Ever since Ronald Reagan left office, he has achieved a status of demigod among Republicans. Last year, twenty-eight years after Reagan left office, the Republican National convention presented a video that deified their fallen hero. RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Newt Gingrich constantly reference him as some great political sage who was a hardline conservative who never compromised on the Principles of Republicanism. However, if one takes a deeper look into Reagan's eight years in the White House they will not see so much a great Right Wing Champion but more of a disengaged pragmatist, not so much interested in achieving conservatism but doing whatever he believed worked.
Case in point, one of the greatest hallmarks that Republicans like to tout about Reagan is his tax cuts. In fact that has now become standard lip service for Republicans today who whine about Obama's supposed socialist agenda of taxing people with $1 billion in the bank. However, as explained by Joe Klein's Time article "Health Care: Do the Right Thing on Taxes," after one year on the job, and huge tax cuts that dug a hole into the deficit, Reagan implemented the largest peactime tax increase in American history with the the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act. The act increased the nation's GDP by 1%. Reagan would go on to raise taxes ten more times during his two terms, including to save social security.
Ironically, in a 2007 MSNBC Republican Presidential Candidate debate, when asked if Mitt Romney would follow in Reagan's footsteps to save social security, Romney said he wouldn't. There were never any Tea-Party protesters or 9/12ers in front of the Reagan White House when he raised taxes. That very statement shows a key point about modern-day conservatism; they don't necessarily care about Reagan and his Presidency and judging by some statements, some of them probably don't know Reagan history at all. What they love is the idea of Reagan, which goes back to the fact that Reagan was a Hollywood actor. It didn't necessarily matter if he was a true hardline conservative or not. All that mattered was if he sold his product with the right lines given to him by Peggy Noonan.
In a sense, the image of Reagan has become very much disney-fied, where the most basic parts of his persona have become magnified into a sort of caricature. Much like how the Beatles will always be remembered for the mop tops with Rickenbacker guitars, and Clint Eastwood will always be seen with a cowboy hat and a pistol, Ronald Reagan's persona has become a similar poster, something for conservatives to salivate over
The persona of Reagan becomes nothing more than the equivalent of fashion magazine ads which force young girls to try and lose ridiculous amounts of weight in order to look like the women that are in the photos, not knowing that all this time, the photos are airbrushed and the models themselves don't look like that. In the same way, the image of Reagan has become something that all conservatives vy for by purging moderates, all the while not seeing that in truth Reagan's conservatism is not the fundamentalism that it is perceived as.
In turn, since the Republican party's defeat in last year's election, rather than looking at Reagan's common sense and at time moderation, the GOP and conservatism has started a sort of great purge, choosing not to fund moderate or centrist candidates and rather, go further to the right, in an attempt to appease the birthers, the Tea Partiers and the 9/12ers with disasrtous results. In April of 2009, after threats of losing his funds for the Republican Primary, moderate Republican icon, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched sides after negotiations with Local Democrats like Ed Rendell and by Vice President Joe Biden.
In November of that same year, in a special election for New York's 23rd Congressional district, despite endorsements from the NRA, Newt Gingrich and Peter King, Republican candidate Dierdre Scozzafava was driven out of the election thanks to conservatives widely endorsing Conservative Party Candidate Doug Hoffman. As a result, Democrats took a seat that had been represented by Republicans since 1858. It appeared that night that conservatism might actually be killing Republicanism.
Yet, if Republicans want to know how they can return to winning ways, they need not look any further than results of that same election night in other areas of the nation. In New Jersey, corrupt former Goldman Sachs man and Democratic Governor John Corzine was ousted by moderate, anti-corruption opponent Chris Christie. A little more South in Virginia, despite controversy about his views on women and gays, Bob McDonnel defeated flip-flopping Creigh Deeds in the run for governor of Virgnina after running as pragmatist.
Republicans may always be enamored with Reagan and there are indeed many reasons to like him. He was a charismatic speaker, a great salesman and witnessed many great accomplishments during his presidency. However, he was far from a perfect conservative. In a recent RNC test dubbed ironically the Reagan purity test, it was found out that Reagan would have failed, a classic case of not confusing people with the facts when they have already made up their mind.