Category Archives: Reviews

How to Chart Ronald Reagan’s Ascent – and Its Parallels to Trump || American Thinker

How to Chart Ronald Reagan’s Ascent – and Its Parallels to Trump

Reagan Rising by Craig Shirley fascinatingly charts Ronald Reagan’s rise from the defeat of the 1976 presidential campaign to his victory in 1980.  This book allows people to gain new insights into how Ronald Reagan grew as a candidate and leader as he championed the individual and appealed across party lines.  But readers can also see many similarities between the rise of Ronald Reagan and the election of Donald Trump.

As with Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan was not taken seriously by his Republican counterparts or the national media.  His rival, Gerald Ford, later remarked that he considered Reagan a lightweight and on the campaign trail made fun of him: “Governor Reagan does not dye his hair; he is just turning prematurely orange.”

It seems that orange is the color for those who attempt to clean the swamp.  Shirley commented to American Thinker, “Everyone wrote Reagan off as a dumb bunny, and a right-wing kook.”

The Republican establishment, once realizing Reagan was a force to be reckoned with, started a “stop Reagan movement,” similar to the Never Trump movement of 2016.  Shirley pointed to the speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where Reagan “prided himself on not being a part of the Washington Establishment, mocked Capitol Hill’s ‘buddy system’ with the bureaucracy, the lobbyists, big business, and big labor, and their attempt at collusion.  He spoke of ‘the man and woman in the factories … the farmer … the cop on the beat. Our party.'”

Because of Jimmy Carter’s policies, Americans gravitated toward Ronald Reagan just as they gravitated toward Donald Trump after having President Obama for eight years.  The book reflects on Carter’s weakness in confronting America’s enemies, “issu[ing] a blank check to the Russians to run amok.”  Sound familiar?  President Obama has done the same, empowering ISIS.  His rhetoric and this administration’s ineptitude have made the world less safe.  His utter failure to confront radical Islamic terrorism has allowed successful attacks to occur in Europe and America.

Readers will find it astonishing how similar were the eras before the election of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.  In both cases, Shirley noted, “Americans did not want more of the same.  The working man and woman were forgotten, and many homes needed two paychecks to just get by.  Public schools were not teaching their children, and the failing teachers were associated with the Democratic Party.  Both then and now, the Democrats were growing out of step with blue-collar American values.  It was the first time that Americans felt that the future would be worse off for their children than it had been for them.  Today that feeling has increased exponentially.”

Although there are many similarities between Trump’s and Reagan’s elections, Shirley points out some differences as well.  “I think he is more intellectual then Trump and less emotional.  Reagan approached the draining of the swamp dynamically.  He wanted to grow the net private economy six times faster than the federal government.  Basically, the federal government’s influence decreased as the size of the private economy grew.  Another contrast was back then thirty-seven of the nation’s governors were Democratic, the GOP controlled the legislatures in only four states, and both houses of Congress were firmly in the hands of the Democrats.  Obviously, it was a much more hostile environment for conservatives and Republicans.”

The author wants Americans to understand that “Ronald Reagan is a fascinating figure of history, a renaissance man.  He was the right man with the right message at the right time.

“I think there is a need for books by conservatives about conservatives.  Books need to be out there that are beyond the liberal interpretation of history.  This is how to bypass the ultra-left and get the ideas out there.  My next book, Citizen Newt, is written for just that purpose.  Most of the books written about Newt [Gingrich] are by leftists that desecrate, criticize, and mock him as they have with Reagan.”

Reagan Rising is a great account of Reagan’s journey from 1976 until the 1980 election.  Shirley offers insight into the development of Reagan’s optimistic and unifying philosophy.  Readers will find the comparison with Donald Trump fascinating as they hear him speak of many Reagan-era principles of less government, more individual freedom, projecting American power, and defending American constitutional values.  As Shirley stated, “Ronald Reagan would have been very comfortable saying, ‘I’m not the president of the world.  I’m simply the president of the United States.'”

The author writes for American Thinker.   She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.


“Reagan Rising” Review – Booklist

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Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976–1980.

Shirley, Craig (Author)

Mar 2017. 432 p. Broadside, hardcover, $29.99. (9780062456557). 973.927.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan failed in his second try for the Republican nomination for president (the first was in 1968), and it seemed likely to be his last. According to Shirley, the Republican establishment felt the country would never accept a hard Right conservative. Yet Reagan persisted and won the presidency decisively four years later. In his third book about Reagan, Shirley, a journalist, biographer, and staunch admirer, tracks the period from Reagan’s 1976 defeat to his victory at the Republican convention in July 1980. This is an engrossing, richly detailed saga filled with political figures obscure and familiar. Shirley doesn’t soft-pedal the vicious political infighting within the Republican Party. Many of the political operatives, including some Reagan supporters, aren’t shown in a favorable light. Reagan, however, remained largely above and unsullied by the fray, continuing to effectively preach his message of optimism and a vision that the economy, liberated from government interference, would thrive. Both political junkies and general readers should appreciate this account of the triumph of a conservative icon.

—Jay Freeman


Review of Craig Shirley’s “Last Act” by Gary Hoitsma || SFPPR


He was a popular GOP candidate, leader, and president – often curiously at odds with the nation’s governing elites, including even the vast Republican Party establishment which eventually adopted him, though never quite completely. Yet, he developed a remarkable bond with the American people that tended to shroud him in a blanket of seemingly magical “Teflon,” that his adversaries in both parties could never seem to fully understand.

last_actBefore he was elected president in 1980, one of the big raps against him was that behind an amiable front, he was really little more than an uninformed knee-jerk bumpkin of the Neanderthal right, unfit to be near the nuclear codes, ready to plunge the nation into war at the drop of a hat. Seven days after his inauguration at the height of the Cold War, his adversaries’ worst fears were all but confirmed when he broke all the usual rules of diplomatic niceties by publicly describing Soviet leaders as a bunch of immoral liars and cheaters hell-bent on world domination. Nobody should be allowed to say such impolite things on the presidential stage. It would be “temperamentally” gauche, to say the least. So said the really smart people of the day. On the nightly news, the wise serious-minded commentators of the foreign policy elites all said the new president had made one of the worst gaffes ever… and surely something close to World War III in U.S.-Soviet relations would be soon to follow.

But in the longer light of history, they underestimated Ronald Reagan. A decade later, statues were being erected to the man in the streets of the newly freed Eastern bloc cities of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, the Berlin Wall had been Reaganesquely “torn down,” the Soviet Union dissolved, and Margaret Thatcher was pronouncing to the world a fitting epitaph of sorts to his eight-year presidency, memorably saying he had almost singlehandedly ended the Cold War “without firing a shot.”

Of course, popular understanding of the real Reagan legacy will continue to be a work in progress for many years to come. Yet, a largely positive narrative about it has appeared to gel more quickly in historical terms than some might have thought possible, especially considering the level of political vilification which had been heaped on him by so many over the course of his presidency and in the years since. In addition, Reagan, after leaving office in January 1989, did very little in a personal proactive way to try to mold or re-shape is own legacy, even at one point declaiming any real interest in doing so, saying he was content to let history be the judge of what he did or didn’t do.

By late 1994, when Reagan poignantly informed the American people of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he had largely withdrawn from public life where he remained through his death on June 5, 2004 at age 93. Meanwhile, the publication of two books in 2001 and 2003 – prolific collections of Reagan’s pre-presidential hand-written radio addresses and personal letters, edited by Marty and Annelise Anderson and Kiron Skinner, convincingly illustrated to a much wider audience an erudite and thoughtful side to Reagan that added significantly to the more positive perceptions of the man and his legacy.

Reagan biographer Craig Shirley delves into the subject of Reagan’s post-presidential years and his place in history in his recent book, Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan. The author of two earlier books covering Reagan’s presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980, Shirley is an unabashed Reagan admirer. He is also a deft researcher and reporter who clearly documents and describes significant parts of the overall Reagan story with a knack for detail and bringing the reader up close with contemporaneous events.

Shirley chronicles many public and private stories and happenings surrounding the week-long official public mourning and funeral following Reagan’s passing, and uses it as backdrop to highlight the cultural divides that continue to surround the Reagan legacy and by extension our nation’s current politics. In so doing, he provides cogent analysis of the broader Reagan story, including the ongoing tug-of-war between Reagan’s ardent detractors (mostly contained among the nation’s political, media and academic elites) and his most devoted admirers (concentrated among those who had been part of his extended political team) as well as so many ordinary Americans and others who had simply bonded with him in a special way over the years.

Part of the origins and strength of that bond with the American people no doubt trace back to the assassination attempt in 1981, when Reagan’s self-deprecating humor and grace under life-and-death pressure elicited, in a unique way, a measure of the man to which ordinary people could immediately relate. Shirley recounts how so many years later, Reagan staffers in the Washington DC funeral motorcade en route to Andrews Air Force Base, traveling through some of the area’s poorer Democratic neighborhoods, were emotionally overwhelmed by the spontaneous outpouring of ordinary people lining the streets with patriotic displays of genuine affection and respect for Reagan that otherwise might have seemed quite improbable.

The renowned Russian writer and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whom Reagan admired, said he saw Reagan as a man of “greatness,” but just as importantly as a man who evoked the “heart” and “soul” of the American people, “the breadth and depth of the American homeland.”

It is the very same quiet sentiment that continues to animate the enduring comradery, captured so succinctly in this book, that binds together those that Reagan described in his Farewell Address to the Nation as “the men and women of the Reagan Revolution,” the Reagan alumni who worked on his campaigns, served in his administration, and helped him in his final journey in life and in death. With each passing year, they seem to know more clearly that because of Reagan, they were a part of something special … and with him continue to maintain the faith – despite any passing appearances to the contrary – that because of the innate strength, goodness and wisdom of the American people, there will always be that “bright dawn ahead.”

Gary Hoitsma served as special assistant to Ray Barnhart during Barnhart’s tenure as Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, under President Ronald Reagan and is a former aide to U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Mr. Hoitsma is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.