Is Ronald Reagan Actually a Hero of The Tea Party?

If you talk to Republicans, one of their greatest heroes is actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan. The 40th President of the United States is an icon for Conservatives. However, is it possible that Reagan’s policies of the 1980s would be politically left of those who claim him as a sort of demigod, the Tea Party? Could it be that the Tea Party is so out of touch with the policies that led to American prosperity under Reagan that he couldn’t win the Republican Presidential nomination if he ran in 2012?

Today’s Republican Party, led by a faction of neoconservatives referred to as The Tea Party, are an uncompromising group who believes in smaller government, cutting spending (except in defence where the policy is peace through strength) and lowering taxes. They see President Obama as the antithesis of their core values while President Reagan embodies all that they fight for.

Socially, while Reagan was firmly in favour of imposing his and his party’s beliefs on America, he was willing to admit that there was room for compromise. In his 1980 platform, Reagan and the GOP admitted that abortion was a complex issue and there were many different views. Still, he wanted a constitutional amendment banning abortion. The Tea Party refers to abortion as a war on religion. They also lump the Democrats’ policies on health care and same-sex marriage as part of the war on religion.

Of course, the First Amendment of the US Constitution makes reference to government not doing anything for or against religious beliefs but Republican views on abortion are almost always based solely on religious views. It’s contradictory that the Republicans would hold up the Constitution as the be all and end all of political documents but champion policies on same-sex marriage and abortion that spit in the face of the First Amendment and the words of founding father Thomas Jefferson who believed in a “wall of separation between Church & State.”

The immigration policies of the 1980 Republican Party and the 2012 GOP sound like they are from two different parties with two different philosophies. The Reagan-era policy includes the line “Republicans are proud that our people have opened their arms and hearts to strangers from abroad and we favor an immigration and refugee policy which is consistent with this tradition.” That’s an almost inclusionary sounding policy from the Republicans. Today’s GOP talks more about curbing illegal immigration and preventing illegal entrants into America from seeing any prosperity rather than encouraging people to come to America.

Even beyond Reagan’s two terms, there were Republican presidents whose initiatives wouldn’t be supported by the Tea Party. The Environmental Protection Agency was created under the watch of Richard Nixon. Today, Republicans don’t believe that global warming is a scientific fact. George H.W. Bush was a supporter for the Americans with Disabilities Act while today’s GOP is targeting social security for spending cuts. George W. Bush added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare while the GOP are looking to reinvent Medicare as something derogatorily referred to as VoucherCare.

Economically, the two talk the same game but Reagan’s actions during his first team are very different from what he promised in the 1980 Republican Platform. Reagan’s first platform made repeated references to cutting taxes for families and decreasing the burden that taxation places on them. However, his two tax increases of 1982 and 1983 actually increased the tax burden on middle-class families by 0.7%. Noted economist Paul Krugman wrote in 2004 that “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people.” If you look at the tax changes legislated in under Reagan, while taxes decreased overall, the Reagan administration dialled back half of his original 1981 tax cut.

Today’s Tea Party dominated Republican Party is opposed to any tax increases despite the fact that economic prosperity was better when Clinton raised taxes than under Reagan’s yo-yo-ing tax policies. American saw a faster increase in middle-class income and job creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Republicans believe that the best course of action is cutting income tax 20% across the board, extending the George W. Bush tax cuts and eliminating investment taxes on the middle and lower classes. Somehow, they’ll cut enough spending to balance the budget. All these ideas are effectively a modernization of Reaganomics. In the end, Reagan went back on his tax cuts and never came close to balancing the budget.

One of the recurring themes of the Republican campaign for the White House was that President Obama’s spending is out of control as evidenced by the national debt reaching its highest level ever. Prominent Republicans like House speaker John Boehner referred to the debt as a “drain on [the] economy and a crushing burden on our kids and grandkids.” Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus suggested that the rising debt showed that Obama couldn’t control spending.

However, while Reagan may have cut government spending during his time in office, he wasn’t opposed to running deficits which increased the national debt. The national debt as a percentage of GDP in 1980, immediately prior to Reagan to taking office, was 26.1%. At the end of Reagan’s two terms in office was 41.0% after running deficits in each of his eight years in office. In terms of dollars, the debt nearly tripled from $712 billion to $2.05 trillion or an increase of 188%. By comparison, the debt under President Obama increased by 176% with debt at the end of 2008 being $5.8 trillion and most recently being reported at $16 trillion. Republican pundits like to say that debt has never grown faster than under Obama but Reagan actually has him beat.

While today’s GOP says they look to Reagan for inspiration on how to best govern America, it’s apparent that the Tea Party has charted its own course for governing. In the grand scheme of the political spectrum, the Tea Party’s social policies are more conservative than Reagan. While the economic policies are based around the same principles of lower taxes and spending, Reagan was willing to raise taxes subsequent to his 1981 tax cut.

So we come back to the question of if Ronald Reagan, hero of the Tea Party, would be too moderate to earn the Republican Presidential nomination. Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts should have been too moderate thanks to his assault rifle ban and introducing health care reform used as the basis for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Chameleon Mitt Romney at times seems more moderate than Reagan and more conservative depending on the audience he is talking to. Reagan was always Reagan. Agree with his politics or not, in researching his politics and Presidency, I’ve never once read that he flip-flopped constantly or completely changed his message to appeal to all voters.

Reagan probably would have been able to win the Presidential nomination for 2012 considering the weak field that the Republicans put up. If he had to combat with people who were charismatic or had bipartisan appeal like the prospective 2016 nominees such as Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, I wouldn’t like Reagan’s chances. His policies just don’t fit with the Tea Party’s values well enough to get their support.

If Reagan was elected President in 2012, I think it would have been a far different Presidency than his of the 1980s. The tax cuts, spending cuts and increase in defense funding would have all still been there. So would the perpetual deficit and increase in national debt. From the last four years, we’ve already seen that the Republicans aren’t willing to compromise on their ideals. It’s unlikely that the rest of the GOP would let Reagan raise taxes during his second year in office. Without that tax increase, who knows how bad the debt would get. From this campaign, it’s apparent that prayer is the only means the Tea Party has at its disposal to balance the budget.

The American Presidency Project – Republican Party Platform of 1980
Bloomberg – Hero Reagan’s Compromise Would Collide With Tea Party Certitude
Capital Gains and Games – Reagan’s Tax Increases
CBS News – As national debt passes $16 trillion, GOP blasts Obama’s policies
Congressional Budget Office – Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2011 to 2021
GOP – 2012 Republican Platform
Library of Congress – Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists
The Lowdown Blog – Greed isn’t Good: Why Supply-Side Economics Doesn’t Work
New York Times – Platform’s Sharp Turn to Right Has Conservatives Cheering
New York Times – The Great Taxer


21 thoughts on “Is Ronald Reagan Actually a Hero of The Tea Party?

  1. Reagan was just one of those people that had such an influence even after his passing. I look up to him because he was so wise and I share his views. Then again, he is only one man. Hero? Maybe, but I think that’s open to opinion. Great post, very thought-provoking, thanks for sharing and congrats on FP!


  2. Excellent post! I was a Reagan Democrat in 1980. He was not viewed as ultra conservative then in the way he is portrayed today. I often wonder if he might have migrated back across the line had he lived to see the politics we have today. He once said that he did not leave the Democratic Party, the Party left him. I feel the same way about the Republican Party of today. If you want a clearer view on Reagan’s actual thinking The Reagan Diaries are a great read. He was far from the narrow minded uber conservative that the Tea Party rallies around.


    • Well, the popularity of the “neoconservative” label stems from the Cold War era, as you no doubt know, so taken in its original context, it’s probably not the best label to apply to the Tea Party as that as neocons were trying to protect against the Soviet threat. However, their peace through strength doctrine would incline me to see them as likely to be “interventionist.” While there isn’t that same threat to America today as there was during the Cold War, the Tea Party’s “peace through strength” philosophy would make them more neoconservative than the other large American political parties.

      tl;dr – It’s probably not the most accurate way to describe the Tea Party but the label probably fits them better than the rest.


  3. Thank you for this post. I love when WordPress highlights the economic and financial posts. That’s mostly what I blog about and I love seeing others’ thought processes. I really enjoyed your analysis of the Reagan ideals and I totally agree, the Tea Part is NOT the Republican party! Please feel free to check my blog out!


  4. Interesting! The immigration policy paragraph really surprised me, as that’s quite different from things today. I really enjoyed this post, and your last line made me laugh and laugh.


  5. One could get into the history of events / through centuries
    which has brought the present circumstances / it interesting
    however writting such it would not be a comment but a book.

    Thus to just comment on the basics / the great fault with USA
    govt policy is its foundation being military force / one may talk
    of the stick & carrot approach / with a USA it’s been only stick.

    The result being millions of people’s having been slaughtered
    worlwide /destruction /suffering / tears / all for no true purpose.

    An USA now a isolated nation rejected by the rest of humanity
    whom sickened by the crimes / USA military having committed.

    In the USA itself the political as military corruption having but
    brought the nation to its knees via bankruptcy as crimes agin
    humanity / those that having made the situation so dire, fear
    the american people’s will turn against them / thus to protect
    themselve they having stripped the people of all rights / even
    the most precious of rights that of a trial / they have removed.

    How are american people’s to escape such an pit they having
    falling into / such is the important question / what’s the answer.

    On material level there need be a vast cut in military spending
    as on a never need homeland security / which continues drain
    the nations resources / there need be a balance in keeping a
    situation where / companies are moving to poorer countries…
    thus can get cheap labour / wrongly in the making vast profits
    as in their doing they make millions of americans unemployed.

    The wealthy of the USA need to stop funding politicians just to
    serve their agenda / as use the media which they own / just to
    support their own paid politicians / blocking other contenders
    where the USA political arena is now simply rotten to it’s core
    a situation where the people’s election vote / is now worthless
    its the wealthy whom pick the president as the govt they wish.

    The more important aspect for all people in dealing with being
    that of spiritual development / such the point of creation such
    is the point of having an human form to gain spiritual groth as
    gain in spiritual understanding / unto the point of creation as
    to the ultimate aim of humanity / one’s spiritual enlightenment.

    Of course there material needs / yet also spiritual needs which
    are little practiced / in truth for many / such is almost forgotten.

    Throughout the history of humanity there be spiritual teachers
    among all the “Teacher of Teachers” the “teacher of teachers”
    takes those whom ready upon their final stage of their human
    development / such done via meditation in one’s turning their
    senses inward in a unfolding of the spiritual self. Not of ideas
    not of beliefs / not of a heaven beyond the clouds but that in
    one having very practical spiritual experience gifting a clarity
    of understanding / one not believing but knowing the creator.

    The present times the “Teacher of Teachers” is Prem Rawat
    Prem has dedicated his life to aid / guide those whom having
    reached such the stage where meditation required upon their
    further development /in one leaving the believing for knowing.

    On PC search put (words of peace) or (words of peace global)
    on site being a selection of videos Prem explains meditation as
    a open invitation unto all whom prepared that he will guide aid
    all whom seek know their true spiritual self knowing the creator.


  6. Ronald Reagan I believe is one of the greatest Presidents of all time. He optimized what greatness is in a president. He was what America needed at that time in American History. Today we are faced with some hard problems that our leaders seem to be running away from.
    Honesty is what America needs. Our leaders need to face our problems head on. Hopefully America can comeback to that greatness that we once had under a leader like Ronald Reagan!


  7. I am having difficulty understanding why the abortion issue is framed as a strictly religious matter in reference to the separation of Church and State. Certainly it is a moral issue (religious or not, and there is a significant distinction), but I cannot fathom how that precludes it from also being a State issue. The issue of slavery is also both a moral and a civil issue, as is theft. State and moral issues VERY often overlap.

    In large part, the moral objection to abortion is that it is the direct and intentional termination of an innocent human life. This hinges, of course, on whether in fact we are dealing with an innocent human life. Where the State is concerned, I cannot understand how this can be regarded as strictly a moral issue to be left to the individual conscience. Were this the case, then would it not be equally left to the individual conscience as to whether or not persons of another color are human beings? A question of personal belief?

    Does the State determine who is a human being, endowed with inalienable rights? Are those rights endowed by the State? Is it a question of majority opinion? If it is, then slavery may just as easily be made legal again, re-instituted as – a “right” – with the stroke of a pen, should a majority choose it so. This certainly wouldn’t make it right. But what makes it wrong?

    As regards Church, morality, and the State – and the distinction I referenced earlier – consider the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which forms the underlying premise on which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based : “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The self-evident truth that we are “endowed by our Creator” is highly moral, and precedes and forms the foundation for everything else – but it isn’t “religion” or “church.” The point here being that these unalienable rights are precisely what the State – at the service of mankind – is obliged to protect.

    I should think it rather plain that the State should concern herself where questions of whom or what constitutes a ‘person’ with rights to be protected by the State are at issue – and that there is an obligation to, as Reagan put it, “err on the side of caution.”

    Thankfully, the advances of science, without the aid of “religion,” have made it crystal clear at what point human life begins. It remains for us to do what is RIGHT, whether that chances to align with the moral strictures of one religion or another or not, and to codify the law to reflect what our consciences have long known and science has verified.

    Again, why have you framed the abortion issue as strictly a religious matter?

    [Science & source citations, see:


    • I never framed abortion as a religious issue. The 2012 GOP platform frames abortion as a religious issue. They referred to the Democrats’ position on abortion as part of the Democrats’ “war on religion.” That’s in the party platform. I’m just following along with their thinking that abortion is a religious matter.

      The GOP didn’t use their platform to discuss this as an issue of morality. We could argue all day about the morality of whether the life/existence of an unborn child supersedes a mother’s ability to make decisions over her own body. That wasn’t the point of the column. I’m just pointing out that the GOP talks about protecting the Constitution but there’s a slight irony to wanting to uphold the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment, but ban abortions because it’s part of a “war on religion.”


      • The HHS mandate – under which coverage for abortion (via abortaficient contraception) is made mandatory – is accurately described as a “war on religion,” and a violation of the freedom of conscience.

        If that is the premise, however, in the GOP platform, it is woefully misguided. This wouldn’t surprise me in the least, nonetheless, coming from the GOP, for whom morality is a mere lip-service to a morally principled constituency.


  8. This was a good post and respectfully offered where Ronald Reagan is concerned, but sadly, it’s clear you don’t actually know any “tea party” participants. For one thing, it’s not a political party. It’s a movement. There are range of opinions among those who are participants. You also don’t have the first understanding of conservatives in America.

    Conservatives exist outside of the Republican Party. Although since the Reagan era, many conservatives have voted with the GOP, the Republican Party is not a conservative organization. Exhibit #1 of that is Mitt Romney, a progressive moderate who lost the election because conservatives stayed home. After turning out for John McCain, another progressive moderate (call him Exhibit #2), many of us just decided to let the country self-destruct without us. The GOP establishment wanted Mitt from the beginning while, if you check out Rasmussen polls from the summer, you will see that conservatives polled liking almost anyone else in the GOP primary races … at least until there was no other choice left. A few of us voted pragmatically, holding our noses for the lesser of two evils (Romney isn’t Barack Obama after all), but many conservatives just didn’t go to the polls.

    Maybe we’ll vote third-party for a real conservative n 2016 and show what a real election with real choices looks like.

    The “tea party” has almost no relation to neoconservativism, which is really not conservative at all. It’s progressive GOP-types saying they’re conservatives.

    When William Buckley Jr. published the first issue of National Review in 1955 he defined the beliefs of American conservatives:

    “It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side.

    “The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.”

    In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan solidified conservative Republican strength with tax cuts, greatly increased defense spending, deregulation, a policy of rolling back Communism (rather than just containing it), and appeals to family values and conservative Christian morality. Reagan himself was a pragmatist. His own ideals were more conservative than his policies. He was really the first conservative to make it into the White House since Calvin Coolidge. He had to undo 40 years of very bad policies. He couldn’t do that all in eight years. He did some. The Contract with American in the 1990s did more, accounting for the Clinton era economy — the great gains against poverty were a result of reduced government spending and “forcing” otherwise unproductive people into the work force.

    A lot of “neoconservatives” in the 21st century have sought to rally the GOP behind Reagan’s banner, but they spend a lot of money that doesn’t need to be spent and act a lot like Democrats, so conservatives are gradually disengaging with them. It’s quite possible that the GOP is going the way of the Whig Party before the Civil War, to be replaced by a party that actually represents 1/3 of the voting population. When there is a real choice between the Democrats and whatever takes the place of the GOP, we’ll see if there’s a realignment or if there needs to be a third “moderate” party. I suspect if conservatives cut loose the GOP and actually start getting our message out there, there will be a surge in our direction akin to the American Revolution without the musket fire.


  9. Posso solo dire con sollievo che ho trovato qualcuno che sa realmente di cosa sta parlando! Lei sicuramente sa come portare un problema alla luce e renderlo importante. Altre persone hanno bisogno di leggere questo e capire questo lato della storia.


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