The Republican establishment doesn’t want him as a Presidential candidate. A former Democrat, he admires a Democratic president Republicans love to hate. He has a penchant for making controversial statements. He does what he wants and doesn’t play by the established political rules. Yet every time the mainstream media tolls the death knell for his candidacy, his poll numbers grow stronger and supporters become even more determined to get him the GOP nomination.
Of course, this all describes current Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. But those statements also describe Ronald Reagan in his first three runs for the Presidency in 1968, 1976, and 1980.
The GOP establishment is cringing at the thought of Trump as the GOP Presidential candidate in 2016, and so the establishment money is going to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. In 1968, the GOP establishment wanted Richard Nixon or George Romney. Eight years later, when Reagan tried again, the establishment got Gerald Ford the nomination. In 1980, although the GOP establishment tried to get George H.W. Bush the nomination, even their money and support couldn’t stop the Reagan groundswell and the Gipper finally became the Republican nominee for President.
For decades, Republicans had nursed their hatred of Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt–then came Reagan, who openly spoke of his admiration for FDR, and for Democratic President John F. Kennedy, too. Modern Republicans hate Bill Clinton, yet Trump is a friend of not only Bill but Hillary Clinton, too.
Trump has gotten in trouble with the media–but not with his supporters–over controversial statements about Mexican immigrants, Senator John McCain, and journalist Megyn Kelly. Many people don’t remember that Ronald Reagan was the king of the controversial statement. Reagan statements about vegetation causing pollution, oil slicks being good for the environment, and that the US should pave over Vietnam and turn it into a parking lot were just as controversial, if not more so.
Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd has said that Trump plays by his own rules. So did Reagan. He refused to consider becoming Ford’s Vice President or a member of his cabinet, and wouldn’t campaign for Ford in 1976–going so far as to go home and build a fireplace instead of hitting the campaign trail, as those defeated for the nomination are expected to do. Once Reagan became President, he advocated polices such as Reaganomics and the destruction of the Soviet Union that no mainstream politician had advocated before. He not only advocated these policies; Reagan got them enacted.
Every time Trump makes what the mainstream media and politicians consider to be a fatal blunder, he comes back stronger than ever. Again, just like Reagan. Such actions are not considered blunders by supporters of either candidate. Instead, it reinforces that their candidate says what he believes and isn’t running statements through the filter of speechwriters and party spinmeisters, and they love him all the more.
The Republican Party and the media expect Trump to flame out and his supporters to drift off. It isn’t going to happen, just as it didn’t happen for Reagan. If Trump fails to get the nomination, it will be because another GOP candidate did all he could to win it–like Nixon in 1968 and Ford in 1976. If Trump’s opponents, the Republican Party establishment, and the media sit back and wait for Trump to make a candidacy-killing error like Bush waited in 1980, they’ll wake up one morning to find Trump as the GOP presidential nominee.
Trump is using the Reagan play book. That’s a hard strategy to beat.
For more about the political strategies of Ronald Reagan and other successful candidates, see my book Winning Political Campaigns: A Comprehensive Guide to Electoral Success, a how-to e-book providing information on everything a candidate, campaign worker, or activist needs to know to conduct a political race.