February 6, 2012
Ronald Reagan was what they call a conviction politician. He often described himself as a citizen in politics. And if you look at his long, successful life, you see only two eight-year periods of office holding: theCaliforniagovernorship (two terms) and the presidency (two terms).
Ronald Reagan did not play by the playbook described on the front page of Sundays Washington Post. The liberal voice of the nations capital headlined this thought:
Tricky pivot for Romney to the center.
Senior reporter Karen Tumulty led off the story with this:
The playbook for Republican presidential contenders goes at least as far back as Richard Nixon: Run hard to the right in the primaries; steer back to the center for the general election.
In other words, be as cynical as Nixon and take our advice: Sucker the voters of your own party into backing you. Then, once youve gulled enough of them to gain a first-ballot nomination at the convention, tack to the left to attract the broad middle of the electorate.
Reporter Tumulty did not list Ronald Reagan in her widely-read story because he did no such thing and, gee, he only won two back-to-back landslides, carried only 44, then 49 states, and won only a total of 1,014 Electoral Votes. Of course, reporter Tumultys friendly advice on tricky pivoting is given to candidates she would never back in any event.
Why didnt Reagan pivot? Why wasnt he tricky? I remember a staff meeting at the U.S. Department of Education early in his second term. Five different proposals were on the table for discussion. Well, we know we cant do numbers 3 and 5, said Patricia Hines, one of my favorite colleagues. Why not? I asked innocently. Because, she patiently explained to this slower student in the class, the platform on which Ronald Reagan was twice elected specifically condemned those policies. President Reagan may not be able to achieve all he endorsed in that platform, but he would never, never go against his platform.
I soon learned the high ideals and the deep commitments of the Reagan movement from Mrs. Hines and many other Reaganauts. We never called ourselves Reaganites. (Leave iting for the Trostkyites and the Castroites).
President Reagan had a strong sense that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. And it was not only dishonorable to pivot, or to engage in tricky maneuvers to gain that consent of the governed under false pretenses. Worse, it was corrosive of free government to do so.
Take Richard Nixon. Please. He came into office a staunch anti-Communist. He had waged political battles all his life against liberals and Democrats he accused of being soft on Communism. Then, in office, he abandoned Taiwan and flew to Red China. He toasted Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, wishing the bloody dictator a long life. Mao had shortened the lives of some 60 million Chinese.
Could there be a better example of bottomless cynicism? And how did that tricky pivot work out for Mr. Nixon? Did any of the liberals who applauded his unprincipled flight to Beijing vote for him or defend him against impeachment?
Or, take George H.W. Bush. As Reagans vice president, he had to convince some skeptical conservatives he had truly learned his lessons, and overcome his moderate background. Read my lips, no new taxes, Bush told cheering conservatives at his partys 1988 convention. Elected not by tricky pivoting or tacking to the center, but by emphasizing his differences with the ultra-liberal Michael Dukakis, the senior Bush raised taxes and split the Reagan coalition. Columnist George Will said Bush had turned a silk purse into a sows ear. That coalition of social, defense, and economic conservatives has not been reassembled to this day.
Writer Andrew Busch notes that Ronald Reagan quoted the Founding Fathers more than any of his four predecessors (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter) combined. I would point out that Reagan also cited the Founders more than any of his four successors combined (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama).
Quoting George Will again, Ronald Reagan spoke to the future in the accents of the past. He was well-grounded. He didnt need fancy footwork or clever positioning. He knew who he was and what he stood for. And so did we.
Faith in God, faith in the America as A Shining City on a Hill, a deep and abiding love for the American people, and a determination not to give in to threats or blandishments. These were the sources of his strength. He called for a Banner of Bold Colors, not one of pale pastels.
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair, said George Washington at the close of the Constitutional Convention. That, too was a Banner of Bold Colors.
Its not surprising that so many candidates today want to emulate Reagans success. Then they should reject tricky pivoting and tacking toward the Washington Post. Instead, let them rally to Reagans Banner of Bold Colors.
Family Research Council Senior Fellow Bob Morrison served in the Reagan Administration and is the author of Reagans Victory: How He Built His Winning Coalition. This book will soon be available in pdf and audio formats on this website.