There are three words to consider as the GOP presidential debate moves to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif.
Trust, but verify.
I don’t often make predictions, but I’ll wager a hill of jelly beans most of the 11 to 16 Republican candidates invited — whatever number and tier to which they belong — won’t miss an opportunity to co-opt, pay homage, quote, champion and maybe even compare themselves to Dutch/The Gipper/The Great Communicator Reagan.
That said, brash frontrunner Donald Trump already has made a few comparisons between himself and our 40th president. Though they both have entertainment backgrounds, some found it mostly show biz when Trump announced last week that the four Americans being held by the Iranians would be released before he even took office if he were elected president.
The public will have to decide whether such bluster trumps the actual fact that 52 American hostages held by the Iranians for 444 days were in the air and on their way home on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. Though I hope the four contemporary captives are released today, and we don’t have to wait for any political drama, it’s anybody’s guess whether Trump plans to capitalize on other Reagan quotes and actions.
We’re pretty sure he won’t promise to sign a document granting amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants as Reagan did. And we really hope Trump doesn’t try a new wrinkle on Reagan’s 1987 words in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” by addressing Mexico’s president with something like: “Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto, build this wall and pay for it!” He wouldn’t dare do that on the very day Mexico celebrates its independence, would he?
Considering the mild-mannered personality and positions of candidate Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon is more likely to recall and quote verbatim two famous Reaganisms: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born” and “within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.”
Here’s some absolutely unsolicited and untried advice for other candidates about quotes they might want to use — or avoid at all cost.
If Carly Fiorina is faced with that sticky question about getting booted from Hewlett-Packard back in the day, there is always this: “Facts are stupid things.”
This one won’t work for one of the youngest candidates, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should not feast on this one: “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been warned. One slip of the tongue with this quote — “If history teaches anything, it teaches that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly” — could be a disaster if botched and morphed into: “If history teaches anything, it is self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts.”
Though this one seems tailor-made for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, he better be careful: “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Just don’t mix up libertarianism and liberalism in that quote, or this one: “For the average American, the message is clear. Liberalism is no longer the answer. It is the problem.”
This one is for the bilingual Jeb Bush to explain and translate for Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Estamos caminhando para o socialismo, um sistema que, como se diz, só funciona no Céu, onde não precisam dele, e no Inferno, onde ele já existe” — which is to say, “We are moving toward socialism, a system that, as they say, only works in heaven, where they don’t need it, and hell, where it already exists.”
Our Today’s Question for Thursday on Facebook will be: Who was the first, the best and worst at attempting to channel Ronald Reagan at the GOP debate?
It should be fun watching elephants dance to the music of Reagan’s legacy. And don’t forget: “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.”
Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.