Conservatives owe a lot to great men like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley who helped keep the fires of conservatism burning when the movement was barely holding together. Without their efforts conservatism would likely not have gotten this far, this fast. That being said, in the last 30 years, conservatism has become considerably stronger, more popular, and more effective than it was in Goldwater and Buckley's heyday. There are three men who deserve to be heralded for that success above all others.
Of course, Ronald Reagan deserves the lion's share of the credit for proving that conservative ideas work in practice. For engineering the Contract with America and the Republican takeover of the house in 1994, Newt Gingrich earned his spot in the pantheon of conservative heroes as well. The other man that all conservatives owe a debt of gratitude? That would be, much to some people's dismay, Rush Limbaugh. Why Rush?
1) He helped inspire a new generation of conservatives: Personally, I'm a conservative because of Rush Limbaugh. You see, back in college, I knew very little about politics, but wanted to learn more. So, I listened to my college professors to get the liberal perspective. It was an eye-opening experience to be told that America needed to abandon its military and use non-violent resistance as a defense strategy. Learning that I was a "fascist" for saying that America should retain the right to do a nuclear-first strike against the Soviet Union was quite a surprise as well. That's what I was hearing from my liberal college professors. I wasn't very impressed.