The Reagan Legacy — When Strength, Optimism, Moral Clarity, Humility, and Faith Prevailed
Timeless lessons for a New Republican Party template.
“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.” —Samuel Adams (1780)
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” That was the opening crawl in George Lucas’s now-epic 1977 film “Star Wars,” followed by eight prequels and sequels. The film was accompanied by an equally epic soundtrack by an exceptional composer, John Williams, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
Indeed, it seems like it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away that Ronald Reagan issued his 1977 blueprint for “Federalism and the New Republican Party.” That template was rooted in the timeless principles he set forth in his 1964 speech, “A Time for Choosing,” and it’s as applicable today as it was then.
(You can read his remarks and other major speeches in our comprehensive historical tribute pages to President Reagan.)
According to then California Governor Reagan, who was a major inspirational force behind The Patriot Post, here are the foundational tenets of the Republican Party:
Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way — this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before. …
The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. … The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: ‘Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for.’ …
The New Republican Party I envision will not be, and cannot, be one limited to the country club-big business image that, for reasons both fair and unfair, it is burdened with today. The New Republican Party I am speaking about is going to have room for the man and the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat and the millions of Americans who may never have thought of joining our party before, but whose interests coincide with those represented by principled Republicanism. …
We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people. … We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes. …
Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation. Families — not government programs — are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved. … We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them. …
Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business, galloping inflation, frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.
Reagan concluded: “Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. … And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert, and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs. Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.”
Three years later, using his New Republican Party template in the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan famously asked the American people, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” He added: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”
Reagan went on to defeat Carter in the general election, carrying 44 states.
And unlike any other president in decades, Reagan was, in fact, a uniter — so much so that he was reelected in 1984 by historic margins, winning 49 of 50 states, and losing only Minnesota, the home state of his opponent Walter Mondale, Carter’s former vice president, and by only 3,800 votes at that. Oh, and of course, he lost the bureaucratic District of Columbia vote.
No other presidential candidate in American history has matched Reagan’s 525 electoral votes.
Fact is, run a Republican with Reagan’s character against Joe Biden, or one of his likely 2024 replacements, and in the inimitable words of Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
In his 1990 autobiography, An American Life, President Reagan recalled a powerful political maxim coined in his first campaign for the California governorship: “The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”
Reagan had witnessed the unrelenting fratricidal attacks against fellow conservative Barry Goldwater in the 1964 primary by “establishment Republicans” of that era. In effect, they divided the Republican Party, which resulted in the landslide election of Goldwater’s Democrat opponent, Lyndon Johnson.
In his 1966 gubernatorial campaign, Reagan’s primary opponent, George Christopher, was leveling the same charges against him. Parkinson’s order to stop the intra-party fighting prevailed, however, and Reagan went on to win the primary and the general election, serving two terms as California governor (1967-1975) on his way to becoming the greatest president of the 20th century — making it “The Reagan Centennial.”
As President, Reagan reiterated his advice: “When the decisions are made as to who the candidates will be, then the 11th commandment prevails: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”
There are four Reagan lessons required to restore Republican majorities.
The first lesson: President Reagan’s template for rallying grassroots Americans to get out and vote works.
It certainly worked for Donald Trump in 2016, despite his primary attacks on his opponents. While he did not win a majority of the popular vote (46.1% to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), the dislike for Clinton helped overcome the detrimental fratricidal primary effects, and, thankfully, Trump managed to win 304 electoral votes to Clinton’s 227.
The second lesson: Alienating crossover voters is not a winning strategy.
Unlike in 2016, by the 2020 election Trump had generated a surplus of fear and hatred among the soft Democrat and independent voter blocks President Reagan won over in his landslide 1984 reelection.
Of course, that fear and hatred was and continues to be amplified by the Demos’ Leftmedia propaganda machine. Consequently, Trump was defeated in 2020 by the weakest Democrat ticket in five decades.
To be clear, Biden’s 51.3% of the popular vote (81,283,501), giving him 306 electoral votes, was compliments in large measure to the Democrats’ bulk-mail ballot fraud strategy. Trump received 46.9% of the popular vote (74,223,975) and 232 electoral votes. However, the election was closer than appearances would imply because Biden’s seven million vote margin was in California and New York, while he actually won the presidency by fewer than 45,000 votes in the key swing states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, Trump became the first incumbent president since 1932 to lose both the presidency and control of both the House and Senate, the latter losses being indicative of a broader dislike for Trump.
The third lesson — back to Reagan’s 11th Commandment: Fratricidal primary attacks are detrimental to party unity and victory.
Trump’s fratricidal attacks against any and all upcoming 2024 primary opponents, most notably Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are the greatest threat to Republican victory. And that is precisely the Democrat strategy — they are counting on Trump doing massive fratricidal damage in the primary, paving the way for Democrat victories in both the executive and legislative campaigns.
If the fratricidal attacks prevail, the GOP’s 2024 platform motto will be that famous line from Walt Kelly’s iconic comic strip character Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
And the fourth Reagan lesson?
Strength, optimism, moral clarity, humility and faith are winning presidential character traits.
President Reagan accomplished extraordinary things in two terms, leaving his successor with a booming domestic economy and setting up the dissolution of the most perilous foreign threat to Liberty, the Soviet Union, or as he tagged it, “the evil empire.”
Reagan excelled with strength, optimism, moral clarity, humility and faith.
But his genuine humility was evident in his 1989 farewell address, when he said of being labeled “The Great Communicator”:
I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan Revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed like the Great Rediscovery — a rediscovery of our values and our common sense. … How stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.“
Strength, moral clarity, humility and faith were the key elements resulting in both of his election victories — combined with a dose of good humor.
His eternal optimism was best captured in these words to our nation: "America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
I believe those days are always ahead, and sooner rather than later if we remove the obstacles necessary for the next “Reagan Revolution.” We owe that to both our valiant posterity and the next generation.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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