It’s December 1982. After two years of the Reagan presidency, the press and the left in this country has pounded on then President Ronald Reagan. Throughout the two years, Congressional Democrats attacked him, Congressional Republicans were slow to accept his agenda, and the midterm elections resulted in losses that undercut Reagan’s working coalition in Congress. (Those losses, by the way, were approximately the same losses as Trump suffered in the 2018 midterm election) The result? Establishment Republicans moved to reassert themselves in the Reagan agenda.
Here’s what they said: Bob Michel (Minority Leader from 1976-1992, Republicans took the majority in Congress when he quit as leader) “I’m really concerned about where we’re going next year…if the President doesn’t like the word ‘compromise’ well let’s say he’s got to make some adjustments in the original course…” William Cohen (Republican moderate Senator from Maine): “You can’t govern this country when it is so polarized…I think the President has to compromise…” David Gergen (Reagan’s communications director [later to work for Bill Clinton]): “There is more resistance now to the President’s desire to change…” Howard Baker (Senate Majority Leader): “The President will have to choose between the right and the center…” Many Republicans were calling on him to scale back his expectations, to compromise, to be less Reagan than Reagan had been. “It’s a new political reality…” some Republicans in Washington said.
Reagan said “I will not compromise…” His advisors were counseling him to back off, he said no. Congressional Republicans were telling him to change his course. He said no. Congressional Democrats were fighting him at every turn. Reagan stood fast, Reagan stayed the course. Reagan won with an unprecedented 49 state victory in 1984, and the beginning of a national realignment of the political parties that completed in 2016.
My advice to Republicans, in California and in Washington is: “Stay the Course.” Follow Reagan’s example and stay the course. We are at the beginning of the completion of the Reagan Revolution, if we stay the course.
One of my rules of politics is that “Republicans lose elections because they fail to keep their campaign promises…Democrats lose elections because they keep theirs.” Republicans lost in this last election because a lot of people had the perception that Congressional Republicans were not fighting for the Trump agenda. No wall, no effort to control federal spending, no cut back of the federal government. Congressional Republicans spent too much time resisting Trump, much like Congressional Republicans did in the Reagan era. They deserved to lose the majority. Why would Republicans vote for a party that worked against the Leader that many Republicans perceive to be the voice of their frustration?
In California, Republicans were undercut by the “top two” primary and what I can only call laziness. Orange County turned almost 100% blue for the first time because too many political activists in Orange County thought that being a Republican county was a birthright. They spent a lot of time fighting with each other, and not enough time fighting to persuade people to entrust Republicans with power. Democrats just outworked Republicans in Orange County for the first time in my memory. “Trumpism” was not the problem, arrogance was. Republicans in the Legislature took the attitude that they didn’t care if certain Republicans lost their office. Wrong attitude when you are in a super-minority.
Can Republicans come back? Absolutely, but it will take a lot of work. The press is against us, the “establishment” is against us, and our own supporters think we are worthless as leaders. We have to begin by winning back those who are our natural supporters. That means we have to convince people that we actually believe in the things we say we believe in: Free markets, smaller government, more individual liberty, lower taxes, secure borders, and a desire to make American great again.
Then we have to work. Fooling around on the floor of the Legislature and in Congress is not going to change minds. We will have to go district by district, rebuild our infrastructure, meet with our supporters, and slowly but surely rebuild our party. Our elected officials must go outside their districts and rebuild the party. I have a plan. I call it “adopt-a-district.” It requires elected officials to work to rebuild the party. If they do it, sometime in the next ten years, we will be back. If they don’t, expect the same outcomes we have been getting for the last 20 years in California.
Our principles are not wrong, and those who contend they are really wish to destroy our party. On principle, we stay the course. On strategy, we change, we have to work harder than the Dems. That is the only way we will win.