Conservatives face a major political challenge, but they can tackle and overcome it as they have done three times before. Three prior examples demonstrate the right way and the wrong ways to put America back on track and bounce back from a disappointing election.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide over Barry Goldwater; in 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in a close election; and in 1992, Bill Clinton crushed the first George Bush. Those defeats and subsequent Republican recoveries contain lessons to be learned.
After 1964, conservatives were persuaded to support the moderate candidate who had cozied up to the Rockefeller establishment, Richard Nixon, instead of Ronald Reagan, who was also available. In preferring Nixon and electing him in 1968, conservatives mistakenly overemphasized experience.
The 2008 election showed that popular culture and voter mobilization are far more powerful than public appreciation for experience. Of course, the liberal media covered for Barack Obama's shortcomings in a way they never do for conservatives, but a strong grass-roots campaign can more than compensate for lack of a track record and experience.
After Republicans lost in 1976, Ronald Reagan spent four years working the grass roots, speaking at dinners, answering audience questions, traveling the country by car and train (he refused to fly), making radio broadcasts and learning from average Americans. By 1980, Reagan had sharpened his conservative philosophy in sync with what Americans want from their leaders.
In the period from 1976 to 1980, grass-roots conservatives and Ronald Reagan learned from each other. That's the model conservatives should follow now and educate new leaders.
When the economy and foreign policy fell apart under the liberal presidency of Jimmy Carter, conservatives were positioned to defeat him in 1980. Candidates, consultants and activists today should move outside of Washington, D.C., and discover what the remaining 99 percent of the country wants.
Barack Obama has promised so many things to left-wing extremists that the Democratic Party's civil war may be ugly. Leftists expect Congress and Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allow open homosexuals to serve in the military and pass the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) to invalidate all federal and state pro-life regulations, including the ban on partial-birth abortion.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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