Protests didn’t hurt Reagan, and they’re not going to stop Trump

Ronald Reagan, whose approval ratings fell from 51 percent in his first year as president to a meager 34 percent by 1982, was also the focus of international and domestic fury. Reagan triggered an international uproar when he insisted on the deployment of 572 intermediate-range nuclear force missiles in Western Europe, fulfilling a NATO agreement that had been finalized in 1979. When Reagan moved forward this plan, there was an outcry from New York to the streets of Paris. Tens of thousands of moderate and left-wing Europeans demonstrated against these new weapons on the grounds that they would escalate the threat of nuclear war. Within the United States, the nuclear freeze movement ramped up into high gear, warning that this deployment was just one among many things that Reagan had done to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

On July 12, 1982, almost a million people came to a protest in New York City to express their support for freezing the production of nuclear weapons and to state their anger about Reagan. “My belief,” said then-Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), “is that Reagan was not put on Earth by God to bring us supply side economics. His role is to sit down with Brezhnev and end the arms race, to do for nuclear arms what Nixon did for China. My role is to create the atmospherics, the public and congressional support, that will make Reagan the greatest man who ever lived. He can reject, it, of course, but we will have tried.” The freeze movement drew millions of adherents, while in Congress, the House passed amendments that prohibited the administration from sending any more assistance to anti-communist forces overseas. The protests would continue over the following year, and Reagan’s approval ratings would remain low until 1984 (reaching 41 percent in January 1983). But it wouldn’t matter.

The problem was that Reagan’s support among Republicans kept growing.