Republican presidential candidates love Ronald Reagan. They compare themselves to him; they reflect nostalgically on his tenure as president; they hold debates at his presidential library, as they’re doing Wednesday night in California. (Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, the subjects of the links in the previous sentence, both praised Reagan in their opening statements Wednesday.) Many of them also say, on a number of issues, that as president they would more or less do the opposite of what Reagan did when he was in office.
- Making concessions to Iran. “Weakness is provocative,” said Ted Cruz on Wednesday night of the nuclear arms control agreement Obama has negotiated with Iran, complaining that by providing the Iranian regime with money, Obama is helping finance Iranian terrorism. Mike Huckabee said the money provided to Iran “threatens Western civilization.” Meanwhile, Reagan’s administration infamously shipped more than 2,000 missiles to Iran in what, though it was very convoluted, was ultimately a deal that helped bring about the release of seven hostages who’d been taken by Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. (Which is also reminiscent of President Obama’s decision, widely derided by Republicans, to trade five Taliban hostages for the release of POW Bowe Bergdahl.)
- Immigration “amnesty.” No current Republican candidate would ever call his or her immigration strategy “amnesty,” which is now commonly a term used to refer to a hypothetical plan in which undocumented immigrants would summarily be given citizenship, no questions asked. Ted Cruz tonight bragged that, unlike the others onstage, he has never supported amnesty, a claim that other candidates either dispute—as Ben Carson did Wednesday night—or have opened themselves up to by taking positions they’ve since moved away from: Many of them don’t presently support “pathway to citizenship” or “earned legal status” ideas that would allow immigrants to stay in the country legally after meeting certain criteria. Donald Trump in particular says he would simply deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the United States. Reagan, meanwhile, signed a bill in 1986 that gave legal status to almost 3 million undocumented immigrants who were already in the country. In a 1984 debate he said he believed “in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
- Justice Anthony Kennedy. Bobby Jindal criticized Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, who has cast votes that helped save Obamacare and legalized same-sex marriage across the country, calling his presence on the court “a mistake.” As moderator Jake Tapper pointed out, Anthony Kennedy was appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan.
- Update, 11:55 p.m.: Gun control. Jeb Bush complained tonight about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s support for “federal gun laws,” and the modern Republican party has consistently opposed Congressional bills that would close the so-called “gun-show loophole” which allows guns to be bought without background checks in transactions that don’t involve licensed dealers. Ronald Reagan was a major supporter of the Brady Bill’s federal background check requirements, writing in 1991 in the New York Times that he believed the bill’s establishment of a national “uniform standard” background-check waiting period would save lives. (The Brady Bill was named after Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who was paralyzed during John Hinckley’s attempt on Reagan’s life.)
Down with Reagan!