If there’s one rule in the frenzy that is Republican primary campaigning, it’s this: the more lip service to former president Ronald Reagan, the better.
In an interview on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect on Wednesday night, Donald Trump called his campaign a more intense version of the movement that swept Reagan into the White House in 1980.
“I think it’s greater than anything we’ve seen in this country,” Trump said in response to Bloomberg’s John Heilemann, who asked him to compare the movement of his supporters with those in history. “Now, with that being said, John…It doesn’t matter unless I win,” he added. “Reagan had a little bit of this, but I don’t think to the same extent.”
Trump described the size (yuuuge) and “intensity” of his crowds, many of whom wait in hours-long lines to attend his rallies. He added that he expects his supporters’ turnout at the polls to be strong. “Why would a person stand in line for seven hours,” he said, “and then not want to go into a voting booth that takes ten minutes? I think they’re gonna vote.”
The billionaire’s self-comparison to Republican heartthrob Reagan might draw hisses from Reagan historians and devotees, however. As president, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to almost 3 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. “You wouldn’t ever find Ronald Reagan making statements about building walls to prevent Mexicans from coming in, he signed into law which gave people coming here a chance to become citizens,” Reagan historian Lou Cannon told Fox Business. “He wouldn’t have been trying to prevent Muslims from coming into America because Reagan was accommodating.”
Reagan’s popular appeal was based in his optimism, Cannon said—while Trump’s appeal is based largely on fear.