Concord, NH—Ted Cruz is positioning himself as the “true” conservative candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The senator from Texas wants his fellow partisans to believe that he is the surest heir of the secular saint of modern conservatism: Ronald Reagan. Cruz says he has read stacks of Reagan biographies to bone up on policy and presidential demeanor. He tells crowds that Reagan understood that “simply giving voice to values of American people has power, and speaking the truth with a smile has enormous potency. It’s what Reagan did every day and what I’m trying to do in this campaign.”
Unfortunately for Cruz, despite all his alleged reading and actual pontificating, he does not appear to know very much about his favored president.
The senator—who is rarely accused of “speaking the truth with a smile”—is battling billionaire Donald Trump for the votes of conservatives in the first-caucus state of Iowa and the first-primary state of New Hampshire. And in this fight he frequently invokes the 40th president.
Ripping Trump for past expressions of sympathy with the Democratic party and at least some of its preferred programs, Cruz declared the other day in New Hampshire that “Ronald Reagan did not spend the first 60 years of his life supporting Democratic politicians, advocating for big government.”
Does Ted Cruz not remember that Ronald Reagan was a Democrat before he was a Republican?
Raised in a Democratic family, Reagan cast his first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932—when Herbert Hoover was decrying Roosevelt as a radical—and remained an active and outspoken Democrat through the first decades of his Hollywood prominence. It’s true that Reagan began moving to the right in the 1950s, but he did not register as a Republican until 1962.
So Reagan did not spend “the first 60 years of his life” as a Democrat. But Reagan was 51 at the time of his party switch.
During the first half-century of his life, Reagan did not just support Democrats. He gave donations, cut commercials, and argued passionately for the party of FDR and Harry Truman. He was a passionate New Dealer who described himself not as a bleeding-heart liberal but as “a near hopeless hemophilic liberal.”
Reagan was, famously, the leader of a labor union, the Screen Actors Guild. He also aligned for shorter periods of time with the World Federalist movement and left-leaning groups such as the Independent Citizen’s Committee for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions. Reagan identified as a liberal who was at odds with the the Communist Party. And he was very engaged with Democrats who did the same.