What “40” Would Say to “45” – A Year End Report


Hello, Mr. President:

Ronnie here. Since so many in the GOP are invoking my name these days, I thought I would come back and give you some feedback on your first year in office. I’ll be candid, as I always was….  

Some advice:  

First and foremost, it is NOT all about you. You HOLD the office, but it is something you SHARE with all the American people.  

Know what you don’t know: You are the first president to come to this office without benefit of government experience. We have had presidents who were not office holders, but they had been in the military, so they had to deal with government. I used my inaugural speech to unite; you used yours to demonize and when I made mine, I was getting ready to welcome home 44 American hostages from Iran, so I really was in the middle of a real-world crisis. I did not have to make them up. 

Listen to people who have experience that you do not have. You will be better for it as I was.  

You missed the classic “easy layup” by NOT tackling infrastructure out of the box; that would have made you a lot more friends. Our stuff is in bad shape and what politician does not want to have a new road of bridge? However, you were too damn set on erasing the legacy of your predecessor (kind of like the guy who only wants to dunk the ball to get on the highlight reel for Sports Center and winds up missing and getting on “Bloopers of the Week” instead). It got the best of you and has set a bad tone for this year.   

You are listening only to the ideologues and those zealots will do you in every time. Roy Moore is just a harbinger of things to come. You repudiated David Duke in 2000 (just as I did in 1984) and Roy Moore was every bit the hate monger Duke was. So WHY was it different this time?  

Campaigning is easy. Governing is hard. Start governing and stop campaigning. Build the base. You and I were 70-somethngs upon taking office, but I was proud that my message resonated with young people; it built the party from which you and a generation of GOP office holders have benefitted ever since. Young people are now flocking away in droves; just look at the demographics of the Alabama vote. We won the 60-plus vote and nothing else. Not a great plan for long-term sustainability….   

Big things should take some time: I got tax reform through a partially Democratic-controlled Congress in 1986. We built consensus, and we actually got input from the other side. It was necessary so that we could do other things beyond that.   

This time, there was no need to start a “new civil war” among states with the tax code. Screwing up the economy of several states will ultimately NOT help the whole. It may be a painful lesson for you to absorb.

This tax bill was like the term paper a kid starts at 2 am the morning it is due. You and Congress must, could have and need to do better work than this!  

Always think of the next battle as you are charging through the current one. You never know who can be an ally. You can make a friend out of an enemy but you seem hell bent on making enemies out of our friends. To my next point…

It DOES matter what the rest of the world thinks. Yes, the US is important but we all share the same globe. The rest of the world looks to us for leadership and ours is now sadly lacking. Those that may attempt to step into this void may not be as magnanimous to the world as the United States has been throughout its history. Our allies should not have to ask: “What is the firm unswerving position of the American government this week?”  

We now have a void where there should be none. How do you think we knocked down the Berlin Wall? We led a movement backed by a caring world community, when a lot of the world thought it could not be done. We proved ’em wrong.  

TR was right: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. And don’t use the stick to poke people in the eye. I don’t think I was ever so embarrassed for the United States when watching your “speech” on the floor of the United Nations. All I could think of was Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the lectern and I kept hoping you at least would not do that.  I think the expectations for one of my successors should be higher.  

The Presidency is a great pulpit…Ahem that is probably not the best analogy as there is a reason we separate church and state and I am a lot more religious than you ever will be. But your presidency is not reaching out. A presidency needs to do that.

A presidency is NOT about saying the first thing that comes off the top of your head!  

Had we had Twitter in the 80’s, my “Tweets” would have been better. Three reasons why:  

  1. I would have thought them out.  
  2. I would not waste my time writing them myself and;  
  3. I would not be doing them at 3 o’clock in the morning.  

As T.R and Woodrow proved adeptly “the pen is mightier than the sword”, but you are not using the new “pen” called social media as a force for good. It for you is a truly squandered opportunity. 

And hey, there was a reason I started my 1980 fall campaign in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. Those Garden Staters are good people. They send a lot more money to Washington than most states and you’re killing them with this “tax reform”. They are also home to Ellis Island. Go back and fix it or stop invoking my name.

And remember, a lot of wonderful immigrants and a lot of their wonderful ideas are possible because of Ellis Island, New Jersey!  

The 2018 political train is coming down the track. Unfortunately, because of the rhetoric you have fostered long before January 20th, 2017, the party is tied up like Nell was on the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash. Unfortunately, among your sycophants in Congress there are no Barber Conables or Jack Kemps, so Dudley Doright is likely not coming to save Nell this time.  

Know this is tough medicine. But if I don’t tell you – who will?  

Yours, The Gipper!

Bill Healey is a member of the faculty of the Department of Political Science of The College of New Jersey and the School of Professional Studies at New York University. He formerly was an executive for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey. A lifelong Republican, he also served on the staff of former Representative Jim Courter and in the administration of Governor Christie Whitman. This is his first piece for INSIDER NJ. 

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