'The Reagans' director compares Trump to Reagan, says they both 'manipulate' the public

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Director Matt Tyrnauer unflatteringly discussed the impact that Ronald Reagan had on Donald Trump’s ability to rise to power.

Tyrnauer pulls no punches in his new Showtime documentary series “The Reagans” in which he explores the life and political impact that the 40th president had on the future of the conservative movement, casting a negative light on the role that his Hollywood ties played in shaping the country’s image of him and Nancy Reagan. 

“The whole Reagan legacy is a brilliantly confected myth,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “The real Ronald and Nancy Reagan are virtually unknown. They learned how to myth-make from the best, who supported them: [Warner Bros. founder] Jack Warner, [legendary gossip columnist] Louella Parsons, the entire publicity team at MGM. There’s nothing more effective than a good Hollywood studio. They carefully constructed their myth, and they acted it out.”

He further alleges that Reagan skewed the country to the right, a move that went largely ignored thanks to his ability to manipulate the media. The director, who previously profiled Trump’s legal fixer in the 2019 documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” promises his new series will “take a fresh look” at the Reagan era.

Matt Tyrnauer compared Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan.
(Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for RFF)

Specifically, he’ll dive into how he feels manipulation of the public from politicians paved the way for someone like Trump, a former reality TV star, to gain the massive following he's enjoyed throughout his 2016 run and subsequent presidency. 

“Reagan’s playing a president. He did it so effectively it went over the heads of the press and the public. It was one of those strange moments in American history where you couldn’t tell where the movie’s ending and life’s beginning. He never got cast in the Jimmy Stewart part that he eventually got to play in real life,” Tyrnauer said when asked the core difference between Regan and Trump. 

He added: “Trump, in a coarser era, when reality TV rules our lives, decided to play it like an insult comedian, and as himself.”

Tyrnauer is asked later in the interview if Trump directly lifted anything from the Reagan playbook.


Ronald Reagan is the subject of a new Showtime documentary series.
(Joe McNally /Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

“The presidency-as-performance and the dirty secret that you can be a figurehead who can wing it,” he replied. “As long as the performance is acceptable to your political base, you can survive. Reagan proved that, and I don’t think a lot of people paid attention.”


The documentary series will further explore Reagan's ties to Hollywood, including his involvement in the "Red Scare" while president of the Screen Actors Guild. It will also dive into Elizabeth Taylor’s role in convincing Regan to acknowledge AIDS as a public health crisis.

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