Each electoral campaign in the U.S. has its ghosts. Donald Trump loves to compare himself to Ronald Reagan. But the American billionaire, who is declining in the polls, is far from resembling the former B-list actor.
Upon each American presidential election hover shadows of predecessors who marked American history. The candidates themselves like to refer to one of these great figures. During the 2008 election won by Barack Obama, the financial crisis brought the father of the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt, back to life in that spirit, recalls Yannick Mireur, an American history expert. If Bill Clinton’s role model was without contest John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Hillary’s can also be found in JFK, but also in Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, as written by François Clemenceau in his book “Hillary Clinton: A to Z” (Rocher Editions).
For Donald Trump, the comparison is clear: he is, for some, the new Ronald Reagan. Taking after the 40th president of the United States, who was a B-list actor in Hollywood before launching himself into politics, the presumptive 2016 Republican candidate took a turn in entertainment by hosting the reality TV show “The Apprentice” from 2004 to 2015. Donald Trump loves simple, maybe even simplistic, ideas. He thus picked up some slogans from his role model, such as the formula that Ronald Reagan had used in December 1987 while signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. The current international context does lend itself to a parallel; it promotes two former powers that were considered a threat for America in the early 1980s: the former USSR and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like Reagan, who was profoundly anti-communist and whose anti-Soviet statements made a number of allied countries fear the worst, Donald Trump is the candidate that the world has learned to dread.
But the comparisons stop there. A complete contrast to Donald Trump, a politically opportunistic businessman, Ronald Reagan always gave the impression that he believed in what he was saying. Maybe because he was born an actor, who always knew how to charm his audience. Former Democrat turned Republican, he also affirmed himself as a true conservative, capable of uniting not only the Republican Party behind him, but also the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party. His anti-establishment stand-out moments — the infamous phrase “outside the Beltway” to describe the real America, lying outside of the beltway of politicians in Washington — did not prevent him from always being considered a “nice guy,” an honest man, even in the federal capital. Trump also claims to be the anti-establishment candidate. But this New Yorker, the son of a real estate promoter, has not been able to convince anyone that he is not part of it.
There is another big difference: Reagan wasn’t a billionaire who had the luxury of entering politics. Unlike Donald Trump, he developed, as governor of California for eight years (1967-1975), real political management experience. “He surprised liberal Democrats and alienated himself from the extreme right of the Republican Party by showing a propensity for compromise,” noted one of his biographers, Lou Cannon.
Which is far from the Trump of 2016. Just over four months before the Nov. 8 election, which will elect the 45th president of the United States, he still has not convinced all the factions of his party to support him. Certainly, he won the support of the most populist Republican rank and file, but the party’s leaders remain reticent. Trump’s wisecracks: “I was right to want to ban Muslims from entering the United States,”* after the massacre of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando in June, went very badly. Just before the Cleveland convention, Trump’s political amateurism, which succeeded in beating 16 rivals during the primaries, is starting to become a heavy load and is stumbling in the polls. He had to separate himself from his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to “presidentialize” his style a bit more, upon request of family members. Facing a worried America, his big speeches praising Brexit from Scotland, where he inaugurated a golf course this weekend, also went poorly.
In his book “Crippled America,” Donald Trump confirms it: “I know I’m a great builder.” For him, there is no doubt that he has already “demonstrated his talent in business,”** implying that America should be run by a CEO. While this speech could have been believable from Ross Perot, Independent candidate in 1992 and 1996 and founder of EDS, it is not very credible coming from Donald Trump. Since 1991, he has bankrupted four businesses tied to his activities, in order to, he claims, take advantage of Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Certainly, Ronald Reagan’s balance sheet (president from 1981 to 1989) was not as clean as people like to paint it: his military expenses went off the ledge. His presidency was marked by a scandal, the Iran-Contra affair. But he gave America back its confidence with a unified party and made history as the “liberator” from communism. We’re very far from that with Donald Trump.
*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified, though Trump has made a number of similar statements.
**Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.