Much has been written about the rightward shift of the GOP — and the fact that Republican deity Ronald Reagan wouldn’t fit in with the modern, tea party-fueled Republican agenda. But on the day of the big GOP presidential debate at the Reagan Library, the Los Angeles Times‘ Mark Barabak offers one of the most succinct looks at the modern myth of Regan as unbending conservative stalwart and the reality of a president that got things done by bending and compromising.
As president, the conservative icon approved several tax increases to deal with a soaring budget deficit, repeatedly boosted the nation’s debt limit, signed into law a bill granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and, despite his anti-Washington rhetoric, oversaw an increase in the size and spending of the federal government. Before that, as California governor, he enacted what at the time was the largest state tax increase in American history. He also signed into law one of the nation’s most permissive abortion bills; any Republican who tried that today would be cast out of the party.
The fact that Reagan often took the actions grudgingly speaks to what, by modern Republican standards, may be one of the greatest heresies of all: At bottom, Reagan was a pragmatist, willing, when necessary, to cut a deal and compromise.
The candidates are expected to bring up Reagan quite a bit on the debate stage tonight — but they probably won’t be talking about the Reagan Barabak describes.