Seeing as I already made an ideological sliding scale for our most recent Democratic Presidents, I thought it reasonable to also make an ideological sliding scale for our most recent Republican Presidents.
The ideological standings of the Republican Presidents tend to actually be more clear-cut that the Democratic Presidents, and I had a much easier time lining them up in a list than I did with the Democrats. The one exception here is, of course, Donald Trump, as I do not think anyone can even begin to guess where his true politics lie. Like I did with the Democrats, I will start from the most partisan, than move inward to the center, starting with our most Republican President of recent memory…
George W. Bush (2001-2008)
Coming in first is Bush Jr. who is, without a doubt, are most recent Conservative President. Yes, he is not quite 100% conservative as evidenced with his support (although small) of some forms of green energy, illegal aliens being allowed a pathway to citizenship, and an expansion of Medicaid.
Besides these three policies, though, the Bush administration was very conservative. Bush Jr. cut taxes, favored the privatization of social security, had a negative attitude towards gay marriage, had strong pro-life positions, supported military expansion, had a hardline stance on drugs, was pro second amendment, etc…
It may be unfair to paint Bush Jr. as the most conservative President in modern history due to the fact that a lot of these policy positions may have been orchestrated by his incredibly influential Vice President, Dick Cheney. Regardless of who was making the decisions, though, it was still Bush Jr. who signed off on them and it is why he is the most Conservative modern President.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1988)
Reagan has gathered a cult following in the Republican Party, so it would only make sense that he would be one of the most Conservative Presidents to date.
So what keeps Reagan from being the most Conservative President? For one, Reagan was even softer on illegal immigration than Bush Jr. was. Unlike modern day Republican President, Donald Trump, Reagan was very pro amnesty for illegal immigrants telling Walter Mondale in a 1984 debate that, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” Reagan was also less dedicated in privatizing social security (although he still wanted to) than Bush Jr. was.
Despite this, though, Reagan was still solidly conservative. His support of supply side economics and a strong military helped define what Conservatism stood for. In 1981, during his inaugural address, Reagan sent a clear message to the American people that his Presidency would be a Conservative one. His words that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” still guide Conservative policy makers to this day.
Gerald Ford (1974-1976)
Next on the list comes Ford, “America’s accidental President.” For the most part, Ford had a similar ideology to Reagan and Bush Jr., but just not as far right. And, regarding some issues, Ford actually distances himself from his more Conservative counterparts.
For example, during the 1976 Republican primaries Reagan and Ford disagreed on whether or not it was proper to invest social security funds in the private market. Ford attacked Reagan, saying it would be reckless to risk losing social security funds through investment. Ford also differed from Reagan and Bush Jr. in regards to Gay rights. While by no means an advocate for the LGBT community, Ford for the most part was respectful to the Gay community, especially during his post Presidency. In 2001, Ford said, “I have always believed in an inclusive policy in welcoming gays and others into the [Republican] party… I think they ought to be treated equally. Period.”
George H.W. Bush (1989-1992)
Bush Sr. is the first Republican President on this list that I think is fair to call “a moderate Republican.” Bush Sr., like Ford, while not being a strong proponent for gay rights, was still relatively friendly to the LGBT community compared to other Presidents, especially during Bush Sr.’s post-presidency years. Bush Sr. was also more moderate on other certain social topics like abortion.
Most notably though, by recognizing the necessity of raising taxes in 1990, Bush Sr. bravely stuck his neck out and raised taxes to cure unstable, rising deficits in the American government. Instead of stubbornly sticking to his pledge not to raise taxes, Bush Sr. risked losing his re-election to save the American economy.
Despite his moderation, though, Bush Sr. still had some solidly Conservative policies. For example, his war on drugs was fairly far to the right and it lead to a substantial increase in incarceration rates for Americans. Still, Bush Sr.’s moderate tendencies in other areas are strong enough to push him more to the center than the other, aforementioned, Republican Presidents.
Donald Trump (2017-????)
A quick disclaimer. Although Trump is being placed among the moderate Republican Presidents, I still do not think he is a moderate. Rather, I put him here simply because some of his positions are so “un-Republican” that it ultimately serves to drag him, to my dismay, to the center.
Trump’s stances on things like climate change, healthcare, immigration, guns, the military, religion, and education are very Republican. On the other hand, Trump has claimed to be in favor of avoiding American involvement abroad, a huge departure from the interventionist attitude of hard right conservatives like Reagan and Bush Jr. Trump has also taken a very far left approach to free trade, finding himself amongst radical Democrats like Bernie Sanders who also oppose trade agreements.
Interestingly, though, Trump has proven himself to be moderate (at least so far) in regards to a surprising issue: gay rights. Trump has been a strong ally to the gay community, promising as President to do everything in his power to protect LGBT citizens from violence and oppression stemming from Islamic extremism. (Trump has tactfully avoided any mention of defending LGBT citizens from other radical religions, but still his support of LGBT citizens is to be commended).
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1960)
Eisenhower is well regarded by many as a true moderate and many modern day moderate Republicans refer to themselves as “Eisenhower Republicans.”
What defines Eisenhower Republicans is a recognition that tradition, while important and valuable, sometimes has to be updated and changed. During his Presidency, Eisenhower was a strong supporter of limited government, but still realized that sometimes government intervention was necessary.
For example, Eisenhower recognized that the free market could not appropriately care for the environment, so he intervened, pushing for protections for American wild life refuges and national parks. Furthermore, Eisenhower’s warning of the danger of a military industrial complex was a commendable act that unfortunately has, so far, appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. It is quite likely that Eisenhower would be upset with modern day Republicans like John McCain who support large amounts of military expansion.
Economically, though, Eisenhower was fairly Republican and would likely find a lot in common with his modern day Republican counterparts in their support of a largely free market. Despite Eisenhower’s moderation, there is one recent Republican President that is even more moderate…
Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Unfortunately for Nixon, his legacy of centrism is overshadowed by the Watergate scandal. Regardless, it is my belief that Nixon is not only our most moderate Republican President, but our most moderate President from both parties in recent memory.
Here are just a few examples of Nixon’s centrism: Nixon departed from many Conservatives in his belief that abortion was sometimes acceptable and necessary especially in the context of rape. Nixon was a very strong supporter of gun control, going on record saying, “Guns are an abomination.” And, in 1992, Nixon wrote, “unless we adopt and enforce strict gun control laws… we will never succeed in stemming the violence spawned by the gun trade.” While President, Nixon pushed for a healthcare plan that was actually more radical and to the left than Obamacare was. Nixon was also friendly to illegal immigrants believing it was in America’s best interest, morally and economically, to help them. Nixon was also incredibly pro environmental regulations. As President, he oversaw the creation of the EPA and pushed forward laws regulating air quality and halting the dumping of trash into America’s Great Lakes. Nixon also attempted to raise taxes in 1968 to fight rising inflation, but, unfortunately for him, he was stonewalled by his more conservative congress. These are just a few, of many, examples of Nixon’s centrist Presidency.
This is not to say Nixon was not a conservative. His war on drugs and interventionist outlook, for example, was very conservative. And while Nixon did try to raise taxes at the beginning of his Presidency, he was still overall, a supporter of the free market.
While Nixon’s moderation does not excuse his actions during Watergate, one has to admit that it is unfortunate that instead of being remembered for his ability to work across party lines he is remembered for being the President who had to resign in disgrace for fear of impeachment.