Ronald Reagan Foundation to Trump, RNC: Stop using the Gipper for campaign fundraising

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation is fiercely protective of the former president’s legacy, as it should be. One way of protecting the former president’s name and memory is to rein in people or organizations trying to cash in by using Reagan’s likeness in fundraising. The foundation quietly demanded that the Trump campaign and the RNC stop using Reagan last week and the RNC quickly agreed to do so.


The matter isn’t so quiet now, though, because a Washington Post opinion writer, a partisan Democrat, decided to spill the beans in a column published on Saturday. There is no indication that the Reagan Foundation wanted to make a big deal out of the matter but it serves as an opportunity to ding Trump and the RNC in this presidential election year, so naturally, the country needed to know the WaPo columnist’s opinion, amirite?

The conflict happened due to a fundraising letter being sent out on July 19 with an offer of a limited edition of two gold-colored coins with a donation of $45 or more. One coin shows the image of Reagan, one of Trump. The coins are mounted with “a 1987 photograph of Reagan and Trump shaking hands in a White House receiving line”, which the author mentions is “the type of fleeting contact that presidents have with thousands of people a year.” Just in case you thought that Reagan and Trump were friends, you see.

“Friend,” the fundraising email purportedly from Trump said, “I just saw our new Trump-Reagan Commemorative Coin Sets and WOW, these coins are beautiful – I took one look and immediately knew that I wanted YOU to have a set. These aren’t any ordinary coins. They symbolize an important time in our Nation. This year, in addition to being re-elected as YOUR President, it also marks the 40th anniversary of our Nation’s 40th President, Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, we already sold out of the first batch we had in stock. But I liked these coins so much that I asked my team to rush order another batch for my TOP SUPPORTERS ONLY.”

It cautioned: “I’ve authorized a very limited production of these iconic coins, which is why I’m ONLY offering them to our top supporters, like YOU. This offer is NOT available to the general public, so please, do NOT share this email with anyone.”


As we know, the Trump campaign is very savvy about marketing products for fundraising. Whether it is straws during a time when environmental extremists are demanding everyone stop using them, or as today’s offer on the campaign’s website hawks:

We’re handing President Trump the 100 Days Out Presidential Donor List TONIGHT and we want him to see YOUR NAME on it.

Remember this offer is only available to 100 Patriots. 57 have already stepped up and contributed, and now it’s up to you.

Contribute ANY AMOUNT in the NEXT HOUR to get on the 100 Days Out Presidential Donor List we frame for President Trump!

It isn’t unusual for Republican politicians to invoke the name of Reagan during campaigns. However, they have to be careful about using images of him. You’ll notice that the email from the campaign instructs the receiver “not to share the email with anyone.” That guarantees it will be spread far and wide. The fundraising team isn’t stupid and leaking is a way of life in any campaign. Proceeds go to a joint fundraising operation between the Trump campaign and the RNC, called the Make America Great Again Committee. The rub comes in when Reagan’s image is used “for commercial purposes or political endorsements.”

In the 1990s, both Reagan and his wife Nancy signed legal documents that granted the foundation sole rights to their names, likenesses and images. Of course, there are countless photos and videos of Reagan that are in the public domain. But the foundation claims power to block them from being used for commercial purposes and political endorsements. When Reagan Foundation officials were made aware of the Trump email solicitation, they decided “within seconds” to put a stop to it, said Giller.

Athough the RNC accepted the foundation’s demand regarding the fundraising emails, “we still have a lot of additional work,” Giller said. The foundation is looking into how many people might have seen the email and how many of the coin sets were sold, and may still decide to get lawyers involved, she added.


Trump did meet Reagan ( and Nancy Reagan) at several formal events and was an acquaintance. He also casually knew Richard Nixon. In 1989, for example, Trump introduced Nixon at a gala honoring Nellie Connally, wife of Texas Governor John Connally. Connally had been a close friend of Nixon’s, serving as his Treasury secretary though he was a Democrat. Pat Nixon predicted at the time that if Trump ran for office, he would win.

The Reagan Foundation is friendly with Trump. That really irks the Never Trump Republicans. As a matter of fact, the Foundation hosted Donald Trump, Jr. for a lecture and book signing event, which sold out.

“President Reagan was a proud Republican and supporter of a party that has carried on his fight for conservative principles of economic opportunity and limited government. His likeness is used by thousands of Republicans each year who gather around the country for ‘Reagan Dinners,’ and his library regularly hosts debates for our presidential candidates,” RNC communications director Michael Ahrens said in an emailed statement. “Given that the Reagan Foundation just recently hosted the Trump family to raise money for its organization and has not objected to us using President Reagan’s likeness before, their objection came as a surprise. Even though we believe our use of the image was appropriate, we will stop emailing this fundraising solicitation as a courtesy.”

It’s a shame that Never Trump Republicans don’t truly understand or live by the principles set forward by Reagan during his political career. His “Eleventh Commandment” was “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” And, especially important in today’s political atmosphere, Reagan often said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” If Never Trumpers were honest with themselves and others (which they are not) then they would support Trump as the majority of Republican voters do. The main complaint from Never Trumpers is that Trump is crude in speech and acts like a bull in a china shop. They agree with conservative judges, especially, and other actions like deregulation and tax breaks. Never Trumpers have thrown in with Democrats, like the opinion writer at WaPo, instead of working for a Republican president’s re-election.


I’ll end with an example of a Never Trumper gleefully trying to stir the pot with the WaPo opinion piece. And an interesting tidbit.

Frederick J. Ryan Jr. chairs the Reagan Foundation board. He is also the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post. He also served as President Reagan’s chief of staff. He, conveniently, had no comment for the piece.

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