Politics

Historian Challenges Heritage Comparison of Trump’s Success to Reagan’s

Craig Shirley says the Gipper had 'monstrous issues on his plate' immediately, never had a GOP-led House, 'had a lot of things against him'

Presidential historian Craig Shirley disputed The Heritage Foundation’s claim that President Donald Trump had completed more of his agenda in one year than former President Ronald Reagan accomplished, saying Thursday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that one can’t compare “fighting and defeating Soviet Communism with net neutrality.”

Shirley, the author of several Reagan biographies, defended the former president and his administration, noting that Reagan faced “monstrous issues” immediately when he took office in 1981.

“[Reagan] had the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, runaway inflation, runaway interest rates, deficit out of control. The Soviet Union was winning the Cold War. He had never had a Republican House — never once in his eight years as president,” Shirley said.

“So Reagan had a lot of things going against him. Plus he was shot and almost died [in 1981], and that took him out of commission for, you know, probably two months,” the historian continued.

Given what Reagan was up against and what he managed to accomplish in his first year by itself and his eight years combined, Shirley argued Reagan’s success should not be diminished.

The Heritage Foundation’s report found that Trump successfully advanced 64 percent of the organization’s conservative policy recommendations, while Reagan had advanced only 49 percent of them, during their first years in office, respectively.

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“Look, Trump has done some good, conservative things, and there’s no denying it — tax cuts, and [the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil] Gorsuch and other things like that,” Shirley said. “He’s also had a Republican Congress for the first year of his presidency, and Reagan never had that.”

Shirley offered Trump high praise for advancing conservative policies with his political agenda. But the historian warned that the president currently is “off agenda” and “off topic” amid a slew of national dilemmas, an onslaught of White House drama, and his decision to take a pro-gun control stance on legislation after the February 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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Shirley said that the “constant staff shakeups” in Trump’s chaotic White House, most recently with White House communications director Hope Hicks’ resignation announcement on Wednesday, aren’t helping the president advance his agenda. Instead, Trump is lurching “from crisis to crisis” and “there’s never been an overarching theme to this administration,” Shirley said.

Yet Reagan always had his agenda and his overarching theme at the forefront of his mind, Shirley argued.

“That all came from Reagan and the people around him. So everybody understood why he was elected and why they were serving with him and serving the American people,” Shirley said, adding that “there’s no unifying theme to [the Trump] administration because one day it lurches toward freedom and the other day it lurches toward collectivism.”

Related: Reagan Biographer Craig Shirley Ridicules ‘Expert’ Ranking of Presidents

In order to succeed, Shirley said, Trump and his administration must focus on making “the story about the American people” and honing in on the ideas that made his presidential campaign so successful in 2016.

“There’s still time to recast this administration and give it a theme, call it ‘New Federalism Two,’ or something like that, after Reagan’s ‘New Federalism,'” Shirley said. “But get people focused on what he wants to do in the next three years, which is a better way of saying — we understand draining the swamp, but how do you say that in a more involving way?”

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

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