ThinkProgress has spent the past two years documenting the GOP’s ideological lurch to the right under President Obama, as evidenced most recently by last night’s GOP presidential debate featuring mostly fringe candidates and a pre-debate rally sponsored by extremist groups like the Oath Keepers militia and the paranoid anti-communist John Birch Society. Meanwhile, a heightened demand for ideological purity has forced GOP leaders to kowtow to an increasingly relevant and legitimized fringe. The result is a conservative agenda that is far more radical today than it was decades ago.
Potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee acknowledged this shift on Fox News today, telling host Bill Hemmer that even former President Reagan, the great conservative icon, would likely be unable to win a GOP primary in the current Republican “atmosphere”:
HUCKABEE: Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican party.
HEMMER: How come?
HUCKABEE: Because he raises taxes as governor, he made deals with Democrats, he compromised on things in order to move the ball down the field. As president, he gave amnesty to 7 million illegal immigrants. There were many things that would have been anathema. People speak of Reagan as if he was absolutely steadfast. He was in his convictions, but you have to govern in a way that is different that is different than the way you campaign.
Huckabee’s comments also reflect the fact that the Reagan conservatives speak of today never really existed. The “Reagan Myth” ignores much of the Reagan reality that conservatives would find “anathema,” as Huckabee says, including Reagan’s vigorous support of unions and his vast expansion of the federal government.
In February, former GOP Sen. Bob Bennett (UT) — who lost a primary to a tea party candidate last fall — echoed Huckabee, saying, “Ronald Reagan would probably not recognize the description of Ronald Regan that is coming out of a lot of the tea party blogs.”