“Reagan Alumni for Trump” Remind America That GOP Didn’t Start Making Things Up in 2016

The GOP gave up on reality long ago, starting with Ronald Reagan, so it makes sense that Reagan's old staffers would feel right at home with Donald Trump.

Former Gov. Ronald Reagan, seeking the Republican nominations for president, takes time out for a lunch break during conference with some of his top aides in Los Angeles, July 9, 1980. The governor and his wife Nancy leave Los Angeles for Detroit and the Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Randy Rasmussen)
Photo: AP/Randy Rasmussen

Donald Trump yesterday announced the “Reagan Alumni Advisory Council for Trump-Pence,” made up of 240 former Reagan advisers who support Trump for president.

The first quote in Trump’s press release, from Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese, begins like this: “Many of us remember 1980, a time when, as today, America suffered from high unemployment and even higher interest rates.”

In fact, the unemployment rate in October 1980 was 7.5 percent. The unemployment rate today is 5.0 percent.

Interest rates in 1980 were 15.3 percent. Today they are 3.3 percent.

The current unemployment rate is so low that conservatives are loudly demanding that the Federal Reserve raise interest rates to force unemployment higher. Current interest rates are the lowest they’ve been in at least 55 years.

Meese provides a useful public service by reminding Americans that Trump’s bizarrely obsessive fantasizing isn’t an aberration for top Republicans. The GOP gave up on this universe long ago, starting with Ronald Reagan, so it makes sense that Reagan’s old staffers would feel right at home with Trump.

You could spend your entire life cataloguing Reagan’s peculiar beliefs about the world, but here are just a few:

In 1983, during a ceremony for winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reagan told a story about a World War II pilot who chose to stay with a trapped underling on a crashing B-17 rather than jumping to safety. This didn’t happen in real life, but it did happen in “Wing and a Prayer,” one of Reagan’s favorite movies.

In 1984, while meeting with the prime minister of Israel, Reagan told him that he had been part of a U.S. military unit that had filmed concentration camps at the end of World War II. Moreover, Reagan said, he had saved a personal copy of the footage to show to anyone who might claim the Holocaust never happened. During the war Reagan lived in Hollywood and never left the U.S.

In 1985, he claimed that apartheid South Africa had “eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country.”

In 1986, after the U.S. had traded weapons to Iran in return for the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon, Reagan said, “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.”

For Meese’s part, he enthusiastically followed the lead of his boss. Just before Christmas in 1983, he told the National Press Club that Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” suffered from “bad press in his time. If you really look at the facts, he didn’t exploit Bob Cratchit. … Bob, in fact, had good cause to be happy with his situation. … Let’s be fair to Scrooge.”

All of these examples are from the truly essential 1989 book “The Clothes Have No Emperor” by comedy writer Paul Slansky. It’s the best resource there is if you want to know more — much, much, much more — about the era when the Republican Party finally slipped the surly bonds of reality.

Top photo: Ronald Reagan takes time out for a lunch break during conference with some of his top aides in Los Angeles, July 9, 1980.

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