Category Archives: Commentary

Trump’s Move to the Left Ensures a Primary Opponent || RealClearPolitics

Trump’s Move to the Left Ensures a Primary Opponent

Ronald Reagan wasn’t Ronald Reagan before Ronald Reagan was Ronald Reagan.

In other words, while he is now revered by many as the first-among-equals Republican president, perhaps even more than Abraham Lincoln is, it wasn’t always so. From the time he burst onto the political scene in 1964 until his passing, Reagan was often derided by the political establishment and no more so than in 1976, when he audaciously took on Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination.

It was a bold move to go head-to-head against an incumbent president from his own party. Not since 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt challenged William Howard Taft, had it been attempted. But it nearly worked. On August 18, 1976, the penultimate day of the Republican convention, Ronald Reagan lost the primary to Ford by a mere 117 delegates, out of more than 2,000 votes cast.  It was the narrowest of margins, though some thought Ford’s win was tainted.

Reagan may have lost the nomination, but he certainly did not lose the hearts of Americans. While Ford went on to lose against Jimmy Carter, Reagan wasted no time in engineering his next run for president, just weeks after the 1976 election, eventually winning by landslides twice in 1980 and 1984. Unlike other primary losers, Reagan was not forgotten after 1976. Quite the contrary.

Ronald Reagan’s and Gerald Ford’s primary fight was rife with accusations, backhanded remarks, and down-right nastiness. The two despised each other by the end, and Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford couldn’t be in the same room with each other.

In the primaries, Reagan went straight after Ford’s inability to lead and inability to govern as chief executive. “I have become increasingly concerned about the course of events in the United States and the world,” he had said in announcing his candidacy in November of 1975. “The free world is crying out for strong American leadership.” He also went after Ford on ideological grounds, most notably U.S.-Soviet relations.

Ford’s short and ultimately forgettable presidency was marked by odd choices that made most conservatives angry and confused. From amnesty for draft dodgers and support for the Equal Rights Amendment to signing the Helsinki Accords, which ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets, as well as his continued support for the failed policy of détente, Ford’s loyalty to the GOP wasn’t always clear. He was far more moderate than many thought he would or should be as president. As if all this weren’t  bad enough, it came at a time when the Republican Party needed a principled reformer after Richard Nixon’s humiliating and sad exit.

Ford’s association with Nixon’s policies and D.C.-insider resume didn’t sit well in the primaries or the general election. It’s no wonder that Americans later looked to an outsider to clean things up. Enter Reagan, who went on to make history.

The candidate many viewed as the outsider in 2016 was Donald Trump, who proclaimed his intention to drain the political swamp. Things have turned out differently. Unfortunately for conservatives, Trump doesn’t seem to want to follow through, and is more interested in the approval of the liberal media and the art of the deal, good or bad. Trump’s conservatism has always been suspect and now is even more so. It’s been openly thought that he’s always wanted the approval of Manhattan society. Moreover, as Ford’s hold on the American people was ephemeral because he’d never received their votes, Trump’s hold is also weak, as he did not receive a majority of the popular vote in November.

President Trump seems to be heading in the direction of Gerald Ford. He is going leftward by negotiating with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi instead of his own party’s leadership. It was met with great fanfare by the liberal media when he agreed to increase the debt limit. Several days later, he reassured DACA recipients that everything will work out to their favor – at the behest of Nancy Pelosi.

He reversed his position on Afghanistan, in the tradition of “invade the world” neocons. During the campaign, his promise  was to pull all American troops out, the sooner the better. As president, it’s been to send more troops in. Trump has met several times with the Nixon-Ford foreign policy guru, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was the burr under Reagan’s and conservatives’ saddle. Trump also just announced that taxes on the rich – aka the successful – may go even higher. And more recently, he met again with Schumer and Pelosi to work with them to legalize Dreamers, promising to put off building the border wall until later. That’s two campaign promises reversed in one meeting.

If Donald Trump is destined to becoming the next Gerald Ford, who will be the conservative primary opponent running to his right? What will this mean for 2020? Will someone emerge to go after an unclear, messy, moderate incumbent in the primaries? It would seem so. Conservatives will surely want a hard-hitting and principled candidate who understands classic conservative economics, politics, and the tenets of Federalism.

Conservatives will want an outsider who is unable to be wooed by the insiders, from the left or right.

Is it realistic for someone to challenge the president  in 2020? Trump’s loyal apprentices who will vote for him no matter what – he said as much during the 2016 primaries – but that means little. Ford was an incumbent and nearly lost the nomination in ’76, even though Reagan received more votes in the primaries. Being president does not make you immune. Just ask Harry Truman in 1952. Or LBJ in 1968. A recent poll from early August revealed that over half of Republicans in New Hampshire would, if faced with a John Kasich vs. Trump primary, vote for the Ohio governor. Not even a year into the Trump administration, this is sorely disappointing, especially given that Kasich can come across as an old sourpuss.

Let’s see how 2020 shapes up. One thing seems certain, however: It will shape up quickly.

Craig Shirley is the author of four books about Ronald Reagan, including “Reagan Rising” and “Last Act.” He is also the author of the authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. He has lectured at the Reagan Library, is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Reagan Ranch.

Scott Mauer is a research assistant to Reagan biographer Craig Shirley.


Calling Reagan a pro-amnesty liberal hero is simply Orwellian || Conservative Review

Calling Reagan a pro-amnesty liberal hero is simply Orwellian


By Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer

Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which has, in five years’ time, allowed around 800,000 illegal youths to live and work in the United States without ever going through an application process to actually become American citizens. It was a program that President Trump once promised — only to cancel—which had infuriated Democrats as much as anything.

It was never intended to be a permanent solution and President Barack Obama said so, even as he himself was operating outside the Constitution in making his own law, rather than following it.

Still, President Trump had been bombarded on many sides for his decision, until now apparently reversing it. And, as critics continue to assault that original decision, they have picked up a new-old tactic: attack the present by hijacking the past. It’s the classic Orwellian cliché, of rewriting the past to control the future. It’s irresponsible.

This time — and not for the first time — the Left once again is invoking conservative icon and hero Ronald Reagan.

Recently, Michael Reagan tweeted that his father “would not kick the dreamers out of the US. He would find a way to work with Congress and lead.” Maybe. There are those who worked closely with the Gipper who say otherwise. On the other side now is immigration reform activist, liberal businesswoman, and widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs.

Her company, Emerson Collective, has a new television spot that selectively uses Ronald Reagan’s farewell address, “If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors,” Reagan says in his final address as the president of the United States. “And the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

It’s an effective ad that plays at the hearts of conservatives. Unfortunately for Laurene, it’s not quite as cut and dry as she thinks. DACA did not even exist when Reagan was president and it is a canard to suggest otherwise. Put illegals ahead of legal Americans? Reagan would have gagged at something less than fair play. Do we need another shallow rich liberal deliberately rewriting American history?

Everything that Ronald Reagan did was set against the backdrop of the Cold War. By the 1980s, the Soviet Union, specifically, and communism, generally, had been mortal enemies of the United States for nearly 40 years. People born during the Cold War were well into adulthood by the Reagan administration, and for their entire lives, communism was the threat.

It was an entirely different time when an Evil Empire was willing to kill millions in order to achieve world control. That was Reagan’s context. Where the threat of communism was rampant, from Central and South America’s Nicaragua or Panama, to all of Eastern Europe, Reagan opened his rhetoric.

It was 1986 when immigration became an issue at the forefront for the United States, when President Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The Cold War was at its peak. He noted that the legislation was not for the sake of votes, or the sake of appeasement. It was for American security.

“Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people, American citizenship,” he said. Note also that this action was not blanket amnesty. While it offered citizenship to many illegal immigrants, it banned employers from hiring illegal immigrants – a major issue in today’s immigration debate – and set to enforce tighter immigration laws.

In fact, the amnesty portion of the bill, according to Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, was a large thorn in the president’s side.

“There was extensive document fraud and the number of people applying for amnesty far exceeded projections. And there was a failure of political will to enforce new laws against employers. After a brief slowdown, illegal immigration returned to high levels and continued unabated, forming the nucleus of today’s large population of illegal aliens,” Meese wrote in Human Events.

Also, the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act contained heavy penalties and parameters for these illegals to become American citizens, but they were never enforced by the succeeding Bush administration. Again, it must be emphasized that this Act was in the context of the Cold War. The mid-’80s were highly sensitive and tense years for USSR-USA relations; to throw out the illegal immigrants would have immediately been called out by Moscow. “Why are you telling us to free Eastern Europe,” Mikhail Gorbachev and his ilk would’ve accused, “when you throw out people in your own country?” It’s a fair point.

All this being said, Reagan was not what liberals may want — a blanket supporter of illegal immigration. He said in a 1980 GOP debate with George Bush that he opposed illegals just walking into the United States. Reagan said they must “come here legally…pay taxes” (neither of which the illegals have done). He was hardline on the position, even as Ambassador Bush was not, supporting illegal children attending Houston’s public schools, even as Reagan never addressed the issue, choosing instead to focus on fixing Mexico’s rampant corruption.

Granted, Reagan did say during the October 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale that he believed “in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” On Reagan’s mind were the tens of thousands of people fleeing communism oppression in Cuba and Nicaragua. Political refugees, not economic refugees.

That was consistent with his philosophy of individual freedom and liberty. However, and it’s a big wrench in the argument, Reagan was for maximum control of the borders. Employers, in his words during the debate, “encouraged the illegal entry into this country … [and] hire them at starvation wages.”

That was the main focus: not only the protection of the exploited, but the protection of American consumers and the economy. This is why he wanted “to join in again when Congress is back at it to get an immigration bill that will give us, once again, control of our borders.” To control the borders was his priority.

In short, just because Reagan was pro-legal immigrant and pro-liberty does not mean he would be pro-DACA. To be pro-legal immigrant does not immediately make one pro-DACA, and it is nothing more than a lie to suggest otherwise. Besides, the immigrants of nearly 40 years ago were different than they are today. Then, they wanted to join American culture, not topple it, as many now are militantly anti-American, lawless, and closer to Antifa than to Apple Pie. Indeed, one-third of DACA takers have committed crimes here in America.

Would Ronald Reagan have supported DACA? Reagan respected the rule of law and the Constitution. The complications of an executive leader effectively inventing legislatively law aside, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say what a man — whose policies were defined by a very specific time and a very specific context of relations — would say.

In the end, it’s an exercise in the reckless hypothetical, in which the only person who can definitely answer is the man himself. But the evidence is clear Reagan would have put legal Americans ahead of illegal aliens.

Ronald Reagan was pro-individuality. He was also pro-American exceptionalism, and took issue on any threat against that. He was for American security and for the US Constitution, as it is proudly displayed on the wall at the Reagan Library. Would this have included 800,000 illegal immigrants? Doubtful. What we do know is that those who paint Ronald Reagan as a pro-amnesty hero are engaging in Orwellian rewriting of history.

It is irresponsible.

Craig Shirley has been hailed from many quarters as one of the leading Reagan biographers, having written four books and hundreds of articles and given hundreds of lectures about the Gipper. He is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, a member of the board of governors of the Reagan Ranch, and a frequent lecturer at the Reagan Library. Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s Research Assistant.


How could a meeting like Trump Jr.’s happen? Easy: Campaigns are circuses. || Washington Post

How could a meeting like Trump Jr.’s happen? Easy: Campaigns are circuses.

What seems inexplicable on the outside looks like just the usual chaos to insiders.

Many years ago, a friend of mine — let’s call him Ed — was managing a congressional race. He was interviewing a young woman for a job with the campaign. While perusing her resume, Ed asked her if she had any special skills. Unhesitatingly, she replied, “Yes. I’m clairvoyant.”

Taken aback, Ed asked if she could give him a demonstration, and again she replied yes, and, as a demonstration of her talents, she said, “I see the two of us in that motel down the street making love this afternoon.”

Ed later told me, “And you know what? She was right!”

When I heard of the meeting Trump campaign staffers had with a Russian lawyer last year, like many of my brethren who have worked in campaigns, I was not surprised.

Weirdos and politics go together like peas and carrots: Strange, bizarre meetings. Strange, bizarre people. Clandestine operations. Inexplicable decisions. Things that in the light of day look strange, but in the heat of the moment seem perfectly rational. People often do things in politics that later can’t be explained. At least not always reasonably.

Years ago, an old campaign operative told me, “In politics, you can be an adulter or a drunk. I chose to be a drunk.” Normal?

My wife Zorine was the finance director for a campaign many years ago that held a fundraiser where Jack Kemp was the special guest. The event, in Arizona, was designed to be a good, old-fashioned western hoedown with dancing and booze. Problem was the fundamentalist holy rollers supporting the campaign objected to the dancing and drinking. So they had the event, but with no booze, no dancing, and no fun. Campaign staffers are often more important than campaign plans.

There are constant gaffes like that in politics: In 1972, George McGovern was campaigning in New York City, where he went into a kosher Jewish deli and ordered a “glass of milk” to go with his corned-beef sandwich. That same year, his running mate, Sargent Shriver, was campaigning in a blue-collar bar and ordered drinks on the house, earning praise from the working-class patrons. That is, until he ordered a snifter of Courvoisier for himself.

Outsiders will never understand what insiders really know about campaigns. The best stories will never be written or see the light of day. “Campaigns are garbage moving in the right direction,” quipped longtime GOP operative Eddie Mahe. If you’ve worked in politics long enough, you’ve seen it all, from candidate’s wives deflowering young male staffers to shysters selling the magic formula for making candidates younger to Lothario candidates who kept inviting female staffers to join them in a hot tub. I was bemused by a recent story written by a longtime scribe for the Weekly Standard giving all sorts of free advice to the GOP. Humph. Reporters like to play-act at being campaign operatives, but until you’ve worked inside a campaign, you will never know what it is really like.

In 1964, the story goes that old man Igor Sikorsky, millionaire founder of Sikorsky Aircraft and a right-winger’s right-winger, was convinced the way to get Barry Goldwater elected president was to stop poor people from voting. He hired a couple of GOP operatives to seed the clouds over Philadelphia so it would rain — the theory being poor people didn’t vote when it rained. The day of the election dawned, and it was bright and clear over Philly. Meanwhile, the boxes of flaky dry ice they’d purchased to seed the clouds had coagulated into chunks. Their plane, a DC-3, took off and chased the few wisps of clouds over the City of Brotherly Love. Out of the cargo hold, they threw the chunks of dry ice at the few small clouds. “Do you think this will work?” said one of the crew. Replied Sikosky’s hire, “I don’t know, but maybe we’ll hit a few.”

The fabled pollster and political consultant Arthur Finkelstein has seen it all over the years. Finklestein always had a bias against using billboards in campaigns. He’s said this up front to many a candidate, often followed by an argument. Candidates love to see themselves on billboards, but one particular client of his agreed with the strategy. This candidate, too, eschewed billboards, but then told his pollster how he would win: “Potholders! With my name on them!”

Years ago, Newt Gingrich thought he’d broken new ground with a mobile campaign office. The young man he hired to drive it around the district quickly discovered he could have afternoon assignations without the cost of a “no tell” hotel room. The Winnebago was often spotted around the district parked in a grocery store lot, its springs bouncing to the beat of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, thus giving new meaning to the old campaign adage, “Politics is motion.”

The failed 1980 presidential campaign of California Gov. Jerry Brown was a movable laugh riot. When not eating raw cauliflower, he was doing things like telling supporters there was no such thing as a free lunch, at the very time he was plying them with… a free lunch. When not campaigning, “Governor Moonbeam” was often seen loitering around a Zen palace in the Golden State.

In 1982, a year after the attempt on his life, Ronald Reagan was on Air Force One on a campaign swing, dressing in his favorite suit, which was charitably described as “purple plaid.” Nancy Reagan hated the suit and began in on her husband, telling him how much she loathed it. She attempted to drag deputy chief of staff Mike Deaver into the crossfire, but he refused, saying, “I’m sick of the subject! I’m sick of talking about it!” Reagan pleaded how much he liked to wear it until Nancy said, “ Oh yeah? Mike, tell the president what the staff says about his suit!” Reagan looked at Deaver and said, “Mike, what does the staff say about my suit?” Deaver replied, “Mr. President, the staff says if you were going to be shot, why couldn’t you have been shot wearing that suit?”

To paraphrase an old educator and philosopher, “Those who can, do, those who can’t, become over-the-top bell ringers.” Many will never know how fun it really is. Or how a silly little meeting with a Russian lawyer could possibly be just that — a silly little meeting and nothing more. The bystanders and alarmists scream the sky is falling, it seems, to give a little excitement to their otherwise mundane and limiting lives.

Stu Spencer, a longtime political adviser to Reagan, once said, “Working in politics is like running away and joining the circus.” And indeed, it is. It’s just not for everybody.

So the Trump campaign hands should pay these critics no mind. They will never know how much fun it is to be in the crazy arena, to know victory and defeat.


Debunking the Assertion Reagan Was a ‘New Deal Republican’ || Lifezette

Debunking the Assertion Reagan Was a ‘New Deal Republican’
New book obscures the Gipper’s life journey away from FDR-style, big-government liberalism
Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address in 1801, said that “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
Jefferson went through the first bitter and divisive U.S. election against incumbent President John Adams, so his call for unity was welcomed. What happens, though, when an opinion changes the principle of not just a conservative icon but changes the very meaning of American history and interpretation of America’s future? What happens when that opinion is simply wrong?
Henry Olsen, Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of a new book on Reagan, will find that out soon enough, for he has certainly kicked the conservative hornet’s nest.
Olsen’s new book, “The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism” (Broadside Books, 2017), has an interesting though flawed premise: that Ronald Reagan, champion of American conservatism and American freedom and self-described libertarian, was a lifetime New Dealer, a supporter and inheritor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s massive government policies to jump-start the economy in the 1930s and early 40s.
It is surely a controversial and provocative assertion that will stimulate an intellectual debate about who Reagan was, what he believed, and how he evolved. All legitimate scholarship on Reagan is to be welcomed. And Olsen does recognize Reagan’s intellect, as expressed in his writings, and for this, he is to be commended. At no time does Olsen question Reagan’s vastly underestimated intellect. The writing is often good.
By the 1960s and later, Ronald Reagan was a conservative, a libertarian. He was pro-life, pro-freedom, and pro-individualism. He was pro-market and pro-federalism. He was an intellectual who read constantly while traveling, by train, across the country, quoting freethinkers such as Thomas Paine, Ralph Emerson, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Reagan did not shy away from his support or admiration for Roosevelt, even after his political shift from a “hemophilic liberal” to an American conservative in the 1960s. His oft-used phrase “rendezvous with destiny” — in his endorsement for Barry Goldwater, or in the announcement of his candidacy for president in 1979, or in his acceptance for the nomination a year later — was taken directly from FDR’s speech in 1936 to members of the Democratic Convention. He admitted in his diaries that he voted for FDR in all four of his elections.
In his autobiography, “An American Life,” Reagan admits that his liberalism was so strong that he would have family fights with his brother Neil after the latter became a Republican. 
Reagan says that his support for the New Deal in the 30s and 40s went down “to the core. I thought the government could solve all our postwar problems just as it had ended the Depression and won the war.”
Compare that to his first inaugural address, several decades later, by which time his view of government had drastically changed from that of his youth.
“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he famously said. One may have difficulty seeing how this relates to FDR’s government control of the economy; the government, as he said earlier, “is our servant, beholden to us,” not the other way around.
Reagan was a vocal opponent of excessive government spending and overreach, perhaps the most vocal opponent in modern United States history. This included such previously beloved programs as the New Deal. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, perhaps Reagan’s biggest enemy in Congress, was a constant annoyance to the President’s beliefs and policies. In 1981, Reagan said that O’Neill “is a solid New Dealer and still believes in reducing the states to administrative districts of the federal government.”
Personal grudges between the two aside, this was a policy issue, and Reagan’s personal diaries showed that the main belief of the New Deal was feds vs. states. Reagan fundamentally disagreed with the notion of making the states almost like subsidiaries of the federal government, emphasizing that “Washington has no business trying to dictate how states and local governments will operate their programs.”
Indeed, during the 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter, Reagan quipped, “I was a Democrat; I said a lot of foolish things back in those days.”
In public, Reagan was just as hard on the New Deal. In a Christmas Day broadcast in 1981 on PBS, President Reagan said that “many of the New Dealers actually espoused what today has become an epithet — fascism — in that they spoke admiringly of how Mussolini had made the trains run on time. In other words, they saw in what Roosevelt was doing; a planned economy, private ownership, but government management of that ownership and that economy.”
Right or wrong, Reagan clearly believed that New Deal proponents — not FDR, but those who were close to FDR, admired Mussolini’s fascism and that the two ideologies were best friends, if not one and the same. 
Although some historians can argue that Olsen sometimes misrepresents Reagan, his legacy, or his presidency, there are some further problems with the writing itself. The book strays from its thesis to give unnecessary factoids that, at the end of the day, are not needed for arguing such an unconventional view. That’s not to mention where Olsen also seemingly contradicts himself, as when he said that “Reagan remained firmly against government planning,” If Reagan remained against it, then why would he be for the New Deal?
It is also sometimes repetitive, such as saying several times that Reagan voted for FDR in 1932 — repeated within the first pages of the book. There is some unnecessary writing to set the stage of Reagan’s liberal persona to contrast it with his matured conservative views. There’s explaining the origin of “the Gipper,” which, while cute, is ultimately skippable. And the repeated fact of Reagan’s first vote being for Roosevelt, even as background, bears little support for Olsen’s thesis. Winston Churchill is said to have said that a young man who is not a liberal has no heart and an old man who is not a conservative has no brain.
It is unclear if Olsen interviewed anyone close to Reagan, a big problem for anyone who is interested in the Gipper’s presidency.
And though Olsen uses a primary source such as “Reagan in His Own Hand,” you’d be hard-pressed to find others, since “The Working Class Republican” does not have a bibliography. Those are two other red flags.
A historical analysis of how Reagan sometimes worked with Democrats both before and during his presidency is a book long overdue, but Olsen does not offer this here. He often conflates pre-conservative Reagan with conservative Reagan, believing that if one said something, then the other must have believed it. It is like looking at Saul of Tarsus and later his converted identity as Paul, and believing they are of the same beliefs.
“The historian is a prophet facing backwards,” said nineteenth-century German poet August Wilhelm Schlegel. Olsen is not a prophet, but he is a good man searching for answers, asking questions too few have asked. Reagan was a liberal traveling a long road to conservatism. Why? While Olsen’s book only partially answers this question, at least he has the guts to ask such risky and out-of-bounds queries. All of us fall too often into a simple storyline about a complex man, and Olsen has the temerity to ask the unaskable.
Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and author of four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan, most recently “Reagan Rising.” He has a political biography on Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt,” coming out in August. Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s researcher.

Remembering Robert S. Leiken || Newsmax

Remembering Robert S. Leiken

Earlier this month, on June 7, Robert S. Leiken, esteemed political science professor, enlightened anti-communist, died at the age of 78. He was active in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the most influential people to shape the U.S. involvement in Nicaragua during the Reagan years. And he was a liberal.

During the 1970s, he referred to himself as a Marxist, teaching in Mexico. He soon went to several think tanks, from the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies in 1981 to liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1983. It was in Carnegie where he edited “Central America: Anatomy of Conflict” a year later, which was highly critical of President Reagan’s foreign policies, especially towards the communists in Central America.

It all changed when he visited Nicaragua itself. Since the late 1970s, the freedom fighter group Contras — ragtag but for the most part sincere — were in an active war against the Soviet-backed communist Sandinista government.

The conflict, which only became worse throughout the 1980s, was the flashpoint of U.S. policy in Central America. When Leiken visited Nicaragua in 1984, after communicating with the son of future Contra leader Arturo Jose Cruz, he noticed how poorly the Communist government treated their poor. It was exactly what they promised not to do.

Several years later he said, “Sympathy with the Contras is becoming more open and more pervasive. I was stunned to hear peasants refer to the Contras as ‘los muchachos,’ the boys  — the admiring term used to once describe the Sandinistas when they were battling the National Guard.”

The National Guard were part of the previous Anastasio Somoza regime. Somoza was corrupt and overthrown by the Sandinista’s promising reform. Leiken further noted that the reigning corrupt communist government’s failures “polarized the country, led to disinvestment, falling productivity and wages, labor discontent, and an agrarian crisis.”

Leiken saw through the lies of the Nicaraguan government and its disinformation, as well. He experienced it first-hand. “These thousands of demonstrators were hardly ‘bourgeoisie,’ as the Sandinistas claimed,” he said before Congress. “They were overwhelmingly workers, peasants, and young people.” It was his hands-on experience that swayed the United States. It coming from a self-proclaimed Marxist showed that it wasn’t typical liberal bias.

Ronald Reagan even mentioned Leiken by name during his remarks at a fundraising dinner for the Nicaraguan Refugee Fund, and again a year later at a speech at the Heritage Foundation (in which, Reagan said, Leiken’s conclusion about the Communist government came “much to the distress of some of his liberal colleagues”).

The significance of not just Leiken, but the whole of the Contra insurgency, cannot be understated. The fight over the Contras was the fight of the century.

Before Nicaragua, with few exceptions, Communist governments were sequestered, more or less, across the Atlantic and the Pacific — China, Russia, Eastern Europe. Cuba was, and continued to be, a Communist threat. But Nicaragua represented a new front in their war against freedom, a new threat to America. Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, was different. It not only was the linchpin of Communism close to the U.S., but emphasized the division between American conservatives and liberals.

As one Republican leader, Newt Gingrich said in 1983, “Because they fail to understand the nature of evil, radical Democrats support policies at home that favor the criminal rather than the victim.”

The Democrats, by being against intervention in Nicaragua, intended or not, said that they supported the Communist dictators, and did not care for the freedom fighters.

Leiken fought tenaciously for the Contras and against the Sandinistas and their liberal apologists in America because like Reagan, who compared the Contras to America’s founding revolutionaries, he knew that freedom was not only good, it was spiritual and that communist enslavement was wrong and evil.

As it turned out, Reagan was right, the Contras were right, we were right, Leiken was right and the Sandinistas were wrong and their liberal apologists were wrong.

Just as the left has always been wrong and American conservatism has been right. Leiken had the wisdom to change. Leiken became a great American because he had the courage to change. Robert Leiken, RIP.

Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer. His Books include, “Reagan Rising: the Decisvie Years,” and  “Reagan’s Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan.” He is the founder of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and has been named the first Reagan scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.


"There are no easy answers' but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." – The Gipper