Here Are All The Ways The GOP Candidates Ignored Reagan's Legacy

On climate change, immigration and other issues, they implicitly criticized the Gipper's record.

Former President Ronald Reagan loomed over the second Republican presidential debate on Thursday: It was held at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and the candidates effusively praised his legacy while standing in front of the massive plane that served as his Air Force One. But at various points during the debate, the GOP presidential hopefuls conveniently ignored or distanced themselves from aspects of Reagan's presidency that would be considered too progressive for today's Republican Party. Below are some examples: 

Climate Change

Moderator Jake Tapper asked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio a question on behalf of George Shultz, Reagan's secretary of state, who wanted to transmit a reminder that when Reagan was president, "there were dire warnings from the mass consensus of the scientific community about the ozone layer shrinking." 

"Shultz says urged skeptics in industry to come up with a plan," Tapper said. "He said, do it as an insurance policy in case the scientists are right." Speaking for the former secretary of state, Tapper asked Rubio whether he would "approach climate change the Reagan way." 

Rubio answered that the United States shouldn't "destroy" its economy to combat climate change. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he thinks humans do contribute to climate change, backed him up. 

"We shouldn't be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate," Christie said. "We can contribute to that and be economically sound." 

But when pressed on the fact that the former secretary of state supported action on climate change despite being in the Reagan administration, Christie criticized Shultz.

"Listen, everybody makes a mistake every once in a while, Jake, even George Shultz," Christie said. "And if that's truly a representation of what he believes we should be doing, then with all due respect to the former secretary of state, I disagree with him." 

Taxes and Spending 

Listening to the Republican candidates talk about their tax plans, you wouldn't know that Reagan was repeatedly forced to raise revenues to deal with deficits. 

"Our plan is based on the Ronald Reagan tax cuts of 1986," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. "That brought about one of the longest sustained periods of economic growth in American history." 

Reagan also majorly increased the size of the federal workforce, with the number of federal employees going from 324,000 to nearly 5.3 million.

"You know, we have 4.1 million federal employees," Dr. Ben Carson noted at the debate, during a discussion on vaccines in which he criticized the size of the federal government. "Six hundred and fifty federal agencies and department[s]." 

Foreign Policy 
Candidates like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina emphasized that they'd be tough on the United States' foes abroad and wouldn't negotiate with leaders of countries like Russia or Iran. 
"Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn't talk to him at all. We've talked way too much to him," Fiorina said. "Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to." 
But Reagan is known for holding summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, even establishing a productive relationship with the leader while the two countries were engaged in the Cold War. 


Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which allowed 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before 1982 to stay in the country if they had a clean record and registered with the Selective Service. 

"If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors," Reagan said in 1989. 

But the candidates on Wednesday were loathe to discuss allowing immigrants to remain in the U.S. or have a path to legal status or citizenship.

"A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. "I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty and, in fact, who helped lead the fight to stop a massive amnesty plan." 

Carson, asked to respond to Cruz' allegations that his immigration plan was tantamount to amnesty, argued that his plan was "not amnesty," but rather a way to keep guest workers in the country to work agriculture jobs. 


A handful of the candidates -- including Walker, Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- competed to establish their anti-abortion credentials and jockeyed to prove that they had been the first to defund Planned Parenthood in their state. 

Yet Reagan effectively legalized abortion in California when he signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act as governor in 1967, though he later appeared to regret the decision. 

The Supreme Court 

At least one candidate was willing to explicitly criticize the Gipper: During the earlier debate for candidates polling at the bottom of the field, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said it was a mistake for Reagan to nominate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is frequently the court's swing vote and wrote the majority decision legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this year.