EUREKA — Although there are some surface similarities, Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan, says the author of four bestsellers about the 40th president, whose birthday is Tuesday.
Craig Shirley, author of last year's “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980,” said both were outsiders who initially did not have the support of the establishment.
Trump has adopted some of Reagan's issues: less government and taxes; stronger defense; and judiciary.
But when it comes to how they govern and work with others, “there's no comparison,” Shirley said Friday in an interview in the Reagan Museum at Eureka College.
Shirley was on campus for a dinner honoring the birthday of Reagan, a 1932 graduate of Eureka College. He taught Reagan 101 in 2012 and has been a frequent visitor to the campus.
He is a lecturer, historian and public affairs consultant who is a regular commentator on many networks and cable shows.
Reagan never saw himself as “building a political dynasty,” said Shirley. “He wasn't boastful like Trump is, but he was very proud of what he did.”
Shirley said, “I think Trump is far more like Richard Nixon than Ronald Reagan,” proposing new federal programs, such as building more infrastructure, rather than leaving it to the states.
He also said the relationship between Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was different from the relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Reagan always hated Soviet communism. Reagan made it his goal to defeat Soviet communism,” said Shirley, yet it didn't stop Reagan and Gorbachev from working together.
“They actually became very good friends,” said Shirley. “I won't say they ever fully trusted each other … but there was respect for each other.”
With Trump and Putin, he said, “They both have their own agendas. The cards have not all played themselves out yet.”
Trump's failure to explain why he has not yet imposed the sanctions on Russia called for by Congress “does add to the suspicion about Russian collusion” in the 2016 U.S. election, said Shirley. However, he added, “I personally think it's all nonsense.”
Although he doesn't think Russia was involved with collusion, Shirley said, "Did they attempt to meddle? Yes, and it's not the first time."
Much has been said and written about polarization in politics today. Shirley said divisions in the country are nothing new, nothing that even after the Revolutionary War, not everyone agreed with splitting from Great Britain.
“The country has been really unified only twice: the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941, and the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001,” he said.
“That's kind of our strength,” Shirley said of the differing points of view, arguing that they eventually lead to compromise. However, finding the middle ground can be more difficult today than in the past, he said.
“There's less overlap now than there used to be” when there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, said Shirley.
Shirley isn't done writing about Reagan. Although he and others have written much about Reagan's 1980 election, Shirley is working on a book about the 1984 re-election campaign.
If not for Reagan's re-election in 1984, he said, “the election of 1980 was meaningless. … Sometimes the reaffirmation is more important.”