Donald Trump’s debate re-election bid was based on a nod to Reagan’s America in the 1980s

Former President Donald Trump was quick to name his predecessor Ronald Reagan in Thursday’s presidential debate against President Joe Biden.

Trump wasted no time in mentioning Reagan, beloved by almost all old-school Republicans, and others, to seemingly make his points on abortion. The most significant reference to “Morning in America” was the former president’s always very brief and not-so-surprising summary of his economic agenda.

The economy, and more so inflation, was the first topic addressed by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash in the debate. In the opening lines of the debate, Trump repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden’s economy and asked viewers to remember the pre-pandemic years of his presidency and bring him back to power.

Inflation and tax cuts

Trump repeatedly referred to his first term as “the greatest economy in the history of our country” recalling low inflation, but that was before the pandemic. Trump said his administration spent the money necessary to keep the economy from falling into another recession, recalling the Great Depression.

Pressed by Biden about the lopsided nature of his 2017 tax cuts, which conferred big savings on the wealthiest part of the population, Trump, after suggesting that was the only thing Biden had said correctly so far, responded: “Also I gave them the biggest “Biggest regulatory cut in history, that’s why we got the jobs.”

Biden, for his part, stressed that Trump left him with an economy in “free fall” before getting it back on track — to which, of course, Trump responded by saying that Biden inherited almost no inflation. (Americans consistently cite inflation as the top problem facing the country. Inflation concerns also caused business optimism to recently fall to its lowest point in a decade.)

Trump’s agenda for a second term is much the same as his first: more tax cuts, extensive deregulation, and increased energy production. During his first term, Trump’s formula, while adding more than $8 trillion to the U.S. debt, ended up resulting in low unemployment and decent wage growth, along with the same low inflation the U.S. had enjoyed since the 1990s. Trump again appealed to Americans’ wallets in the final moments of the debate, painting Biden as a tax-raising bureaucrat.

“He wants to raise your taxes four times. He wants to raise everyone’s taxes fourfold,” Trump said, adding, “When we lowered taxes…we had all these companies that brought money into our country,” another exaggeration.

Ronald Reagan: the original MAGA

Unlike Bidenomics, which relies on a series of levers to “build the economy from the bottom up,” Trump’s pitch may benefit from its radical simplicity. The appeal to tax cuts taps into Americans’ general distaste for taxes and bureaucracy — all traits that Reagan, the famous original president, played brilliantly to during his two terms. By naming Reagan, the man who coined the slogan “Make America Great Again,” Trump is not only watering down the MAGA slogan, he is aligning himself with one of the most popular presidents in American history.

Reagan, who came to power in the wake of crippling inflation, fully unleashed the economic agenda that dominated the Republican Party for the next three decades, dismantling the New Deal framework that shaped much of the 20th century. Reagan pushed through the largest tax cuts in American history, simultaneously boosting economic growth, accelerating rising inequality and putting the nation on track for ever-larger peacetime deficits.

In his closing remarks, Biden stressed the need for a fair tax system and said he would continue to fight inflation. Trump again talked up wars, suggesting they would never have happened if he had been president, while again touting his cuts to taxes and regulation, but if he is re-elected, he will make everything great again, Trump said, ending the debate.

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