Many prominent figures from Reagan’s world sat down for talks, including James Baker, who was Reagan’s chief of staff, George Shultz, secretary of state, and Colin Powell, national security adviser. Reagan’s son Ron Jr. is an important voice throughout the series, chatty and outspoken. But their daughter, Patti Davis, is notably absent. (Tyrnauer said she was working on another project.)
Stahl, in his interview, describes the appeal this first family had to the media as she recalls the first time he walked into the White House briefing room to speak to the press. “We’ve all kind of melted,” she says. “We were puddles on the ground.”
Most shocking, to anyone looking for parallels between the Trump and Reagan years, is the appearance of Dr.Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The coronavirus crisis is not his first experience with a pandemic or a president who failed to deal with it: Reagan largely ignored the deadly AIDS epidemic in his early years, and the documentary presents this as one of his most significant failures as president.
“I was very frustrated to see a disaster emerging, and he didn’t want anything to do with it,” says Fauci.
As a rule, Americans’ views on presidents soften over time – Trump may turn out to be the exception – and it certainly happened with Reagan. But this documentary invites a questioning. It’s a harsh portrayal of Reagan as a politician and as president, and it seems likely to rekindle old arguments. Tyrnauer maintains that Reagan has been protected by historians, Republicans, and journalists because of his political success and sympathy.
“You can listen to podcast after podcast today from respectable historians talking about all the sins of the past with the dog whistle,” Tyrnauer said. “George Wallace arrives and Richard Nixon proposes the Southern strategy. And Willie Horton arrives and George HW Bush arrives. Reagan is shockingly absent from all of these narratives and discussions. “
“He was an extraordinarily intuitive politician and ultimately one of the most successful of his generation,” Tyrnauer said. “But how is he not held responsible?”