Expert: Reagan Would Approve of Trump’s Style In Virus Crisis

| Washington Post | by Paul Bedard

James Rosebush, a longtime aide to and biographer of former President Ronald Reagan, often gets asked if the Great Communicator would approve of President Trump’s style.


For sure, they’re different. The Gipper, he told us, was smooth and less prone to get into media dust-ups. Trump, he said, is a “carnival barker” who blurts out ideas that come into his head “like popcorn,” and he's his own press secretary “Reagan stayed above it,” said Rosebush. “Trump is like a mongrel, he’s right in there fighting.”


Still, said the author of the upcoming Winning Your Audience, a Washington-centric update of Dale Carnegie’s speaking tips, Reagan not only would have embraced Trump, the two fit their times.

“Reagan had the same communications principles as Trump: ‘Take my message to the people.’ Just like Trump and his Twitter, Reagan had his radio show. He felt that if he can get his message directly to the people that he could convince anyone. And Trump feels the same way,” said Rosebush, the CEO of the Washington-based consulting firm Growth Strategy.

“There are many more similarities than there are disparities,” added Rosebush, also former first lady Nancy Reagan's chief-of-staff.

One area in which they differ, he said, is that Reagan liked to lard up speeches with historical references, whereas Trump is current and topical. “Trump’s language is simple, explosive, and direct,” he said. As the president tackles the coronavirus crisis with his unique pitch to the public, Rosebush said his style is serving him well, as Reagan’s did during his crisis points.

“Both Trump and Reagan, in their speeches, grasp the importance and value of being in a synchronous cadence with their audience, feeding them what they want to hear and driving to an outcome or an important takeaway. Every speech for both leaders has been a value play — Reagan’s designed to achieve policy gains, and Trump’s more political,” he said.


One Trump trait highlighted in Rosebush’s book, published by Hachette and out April 7, is the president’s ability to shift direction on-the-fly while speaking. That has been on display daily during briefings by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Some critics have ripped Trump for changing his skeptical view of the virus from the early days of those briefings. But Rosebush said the president is not afraid of political fallout as he adapts to what he thinks people expect from him — and fights for his own survival.

“When you are in trouble, you want a leader, or head of your family, or head of your business, or whatever it is, to be a fighter and someone who is not going to lose. With Trump, you know absolutely one thing about him. He is so competitive that he will not tolerate losing,” said Rosebush.

“Here I am as an American citizen, I want to survive what we are going through now. Man I’m putting my bet on Trump. You know why? Because he wants to survive,” he added.

And Trump’s adaptive approach to big issues and audiences is likely to become the new model for presidents and White House communications, Rosebush told us.

“Trump has completely broken the mold. We’re never going back,” he said. In his book, he said that America is in a “disruptive” communications era, driven by social media and well-suited for the president. “In some ways, his manner of speaking is reflective of and perfect for a disruptive era because he created much of it. These are useful lessons, though, because the disruptive era will continue long after Trump leaves office,” he wrote. READ MORE

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