On his 104th birthday, it’s worth remembering that the most significant part of Ronald Reagan’s legacy was arguably his role in helping defeat the Soviet Union, something he accomplished largely through diplomacy.
But a number of influential Republican voices of that era thought Reagan’s diplomatic efforts with were very weak, to say the least.
They thought Reagan meeting with USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was a huge mistake. They thought the most popular Republican president of the last half century and the most famous conservative hero was, well… a wimp.
Neoconservative Norman Podhoretz said that in meeting with Gorbachev, Reagan had “shamed himself and the country.”
Conservative Caucus Chairman Howard Phillips said Reagan had become “a useful idiot for Kremlin propaganda.”
Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s 1985 summit with Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.”
When Pat Robertson was campaigning for president in 1988, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Robertson “suggested that President Ronald Reagan could be compared to Neville Chamberlain . . . by agreeing to a medium-range nuclear arms agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.”
Indeed, a conservative consensus in some quarters began to emerge that Reagan had become an “appeaser” in his dealings with the communists and that his insistence on diplomacy with the Russians simply would not work.
But it did work. Extraordinarily. It was a remarkable success.
Reagan won the Cold War. America won. It’s really hard to imagine anyone thinking he made the wrong decision.
Still, the Republican hawks of his day shrieked. Good thing Reagan didn’t listen.