By Robert L. Capehert
WHEN Governor Ronald Reagan ran against then-incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in ’76 primaries, it infuriated the Grand Old Party establishment.
And they swore Reagan was finished for his pretentious gall. Reagan answered the bell by winning the nomination in ’80 and going on to knock Democratic Party and incumbent Pres. Jimmy Carter ass-over-tea cup in the general election.
In 1980, conservative columnist George F. Will supported Republicans Howard Baker, then George H.W. Bush, finally settling on Reagan like many a conservative held back nausea in buttressing Mitt Romney’s candidacy in the ’12 election.
In a word, Mr Will wasn’t passionate about Reagan. The vaunted right-of-center columnist’s reasons seemed obvious at the time.
Reagan could not win. Just a B actor, they said.
According to conventional wisdom, that is. So much for Mr Will’s assessment—as it simply turned out to be the worst kind of inside the beltway punditry.
Not only could Ronald Reagan win, but he won two landslides; landslides, which have been unable to be duplicated by Republicans in the last 30 years, except the coattail riding George W.H. Bush in ’88, whom coasted to victory.
But Bush Sr. won based upon Reagan’s successes, not his own policies. So much so, when Bush had to run on his own record he was destroyed in a three-way race, electing Arkansas Governor William Jefferson Clinton, to the presidency.
Still, since the ’88 election, Republicans have struggled as a dying man crawling up a scabrous hill to surmount the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Not so with Reagan. The former Governor of California was not simply truly conservative, but was an electoral juggernaut—slicing up statist leftist candidates like a knife through butter.
But the most important take-away is the reality that Ronald Reagan was not a hero to Republicans, nor a slew of conservatives, when he ran in ’76 or ’80.
The vitriol against Texas senator Ted Cruz, following his 21-hour filibuster against the Affordable Care Act by Republicans, mimics profoundly, the hatred Republican blue bloods had for Reagan.
And Like Reagan, Sen. Cruz’s accusers lament he will destroy the electoral potential of the G.O.P.
It’s about the next election stupid, goes their wisdom.
This idiocy expresses itself despite the utter failure of establishment Republicans to push the ball forward toward constitutional government (let alone get elected).
Within this disturbing orbit, Republican establishment types have become more and more pretentious toward the idea it must be their way or the highway—despite the fact their way continues to enrich the consultant class, and nominate losers.
Who, good intentions all, continue to lose elections.
Conservatives, err, constitutionalists, are supposed to listen to Sen. John McCain, and other inside the beltway blowhards (who go down in flames), pontificate about how Ted Cruz is some kind of whacko bird.
Conviction matters. Whether it is Rand Paul, or Mike Lee — or Justin Amash in the House, Reagan teaches us the idea change rides upon non-conventional politics.
The failure of the Republican Party is because of a lack of conviction. Or, convictions, which when voters take a peek-a-boo at closely are no different than Democratic Party hysterics.
Most the problems inside the Republican Party are nearsighted problems. That is, being concerned with politics a few inches out, rather than a couple miles out.
In ’76, Reagan was not going to be a winner—despite how well he did against Pres. Gerald Ford in the primaries. Reagan was future. Pres. Ford was the “now.”
Like ’76, the G.O.P. is stuck in the now. Sen. Cruz is of the future—where the party needs to go if it is going to have a real impact on governance in our time. His critics are meaningless.
The establishment attacks against Sen. Cruz only bolster the Texas strongman’s case for real constitutional reform in our republic. Thus, the inability to perceive the political environment down the road has impeded Republican dominance in politics far too often.
With a strong cadre of libertarian Republicans doing passionate battle, change appears to be coming—and it is inspired news. Like Reagan, do not expect this renewed constitutionalism to be lauded. It will not be.
Reagan taught us a lot. Still, much has been said about dropping Reagan of late. That was Jennifer Rubin’s point in the Washington Post some years ago.
True, America faces different challenges than when Reagan walked into the Oval Office every morning, some 23 years ago. But Reagan illustrates the long hard road constitutionalists must traipse in order to win—and when they do so, they can win overwhelmingly.
It is aptly important to understand those whom walk in Reagan’s shoes, will not be heroes; not even in so-called conservative circles, but will be systematically attacked.
And that’s okay. It’s always good to know whose side everyone is on.
Establishment Republicans endanger themselves, not unorthodox wunderkinds like Cruz and Paul—whom are two of the best voices in constitutionalism in generations.