President Donald Trump “seriously considered” vetoing that $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Friday — but ultimately signed it only because it provides critically needed defense funds. He also put Congress on notice by vowing never to sign another such last-minute outrage.
Somewhere, Ronald Reagan, the president who shortly after taking office showed there was a new sheriff in town by firing 11,000 illegally striking air traffic controllers, is applauding another chief executive willing to ignore conventional wisdom and do what has to be done.
So this is a tale of two presidents from the same political party, and the truth is that if you hang around long enough, you begin to see that some things — like Washington Republicans — really don’t change much at all over time.
At first glance, these two men couldn’t be less alike. Reagan was the easygoing “aw shucks,” honest-as-the-day-is-long kind of person you welcomed as a neighbor. Trump is that brash egomaniac down the street who is constantly telling you how smart he is and what he thinks about everything.
Yet, Reagan and Trump do share important characteristics, such as getting elected by the same kind of voters — the millions of down-to-earth, common-sense, patriotic, family-oriented, community-minded salts of the earth who are mostly Republican but who have lots of friends and relatives who call themselves Reagan Democrats.
These voters are “conservative” in the general sense, but what they really are is “independent.” And frustrated. Also worried, disgusted and outraged (which is not the same thing as merely angry). Depending upon the particular issue at hand, they are the governing American majority.
They’ve been telling Washington Republicans for decades that government is too big and costs too much, is out of touch with heartland America, and too often gets taken to the cleaners by the world’s bullies and BS artists. But they either can’t or choose not to hear.
Remember, it was Washington Republicans — led then by George H.W. Bush — who derided Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts as “voodoo economics.” Reagan got his tax cuts — and the nation’s longest-ever peacetime economic boom ensued.
It was those same Washington Republicans who wrung their hands in dismay when Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” They then advised Reagan not to say “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” But look who won the Cold War. It was Reagan, not the Washington Republicans.
And can you guess who went into free-market meltdowns when Reagan imposed a five-year tariff on Japanese motorcycles that had Harley Davidson, America’s lone bike manufacturer, on the ropes? Four years later, Harley wanted the tariff to be dropped because the firm couldn’t keep up with demand. Neither could the Japanese, by the way, thanks to the Reagan economic boom.
Now under Trump, it’s déjà vu all over again. Just look at the spending bill this week that “had to be passed or the government would shut down, again.” There they were again, Washington Republicans talking the talk but not walking the walk. It’s why they didn’t get Reagan then and they don’t get Trump now.
Trump’s signature issue during the 2016 campaign was building the wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Trump and thousands of his supporters chanted, “Build The Wall, Build The Wall,” over and over again.
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Here it is, two years later, that Trump is in the White House, and Washington Republicans control the Senate and House — but there is barely enough funding in the omnibus bill to “get started” on building the wall.
America’s steel industry has been hollowed out in recent years, thanks in great part to China’s dumping cheap steel here and in other countries that then ship it here. What happens when Trump announces modest tariffs?
Here’s Washington Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “First and foremost, there is going to be an attempt to try to convince the president that he’s headed down the wrong track, and hopefully get him to a point where he’ll reconsider that decision.”
Trump also promised over and over again in 2016 to repeal and replace Obamacare. So did the Washington Republicans for years before that election. Just give them the White House and Congress, and it would be the first thing they do, they repeatedly promised.
The result? Not only is Obamacare still not repealed, but Washington Republicans led by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee now also want to spend $10 billion to subsidize the insurance companies in the program for three more years.
Washington Republicans would do well to realize that Trump hates to be embarrassed — and he’s not a gentleman.
Which part of S-T-O-P do these people not understand?
I came to Washington four decades ago to help Reagan as one of his political appointees seeking then, as Trump is doing now, to “drain the swamp” that is the federal government. Reagan made a lot of progress, but then George H.W. Bush — perhaps the ultimate Washington Republican — threw much of it away.
Now I’m a journalist covering Trump, and much that happens in this town these days sounds so familiar. Reagan was too much the gentleman to call out his successor.
But Washington Republicans would do well to realize that Trump hates to be embarrassed — and he’s not a gentleman.
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