A Party Turned Upside-Down

Michael Reagan

1/10/2008 3:40:50 PM - Michael Reagan

Nobody ever tried to build a house by starting with the roof and working down -- it can’t be done. You have to start from the bottom up.

The same thing is true about building a political party. You have to start at the grass roots and work your way up to the national level, going from precincts, to counties, to states and all the way up to the national level. Without a large body of workers at the local level, a political party would be like an army with only generals and no privates.

This is just plain common sense, but it seems to have escaped the notice of the Republican Party, a vast organization with lots of generals and colonels and damned few privates. Nobody has focused on building the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan took on the job. My dad won the presidency because he worked to build the party from the ground up from 1976 to 1980.

He went out there and he supported local congressional and senatorial candidates, and many other Republicans at the local and state level. Electing them required an army of workers at the grass roots, and through his efforts in many states where the Republican Party had been all but absent at the local level the party now had a grassroots organization capable of spreading the GOP gospel and getting out the vote on Election Day.

As a result, when he decided to make a second try at winning the White House in 1980, he had a huge core group of supporters in place at the grass roots ready to help him.

The point is my dad went out and did the hard work required to build a winning organization, which became such a key part of the Reagan revolution because it was at the level where the majority of Americans live.

Today -- especially after the debacle of 2006 when the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress -- the GOP is in shambles. The great coalition my dad built is history, and in vast areas of the country the GOP exists at the local level in name only.

Ask yourself just how many of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates have spent the last four, six or eight years working out there in the states helping to elect Republican congressional candidates and local and state officials and in the process helping to rebuild the at the grass roots?

How many have followed the example Richard Nixon set after his defeat in the 1960 presidential election and in his later campaign to win the California governorship? Instead of retiring to California and licking his wounds, he spent the next six years tirelessly crisscrossing the country working to elect Republican congressional and state and local candidates and as a result, by 1968 he had a vast network of GOP grass-roots organizations that helped elect him and other GOP candidates.

That’s the kind of work you have to do to create a national political party, but it has been sadly lacking in recent years. It needs to go on not just in election years, but in between elections. It’s a full-time job.

Where the liberal Rockefeller wing of the party consists of kingmakers operating from behind the throne, the Reagan wing of the party has always lived and thrived at the grass roots, where the real Americans live.

What this party is lacking right now is that sturdy grass-roots movement which is the mechanism that wins presidential and congressional elections. Here where I live in California, you’d have to put out an All-Points Bulletin to find the Republican Party at the grass roots. That’s why the Democrats all but own the state, lock, stock and barrel.

When the Rockefeller-wing philosophy prevails, the GOP loses. When the Reagan wing is in control, we win. We don’t need kingmakers. We need workers. Until we get them we’ll be the minority party.