After his defeat in 1960, Richard Nixon, observing Barry Goldwater's rise and the energy his campaign generated, realized the center of gravity in the party had shifted away from the establishment he had courted with his Pact of Fifth Avenue with Nelson Rockefeller. The center of gravity had moved South and West, and sharply to the right.
No ideologue, Nixon moved with it.
To win the 1968 nomination, he ignored the establishment and courted Goldwater, Strom Thurmond and the conservatives. After his victory in 1968, Nixon created a new center-right coalition that would win four of the next five presidential elections, two with 49-state, 60 percent landslides.
It is not Reaganism that is being repudiated in the GOP primaries, it is Bushism and its fruits: an unpopular war, a deindustrialized nation, a Third World invasion. Ronald Reagan's principles and philosophy remain the bedrock upon which any conservative and Republican majority must be built. But the policies of that era, on immigration, trade and jobs, must change. And as the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union are history, U.S. strategic interests are no longer at risk in every quarrel or on every continent, as in the 1980s. As our situation is new, said Abraham Lincoln, let us think and act anew.
Nor was Reagan an inflexible ideologue. Though a free-trader, he did not hesitate to put free-trade absolutism on the shelf if national interests commanded it. Thus he imposed quotas to halt the dumping of steel, autos, computer chips and motorbikes into the United States. Saving Harley-Davidson meant more to the Gipper than fealty to Manchester School economists, none of whom had ever built or run a great nation.
For Republicans, issues that yet unite the coalition and remain majority views nationally are family values, low taxes, conservative judges and Second Amendment rights.
But to win the election, the GOP has to be competitive in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania. It will thus have to come up with credible ideas not only to secure the border and roll back the invasion from the Third World, but to stop the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and reindustrialize the country, and to extricate us from Iraq, as Ike got us out of Korea and Nixon pledged to end the war in Vietnam.
What the voters are saying to both parties is that yesterday's men and yesterday's ideas will no longer do.