Tonight, eight GOP presidential candidates will alight on sacred ground to some: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. As the candidates pay the required perpetual homage to the 40th president, the rest of us might take some time to reflect on just how far off the Reagan Ranch the Republican Party has gone.
Since the advent of the Tea Party, the Republican establishment has adopted a philosophy that you could call "Xtreme Reagan" -- tax cuts for the wealthy without compromise, deregulation without common sense, social conservatism without an ounce of respect -- that makes even a liberal like me almost miss the political pragmatism of the Gipper. It's terrifying that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a hard-line economic and social conservative, whose regressive economic policies as governor were to the right of Reagan, is now widely considered to be too far to the left to even be a contender.
Don't get me wrong -- I never was a fan of Ronald Reagan and his policies. But I miss the days when believing in science and being able to do basic budget math didn't make you a radical Socialist.
Reagan, a savvy politician, rode to power on the money of corporate America and the passion of an increasingly politicized Religious Right -- and, for the most part, gave both groups enough of what they wanted once he was in office to keep them both happy. But he also bucked those interests at some important points. Contrary to current Reagan hagiography, he raised taxes 11 times during his eight years in office -- including the largest corporate tax hike in American history -- when it became clear that pure trickle-down economics would be disastrous for the economy. And in 1981, over the objections of anti-choice groups, he nominated the highly qualified and politically moderate Sandra Day O'Connor to serve on the Supreme Court.
Today's Tea Party candidates, as they love to remind us, are beholden to the same interests. But they have taken the Reagan strategy a step further, turning the values of the Reagan coalition into a new, unyieldingly rigid conservative orthodoxy.
In the Tea Party orthodoxy, environmentalism isn't just bad for business, it's unbiblical. Tax cuts aren't just what the rich want, they're what Jesus wants . The Democratic president isn't just a liberal, he's a foreigner trying to destroy America from within. Conspiracy theories become hard-and-fast facts before you can change the channel away from Fox News. There's no compromise when you live in an air-tight world of unquestioned beliefs that become created facts.
Let's take a look at how the eight GOP candidates debating tonight have taken Xtreme Reaganism and made it their own:
- Rick Santorum: Compared health care reform to drug dealing, said it will make Christians "less than what God created you to be," said it would "destroy the country"; compared gay relationships to "man-on-dog sex"; slammed the Supreme Court decision ensuring the right to access contraception.
- Herman Cain: The most unabashedly anti-Muslim candidate in the field (and that's saying something!), proposed a religious test for office for Muslims who wanted to work for his administration.
- Newt Gingrich: Where to begin? Maybe with the threat of a "secular atheist country... dominated by radical Islamists." Or with the threat of "gay and secular fascism." Or with his entire record as Speaker of the House of Representatives. You choose.
- Ron Paul: Supposedly the most "libertarian" figure in the GOP, but does not support personal liberties for women or gay people. Still thinks the Voting Rights Act was a bad idea and we were better off before FEMA.
- Jon Huntsman: The supposedly "moderate" candidate in the GOP field, enacted a highly regressive flat tax as governor of Utah, tried to eliminate corporate taxes, and banned second-trimester abortions.
- Michele Bachmann: Calls homosexuality "personal enslavement," wants to reduce government to "its original size," says those who believe the science of evolution are part of a "cult following."
- Mitt Romney: Believes whatever the Republican base wants him to believe, which these days is pretty far off the rails.
- Rick Perry: Kicked off his presidential campaign by holding an event with the most extreme leaders of the Religious Right he could find, including a pastor who thinks that God sent Hitler to hunt the Jews and another who thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a "demonic idol."
This is the field that the Party of Reagan has produced to appeal to a right-moving and increasingly isolated base -- where the architect of health care reform has to run against himself, where the most libertarian still isn't willing to cross the Religious Right, and where the highest-polling has floated the idea of his state seceding from the union.
Listen tonight as you hear the homage to Ronald Reagan and consider how radical this party has actually become.
Cross posted on Huffington Post