“Redefining” or dismissing Reagan is now a part of the war being waged on genuine conservatives by the Republican “ruling class,” who are desperate not to be compared with success.
Whether the GOP can be saved – again – as a major political force in American politics is an open question.
On the surface there appear to be some encouraging signs. A solid majority of states have Republican legislatures and Governors and the U.S. Congress is now run by Republicans after historic mid-term elections in 2010 and 2014.
But, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The next presidential election could be the taste that tells, and that depends on genuine, “liberty” oriented conservatives showing up to vote. As has been demonstrated over and over, the winning numbers for the Party are simply not there without that energized base.
That prospect is an open question now, as the Party’s “ruling class” is engaged in an all-out, public war to purge conservatives out of active involvement and influence.
This action alone creates formidable headwinds nationally for the GOP, but other issues cloud the future as well. Foremost is the rapid growth and comingling of the UniParty, where the interests of both political parties merge in an insatiable appetite for power and wealth, ignoring the wishes of average citizens and regularly disregarding the clear national interest. The alignment of the Republican Party and Democrats with organized special interest groups and pervasive cronyism is toxic for the GOP’s ability to attract working class Americans. The actions of elected Republicans after November’s elections have only confirmed that perception.
In addition, the reluctance of elected Republicans to surgically defund and rein in the stampeding extra-Constitutional “administrative state” that operates outside the consent of the citizens it purports to serve, erodes the credibility of the Republican Party that publically claims it wants to change Washington. Working class Americans don’t believe them anymore.
If the GOP veers into the next national election cycle without some serious soul-searching about who they are, and more importantly, why they are; then perhaps there is no longer a place for it in the politics of the day, and a third party will be inevitable.
Here, the heritage and the lessons of Ronald Reagan are absolutely indispensable.
There is a new cottage industry involved in re-inventing the politics of Reagan on the one hand, while dismissing him on the other. The former want to make him into someone and something he wasn’t; the latter claim that Republicans need to “get over” their obsession with Reagan (as Jeb Bush and other establishment types have said repeatedly).
Both views are hogwash scoped out by little men and women who have no core values, who have abandoned principles to the vagary of political memory, or who hope to enhance their own tiny stature as politicians of substance.
Redefining or dismissing Reagan is now a part of the war being waged on genuine conservatives by the Republican “ruling class,” who are desperate not to be compared with success.
Forty years ago Reagan faced a similar situation to the one today. The nation was sinking in the quicksand of collectivist, conflict-driven politics created by the radical left. The GOP and Nixon had adopted blatantly corrupt policies, such as national wage and price controls, and a feeble, grinding war effort. After Nixon’s resignation, the hapless Ford careened from disaster to disaster with little success. Reagan challenged, and nearly beat Ford in the 1976 primaries, telling the “American” story over and over again, and confidently identifying our foes at home and abroad by name.
After the Party loss in 1976, Reagan did not split from the GOP, but re-doubled his energy and his efforts to capture the Republican Party from the bottom up – largely ignoring its official structure. In 1980, as the national crisis magnified, his word-picture was irresistible, because it was the reflection of the core beliefs of the citizens whom he sought to serve, and he and his army of conservatives were prepared for victory.
Reagan understood that the nation’s core values and constitutional principles and been detached from the processes of organizational politics. That division shattered the consensus recognized in the nation’s shared history and faith. Reagan and his politics spoke to average, working class Americans about their lives, their interests, and how they could succeed.
His specific policy prescriptions were important, but less so than his ability to regain the vision of personal freedom, self-responsibility, national destiny and the ultimate value of human liberty.
So, when Reagan talked about taxes or free economies, he wasn’t talking so much about money as he was freedom, in practical terms; how it elevated the life of everyone in society. Likewise, when he talked about poverty, it wasn’t just an abstract problem, but a process of economic empowerment and enlarging the individual, not the result of a bloated government that fed itself first.
Reagan spent twenty years proselytizing on “American exceptionalism,” and his message one year was the same as the next. He didn’t have to invent or improve a narrative. He spoke about the lives of the working class Americans, not the lives of the monarchs of privilege and power in Washington. He spoke to what made America strong and about our Judeo-Christian character – not about an elite ruling class who believed in their own unrestricted entitlement.
“Government, is not the solution, it is the problem,” he boldly proclaimed.
Which brings us to 2016. If after two stunning victories in the U.S. Congress, and two stunning defeats in a row for the White House, Republicans cannot figure out that Americans do not want a moderate, pandering, ill-defined version of the liberal political and cultural establishment, then they simply cannot win a national election.
If genuine conservatives are to save a free America for another generation then there must be a narrative of their core values and principles that support public policies, not vice versa. If conservatives build on those values first, then nothing can stop them. If they rely on policy prescriptions alone, anything can defeat them.
There are a number of groups looking at policy prescriptions for conservatives heading into 2016. Last week columnist, author and former Federal Prosecutor Andy McCarthy and other well-known conservatives published a “manifesto” entitled, “A Citizens’ Mandate from the November 2014 Elections.”
Its policy prescriptions are in concert with the vast majority of mainstream conservatives in the country. Other groups are forming to carry a similar message into the primary season. All of these are important, but in the end, these policies must speak to average, working class Americans. Why should those Americans care? How does a specific policy change their life or their country? Does it carry their hopes and dreams?
It is the grassroots that will be responsible for making sure that this happens; they will have to be the “Sterno Cans” under the buffet table of the GOP in 2016 – they will supply the heat.
These “liberty” minded conservatives are going to have a far tougher job at the grassroots level than the Reagan Revolution had; they will have no Reagan.
Which means that conservatives, in mass, will have to publically support core values first, and be disciplined, discerning, and fierce in vetting candidates, not just for the president, but for every single office open. They will have to be in every fight, to win. They will have to be in every elected politicians face, privately and publically, demanding that elected officials do in office what they promised to do on the campaign trail.
If that happens, then the GOP may be saved, again. More importantly, America may be as well.