The day after Mitt Romney’s debacle in 2012, Donald Trump decided to trademark Make America Great Again™, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan. As much as Bob Woodward tried to pry the “moment” out of Trump, that day has to be the watershed.
Trump thought he’d repeat Reagan’s 1980 primary sweep and subsequent landslide win over President Jimmy Carter. Or at least he’d have some fun trying. He’s right on that point: Trump didn’t have to run for president–his life could be comfortable playing golf and getting a young piece of a**. But for Trump, this race is more like Reagan’s 1976 than 1980.
That year, Reagan was battling unelected incumbent President Gerald Ford, fresh from pardoning Nixon, with Watergate and Vietnam a painful boil on the country’s political psyche. It’s quite a thing to challenge an incumbent, and Reagan nearly beat Ford, trouncing him in the South, Midwest, and of course, California.
It came down to the convention in Kansas City, where neither candidate had a clear majority of bound delegates. There were no John Kasich or Marco Rubio delegates to interfere with a straight first ballot vote, and Reagan lost by a mere 117, just 5 percent, of 2,258 total. In those days, some states still had party bosses, and Mississippi’s Clarke Reed sealed Reagan’s fate.
It’s possible Trump, who fashions himself Reagan incarnate, will do what Reagan did in 1976 and announce his running mate ahead of the convention. It backfired for Reagan; his choice of moderate Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker is widely believed to be the reason the conservative Reed turned to Ford.
Party politics mattered then, and party politics still matter. Reagan was a maverick, a conservative, and a seasoned political professional. Trump is none of these. He’s an establishment, liberal, political postulant. A dilettante; an amateur; a greenhorn; a rookie. But he does have his gifts, and his money.
The gifts and the money won’t win Donald the nomination. If they do, there’s more wrong with this nation than simply politics. Lena Dunham would know, because she’s part of the culture of celebrity-worship that Trump himself lavishly helped to create. Both Dunham and Trump should move to Canada, and America would be better for it.
Trump thinks he has Reagan’s DNA, but he’s only beclowned himself wearing an ill-fitting costume he has no business trying on.
Where Trump could never (and I mean “never” in the transcendent, eternal, infinite sense) be like Reagan is in the grace department. Watch Reagan’s unscripted speech in 1976, when Ford invited him to the platform in a show of unity.
Trump is running Reagan’s 1976 losing campaign, not his 1980 win. But don’t look for Trump to lose gracefully and return triumphant four years later. If Trump wins, he will win ugly. If he loses, he’ll lose uglier and thankfully disappear from the political scene for good.