Great post this morning from Brendan Nyhan debunking the idea that Ronald Reagan caused a public opinion shift towards conservative ideas. Never happened. One can make the case that Jimmy Carter caused a shift to the right in public opinion, but the Reagan years were associated with a shift in the other direction.
On top of that, note Andrew Sprung's reminder that Ronald Reagan, in his real-life presidency, wasn't all that conservative after his first year. Sprung concentrates on domestic policy, but Reagan's foreign policy was at least as offensive to true conservatives Reagan's second term was a succession of summits and arms control. Yes, he's often quoted about the need for verification on arms control treaties, but the true conservative position (then and now) don't really believe that verification is possible; arms control invariably is about American limits that the other side will find a way to evade. That wasn't Reagan's position, at least not after he met Mikhail Gorbachev.
Nyhan concludes with what he sees as Reagan's true lessons to Barack Obama: "(1) beat a weak incumbent in what is perceived to be a "mandate" election and (2) hope economic growth rebounds in the two years before your re-election." Well, I can't argue a lot with that. But I can't leave Reagan without adding one more important lesson from Reagan: stay engaged, and make sure your White House is in good working order. Reagan's careless and disastrous acquiescence in the decision to make Donald Regan his chief of staff in 1985 is certainly not something that Obama would want to emulate. Indeed, one of the lessons from Reagan's presidency is that when it comes to the key position of White House chief of staff, it's a lot more important to get someone who knows what he or she is doing than to please an ideological base -- neither James Baker (1981-1985) nor Howard Baker (1987-1988) had many fans among conservatives back then, but all that was forgotten once the administration ran fairly smoothly.