The Play Typer Guy
The Play Typer Guy Podcast
How The Myth Of Reagan Became The Cult Of Trump

How The Myth Of Reagan Became The Cult Of Trump

Interview with author Ed Oswald!

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Author Ed Oswald joins me to discuss the many similarities between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Oswald served as an attorney advisor at the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Tax Legislative Counsel during the Clinton administration. He’s currently a fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel.

In his book, From Ronald To Donald: How The Myth Of Reagan Became The Cult Of Trump, Oswald makes a compelling argument that the current GOP is still very much Reagan’s party. I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say.

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Transcribed excerpts from our discussion:

SER: Something I’ve noticed as I've been writing about Trumpism and the rise of Trump is whenever I try to draw a line from Ronald Reagan and the Reagan administration to Donald Trump, there’s opposition even from many Democrats but specifically among Republicans who’ve become “Never Trumpers” … they are very offended if you would dare compare Trump to Reagan. There’s this myth of Reagan, which led to, I think, another myth that Trump is this sort of spontaneous eruption, this spontaneous occurrence and outlier in Republican politics.

So what are your thoughts on that and how it connects to your book?

Ed Oswald: Yeah, that’s a great question, and I think perhaps a question really for our times today. I guess the way I would step into that, Stephen, and we try to make this clear really in chapter one when we kind of set out the narrative here is that in terms of character, there's no doubt Reagan was a patriot. There’s no doubt that Reagan was a cold warrior. Reagan had shame. Reagan was moral. In many ways, everything that Trump is not.

So the character of the men we make out early on in the book is quite different, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lineage between the two or a link and I’ll maybe just give you kind of a couple examples … The first is the slogan both men ran under. Reagan ran under, “Let’s Make America Great Again,” and Trump ran under, “Make America Great Again.”

So the basic banner is the same … you could argue that really Reagan was the first MAGA president.


Two is the contents of their campaigns were quite similar. In other words, the DNA of the campaigns were quite close where there was both contempt for government, contempt for expertise, both promoted tax cuts, both were grounded somewhat in nationalism, and importantly, they were both grounded in nostalgia. Hence, “Make America Great Again.”

They were both certainly Democrats for large portions of their lives. Reagan was a Democrat up to the early 1960s. Trump was a Democrat and then not a Democrat and a Democrat again, just depending, I think, on what suited him best.

They were both divorced. Reagan was the first divorced president in the White House. I think Trump was divorced several times. Neither one was really a career politician. Reagan was a radio star, broadcaster, a TV star, and a movie star. He was a product of Hollywood. He was a product of our current media. Trump is very much the same.

He’s a personality, a New York Post Page Six personality, and a media reality TV figure from The Apprentice and so forth. So there are common features and there are similarities as well.

SER: I was a child during the Reagan [administration], but I recall a lot of the criticism that “Oh, he’s the movie star president!” Yet that was what a lot of Americans, the ones who voted for him, definitely wanted to see. And he was amazingly media savvy. I've seen interviews of him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and we take for granted that level of skill, like now every politician has to go on television, right? They’re on television every night. They're speaking to CNN … but at the time that seemed, if I understand correctly, that would be relatively rare, [Reagan’s] ability to be charming and funny in an interview with Johnny Carson.

ED: No doubt. I mean, Reagan’s nickname was the great communicator. And boy, was it true. If you went to central casting and said, “I need someone who looks like the president,” and it tried out Ronald Reagan, you would say, “Okay, that’s it. I’ll hire him.”

You know, the background there is really a great point you make in terms of how he interacted with the public, how he convinced Americans really to see the world the way he saw it, which is really something Reagan, I think, worked on.

But as I mentioned, he had a long storied career in radio. Thats where Reagan first started out. So he had the voice for radio and he had the face for TV … for movies he was a Hollywood movie star as noted years in TV as well and um

He was very effective at interacting with the media, very effective before the camera, very comfortable.

You know, Mike Deaver was his PR setup man from San Francisco, and they were really quite an effective combination in terms of putting out on a daily basis a message of the president, whether it be one minute, two minute, basically these short stories in which Reagan would talk about a theme and that would be broadcast on national TV.

So he was a compelling figure in front of the media, and another one that comes to mind is John F. Kennedy. But I think Reagan, given his professional expertise, was actually more effective than JFK.

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The Play Typer Guy
The Play Typer Guy Podcast
"The Play Typer Guy” offers an engaging deep dive into politics and pop culture. Your host is Portland, Oregon-based playwright, columnist, and media critic Stephen Robinson. His son describes him as “play typer guy."