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November 20th, 2017

Insight

Trump's no disciple of the master

Michael Smerconish

By Michael Smerconish

Published Sept. 21, 2015

Donald Trump should have toured the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library before he debated at the Simi Valley, Calif., venue on Wednesday. Perhaps he'd have seen the permanent exhibit showcasing index cards on which the Great Communicator handwrote his favorite one-liners.

According to the library display, Reagan began making such notations in the 1950s, drawing on the wisdom of diverse figures like Greek playwright Aristophanes, Roman philosopher Cicero and President John Adams. For 40 years, it was his practice to keep them in a makeshift photo album. The 3-by-5 cards holding his favorite one-liners for dinner speeches and campaign rallies were wrapped with a rubber band and kept in his briefcase.

Reagan library executive director John Heubusch told me that the notecards were almost lost to history.

"Back during the Reagan centennial, the 100th anniversary of his birth, I asked our staff here to go in search of material that was not on display here at the library but perhaps find something new and interesting," he told me.

"After months of searching they found a box which was not marked in any way, just a brown cardboard box high up on a shelf. In this box was the contents of President Reagan's last working desk, so it had in it rubber bands and paperclips and things like that you'd find in a desk."

That box also contained the index cards.

"What's very fascinating is that we found the quotations and things he wrote in his own hand later on in many of the most famous Reagan speeches," said Heubusch. "It was like his treasure trove of ideas and expressions that he wanted to remember his whole life."

Touring the Reagan library on the eve of the GOP presidential debate, I spied a notecard with a line that reminds of Trump:

"Never start an argument with a woman when she's tired or when she's rested."

Trump violated that sage advice when, in the presence of a Rolling Stone reporter, he spied Carly Fiorina on television and said: "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?" His record of misogyny is well-documented. This time, there was a swift response. Fiorina cleverly released a campaign video "Ladies, look at this face, and look at all of your faces — the face of leadership."

And then came the debate. When given the opportunity to respond to Trump's offensive statement, Fiorina took the high road.

"It's interesting to me," she said. "Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said."

Arguably Trump's critique of Fiorina's appearance elevated her profile, which contributed to the number of questions that came her way. Trump ensured she received more than her share of face time.

And Trump's comments about Fiorina are just the type of behavior that causes Reagan's eldest son Michael to believe Trump is the least Reaganesque of the lot.

"Ronald Reagan didn't attack the people around him," he told me. "He didn't demean the people around him. He brought everybody together at the end. If Republicans don't bring everybody together at the end of the day, we do not win elections.

"We are the smallest bus in the building," he added. "We don't have the ability to throw people off the bus and demean them. We have to figure (out) a way to put people on that bus, and move it forward to Washington, D.C., and I don't think that Donald Trump is the guy who, in fact, fills the bus "

Many expected Trump to go after Ben Carson in the debate, but The Donald played nice. Perhaps Carson should also take the tour, and pay attention to another notecard in Reagan's handwriting:

"Beware of those who fall at your feet. They may be reaching for the corner of the rug."

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Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is host of "Smerconish" on CNN.

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