How did Reagan’s become Trump’s party? That is a question asked by many of the GOP faithful. Although Reagan was the first MAGA president, recall that in 1980 he ran on the slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again,” I don’t believe that Ronald Reagan would be welcomed in today’s Republican Party. 

Moreover, given the GOP’s cultish — some say cowardly — embrace of Trump in 2024, a candidate with a civil conviction for sexual assault now confronting 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions, Reagan would be a man without a party. The brand of Reagan’s GOP is no more.

For starters, Reagan’s policies on immigration were far more liberal than those of today’s GOP. Reagan issued a “Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy,” announcing his intention to continue the American tradition of welcoming immigrants. He also called for millions of undocumented “illegal immigrants” then living in the United States to be offered a path to legal status. On November 6, 1986, he signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which, among other provisions, granted what Reagan called “amnesty” to 3 million immigrants. 

For Reagan, immigration was a unique cornerstone of American vitality and renewal and central to his own origin myth.

In contrast, when Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he attacked immigrants by stating, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” 

After being sworn in as president, Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States for 90 days and later instituted a “zero tolerance” policy at the Southern border that separated children from parents of immigrants arrested while attempting to enter the United States. Unlike Reagan, today’s GOP has used immigration to divide Americans and to make immigrants the scapegoats for a range of domestic ills, including income inequality.

Reagan, a defender of the NATO alliance, took office after four decades of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. Impatient with the slow-grinding nature of the post-war containment policy, Reagan turned his foreign policy on a redefinition of America’s stance toward the Soviet Union. He believed the Soviet Union was an “evil empire,” as he called it in his speech on March 8, 1983. Later, in 1987, in Berlin, Reagan challenged then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine initiated the largest armed conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. Reagan would be shocked by Republican resistance to send aid to Ukraine to fight Russia. Likewise, he would be incredulous at the flirtations with Moscow by some GOP members, such as recent statements by Sen. Tommy Tuberville regarding Putin’s acumen. “You can tell Putin’s on top of his game,” Tuberville noted while addressing Russia’s posture on the Ukraine war. 

Then, there is candidate Trump, who referred to Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as “smart” and “genius.” At a campaign rally on February 10, Trump encouraged Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that Trump believed do not spend enough on defense.

Reagan — a proponent of immigration, a cold warrior, the man who gave that eloquent speech on defending freedom at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day — would say, as he once said about his prior affiliation with the Democratic Party years ago, “I did not leave the Republican Party; the Republican party left me.”