules, while 32 percent say she did not, with the remainder offering no opinion.

And yet, a plurality of Americans say the email issue is not a legitimate one in the presidential election, 49-44.

* BIDEN’S EXPLORATIONS TAKE SERIOUS TURN: Bloomberg reports that Joe Biden “has been quietly meeting and talking by phone with donors around the country” about a possible run, and has now met with at least one donor who is publicly committed to Hillary Clinton. And:

In light of the trajectory of the polling numbers nationally and in the early states — bad and worsening daily for Clinton, respectable and improving for Biden — the V.P. and his team have come to believe that there is scant doubt an electoral opening exists for a Biden candidacy. And their collective sense of confidence that, in purely practical terms, an effective national campaign apparatus can be built is nearly total.

Sure, Clinton’s numbers are dropping, and Biden’s are improving. But that might be partly because…she is a candidate for president, and he isn’t.

* REPUBLICANS BRACE FOR GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN FIGHT: With conservatives vowing not to support any government funding bill that does not also defund Planned Parenthood, Carl Hulse reports that GOP leaders will hold a vote just to defund the group (which will get blocked in the Senate), in hopes of clearing the way for a vote to keep the government funded later:

The flurry of action on abortion restrictions is intended to give Republicans a platform to register their outrage over Planned Parenthood….Republican leaders are hoping that the separate votes defuse the situation and clear the way for a spending measure that keeps the government open through the end of 2015.

Yeah, that’ll be enough to win over conservatives. Or, you know, GOP leaders can just do what they’ve done in other, similar jams, and fund the government with the help of Democrats.

* McCONNELL SCHEMES TO AVOID SHUTDOWN: Meanwhile, Politico reports that Mitch McConnell is planning to hold votes on defunding Planned Parenthood and on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Here’s why:

McConnell is acutely aware of the tide of conservative anger outside the Beltway, his associates say. They estimate the Senate will have to take at least one more vote on defunding Planned Parenthood to prove it can’t be done, and McConnell is prioritizing the 20-week abortion measure, which polls well and has strong GOP support.

Proving it “can’t be done” should be just the thing to get Ted Cruz, who is trying to win over GOP primary voters, to meekly accept that the government will be funded without any defunding of Planned Parenthood.

* AND WALKER HAS NEW PLAN TO RESCUE FLAILING CAMPAIGN: The Wall Street Journal reports that Scott Walker today will roll out a new plan to — prepare to be shocked — further weaken labor unions nationwide:

The Republican presidential candidate’s proposal, which he plans to announce at an afternoon speech in Las Vegas, would eliminate the National Labor Relations Board, prohibit federal employee unions, institute right-to-work laws nationwide and repeal the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires the payment of local prevailing wages to workers on federal construction projects, often boosting pay and project costs.

Because strutting around boasting about how he crushed public employee unions in Wisconsin has worked so well thus far.