WATCH: Conservative author: Trump won because he embraced Reagan's call for social safety net

Author of "The Working Class Republican" argues that Trump has unlikely ancestors — including Franklin D. Roosevelt

Published July 1, 2017 6:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Ronald Reagan   (Reuters/Mike Blake/AP/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump; Ronald Reagan (Reuters/Mike Blake/AP/Photo montage by Salon)

Conservative thinker Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has come under fire by some of his intellectual compatriots for arguing that Ronald Reagan is a natural heir to the legacy of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal. Olsen also believes that President Donald Trump is a better torch bearer for Reagan's legacy than the Republican establishment, in terms of supporting a social safety net supported by blue-collar Americans.

In his new book, "The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism," Olsen makes the case that Reagan supported the underlying principles of The New Deal while rejecting the overreach of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

Republicans have "departed from a Reagan message that places the average person as the driver of the American economy and substituted it with one where the entrepreneur is the driver of the American economy," Olsen said during a recent Salon Talks interview. "Consequently, they mouth Reagan’s words but they don’t speak Reagan’s language and, until Trump, that’s why Republicans were continuing to lose among the key constituencies."

Olsen acknowledged that Reagan had a far sunnier persona than Trump, which could help explain why Reagan enjoyed far higher approval ratings.

"One of the most glaring differences between Trump and Reagan is the messaging and the optimism versus the pessimism. Reagan was somebody who was attacked relentlessly but always had a nice thing to say and always dealt with it graciously, as opposed to the way the [current] president is dealing with being in the public eye 24/7, 365," Olsen said. "But I think the key thing is that the Republicans today have departed from the Reagan message. They have departed from a Reagan message that balances opportunity and security."

By Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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