The candidates should ask: Why be like Reagan? |

The candidates should ask: Why be like Reagan?

When one ponders the three leading Republican candidates for the presidency, it becomes clear why there is no front-runner. They’re not campaigning for president so much as they’re running to claim the “Reagan legacy.”

Mitt Romney, for instance, said in late 2006 that, “We must return to the common-sense Reagan Republican ideals,” and just a few days ago, said, “We’re going to have to make sure we have the kind of Reagan optimism that America’s looking for.”

There’s John McCain, who said he “enlisted as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution,” and thinks about the former president “all the time.”

Mike Huckabee wanted to be sure people noticed that his campaign had attracted Ed Rollins, Reagan’s 1984 national campaign director, as a senior adviser and national campaign chair.

But why would any sane candidate want to run as a reincarnation of Ronald Wilson Reagan? Consider his record and the issues Republicans raise today:

Illegal immigration: Reagan thought there was something wrong with an America where fruit rotted on trees for lack of labor to pick it. He signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized 2.7 million illegal immigrants. In other words, he supported amnesty.

Standing up to terrorists: On Oct. 23, 1983, truck-borne suicide bombers crashed their way into a U.S. outpost at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon. The death toll included 241 American service members, among them 220 Marines. Reagan responded on Feb. 7, 1984, by ordering the Marines to withdraw from Lebanon. Talk about “cut and run.”

Fiscal responsibility: Although Reagan often talked about cutting the federal budget and paying down the federal deficit, that’s not how it worked during his presidency. In fiscal 1982, his first budget, federal spending was $746 billion. On his last budget in 1989, it was $1.14 trillion. The national debt more than doubled during Reagan’s tenure, from $1.137 trillion to $2.867 trillion.

Domestic economy: While some parts of America might have thrived during the Reagan years, Colorado wasn’t one of them. More than half our counties lost population as mines and mills closed, energy prices dropped and agricultural prices fell. Downtown Denver teemed with empty buildings.

Party building: When Reagan won his first term in 1980, he carried enough Republicans with him so that the GOP gained control of the U.S. Senate, 53-46. Democrats retained control of the House, 242-192. When Reagan left office, Democrats controlled the Senate 55-45, and had enlarged their House majority to 260-175.

Foreign policy: The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, more than a year before Reagan took office. After he was sworn in, the United States began supplying arms to the Afghanis who were fighting against the Soviets, and Islamic radicals from many countries went to Afghanistan to oppose the infidel Communists. Among those beneficiaries of American help was Osama bin Laden, whose power and influence thereby grew.

There isn’t room here to go into the Iran-Contra scandal, or the savings-and-loan collapse, or the influence-peddling by Reagan appointees in the HUD scandal.

But there is room to conclude that some things Reagan did ” e.g., amnesty for illegal immigrants, cutting and running, gross increase in the federal deficit ” are the sorts of things Republican candidates denounce today even as they try to claim his mantle.

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