By Dan Cirucci
Posted with permission from The Dan Cirucci Blog
It occurred to me while reading Bob Spitz’s great, new, exhaustive biography Reagan, An American Journey.
Again and again I was struck by the similarities.
Now, don’t laugh about what I’m gonna tell you next. I’m talking about the similarities between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
Are you still with me? I hope so. Because the parallels are real and stunning.
Yes, Reagan came from a humbler background than Trump and didn’t have the advantages that Trump may have had. And Reagan didn’t attend private school and an ivy league university. And Reagan was from a small midwestern town while Trump grew up in New York City. But the similarities in their respective journeys far outweigh the differences.
To begin with, both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were greatly influenced by loving mothers — strong, determined women who nurtured them, encouraged them and attempted to pass on solid values and moral guideposts. And both women proved to be devoted spouses as well.
Also, both Reagan and Trump witnessed first hand the scourge of alcoholism in their own families — Reagan with his father and Trump with his brother. They came to understand that alcoholism was a disease. It had such a profound effect on them that both avoided drink as they grew into adulthood.
Neither Reagan nor Trump were stellar students in college nor were they known to be voracious readers.
But both remained guided by their instinct, experience and basic, pragmatic ways of dealing with people and situations. They also learned quickly to keep their own counsel and not show their cards to the other players at the table.
Both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump proved to be daring. In their own respective ways, each took chances to get ahead. They weren’t afraid of risk. And both had successful careers in other fields before they entered politics. Reagan was a hugely accomplished broadcaster, Hollywood star and union leader before he threw his hat into the political ring. Trump succeeded as a builder, entrepreneur and TV star before that historic ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in 2016. It’s also interesting to note that both had achieved unquestioned fame well before they sought public office. Neither man needed to be president.
Both were already household names well before they sought office and both learned early on how to live a life in the public spotlight.
Both Reagan and Trump married more than once, both raised children from different wives and both succeeded in building blended families.
Both men proved to be remarkably adept at mastering new media — Reagan with radio and television; Trump with the internet and social media. And both proved to be natural communicators.
Also, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were/are savvy salespersons. Either man could sell almost anything, and often did. Reagan’s name was associated with some of America’s most trusted brands and Trump is a master brander in his own right. They learned a lot from their dads who were both salespersons themselves.
Reagan’s father was a shoe salesman and retail manager. Trump’s father built and sold homes and apartments.
Neither Reagan nor Trump was instantly nor warmly welcomed by the Republican Party. In fact, both were outsiders and both had previously supported Democrats. Remember as well that Reagan sought the presidency more than once and Trump toyed with the idea or running more than once. And both men eventually built powerful populist movements that did not depend on the traditional party apparatus. In fact, both developed a sort of cult of personality that often crossed party lines and superseded ideology. At the same time, both were grossly underestimated and both actually enjoyed being underestimated.
And here’s one of the most vivid similarities: both Reagan and Trump were able to appeal to working class Democrats in a way that other Republicans could not. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that each man had a clear, simple message that resonated with ordinary people. Yes, you could say the message was “make America great again” because Reagan uttered those words decades before they became Trump’s mantra.
And isn’t it interesting that both men appealed to the broad middle of the nation (flyover country) while being derided by elites on the coasts?
Reagan was dismissed as a simpleton. So, too with Trump. Big media hated Reagan and repeatedly mocked him. Ditto, Trump. Reagan drove liberals crazy. The same with Trump. Academia wanted no parts of Reagan.
And, they have no time for Trump as well. His star power notwithstanding, Hollywood pretty much turned its back on Reagan. Hollywood hates Trump. Reagan was accused of being a tool of the wealthy. The same is said of Trump. But Reagan actually made Wall Street nervous. And Wall Street still hasn’t gotten used to Trump. They called Reagan a reckless cowboy who would lead us into nuclear war. They’ve made the same predictions about Trump. Reagan was a great storyteller and pitcher of bromides. Tump can spin a tale with the best of them.
Both Reagan and Trump came to the presidency late in life but both proved to be sort of ageless and remarkably resilient. The election of each marked a landmark moment in American politics. Both broke the presidential mold. Neither man proved to be big on details — both can be characterized as “big picture” guys who got what George H. W. Bush called “the vision thing.” And both Reagan and Trump have ushered in periods of solid economic growth and unprecedented prosperity.
Finally, both captured our attention with their distinctive hair styles. Did Reagan really use Red Dye #40 on his lush pompadour? And how does Trump construct that orange, cotton candy swirl of his?
Oh, the similarities!
Dan Cirucci, the founder and editor-in chief of the Dan Cirucci Blog (http://dancirucci.blogspot.com/), is one of the most widely honored public relations professionals in his field and a public relations consultant to numerous organizations and individuals.