GOP: The Haunted Party

How do you get conservatives to think your organization is worthless? A member quoted in the media suggesting it's time to move past Ronald Reagan is a surefire way to do it. As Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, Governor Jeb Bush never spoke those exact words, but that impression has been left with conservatives around the nation.

Bringing back the Republican Party is a hard task. It's tougher still when its members don't trust those running around trying to save the party. It's worse yet when leaders have no idea why they aren't trusted. In the minds of many of our leaders, if we could move past Reagan, we could all be sensible adults and make a series of compromises that would get the majority of Americans on board with the Republican Party. The problem with this thinking is that it fails to understand how a party wins an election. It's not through attracting enough people via a series of compromises of core values. Rather, victory depends to a great extent on money and manpower.

If we are to learn anything from the 2008 campaign, it should be that building a campaign around moderates and independents is a poor plan. Moderates and independents made John McCain the Republican nominee with their support in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, but their role in Republican politics ended with their vote. Many of the party's faithful didn't even decide to vote for McCain until the Sarah Palin pick, and only then were there any volunteer efforts. Even those efforts were far less than efforts on the left for their guy. Obama's people had been involved and engaged throughout the campaign.

Republican elites have correctly guessed that they can count on the vast majority of conservative activists to vote for them. But they don't just need our votes; they need our money, time, and effort. Unlike leftist interests such as labor unions, environmentalists, and "community activists," the livelihood of most middle-class conservatives is not tied up in who runs the government.

For a time, Republicans may be able to inspire conservatives to action with fear. But after a while they get tired of reading ransom notes from the RNC threatening national doom should they not send in a $100 check while they watch Republican Party agenda track closely with the Democratic Party on issues such as the size of government and amnesty for illegal aliens. And then conservatives conclude that the Republican Party is not worth their time, money, or sacrifice.

A few weeks ago, an ABC-Washington Post poll revealed that only 21% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans. However, as one blogger pointed out, 35% of Americans in the poll still identify themselves as conservatives. Will the Republican Party win again if at least 40% of conservatives don't identify with it? And this figure doesn't even take into account the moderates in the Republican Party, so it's probably even higher.

The Republican Party should focus on renewing its broken trust with the party's base rather than lecturing us. I'm all for reaching out, but you have to have something to reach out from. What many party leaders are trying to do is build a mansion on a foundation that's crumbling. Given that reality, it would be foolish to dismiss Ronald Reagan, who brought so many people behind the Republican banner.

People make two errors with Reagan. First, many look back thinking the Reagan years were the best and there will never be any better. The attitude basically allows us to expect mediocrity from politicians. As someone who was only 8-years-old when Reagan left office, the idea that things can never be any better is depressing. This also contradicts the spirit of Reagan's last letter to the American people announcing that he had Alzheimer's. He wrote, "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."