In 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan did something no Republican has since done in a presidential election – he won in Massachusetts. He won in a state that had not voted for a Republican candidate since President Eisenhower ran for re-election in 1956. That Reagan won there twice proves that this was no accident of history but the result of a concerted strategy. By uniting all the branches of conservatism with like-minded independents and Reagan Democrats, he was able to build a coalition that carried him to victory across our country. That coalition rested on a three legged stool, a message that the Republican party would support a strong national defense, a strong economy and strong families.
Since then, every Republican who has sat in the Oval Office has carried the mantle of this remarkably successful coalition.
Yet today, as Republicans are once again seeking a candidate who can win in the red states, the blue states and more importantly, the purple states, some Republicans are considering junking the Reagan model and experimenting with a different approach. That approach comes down to one word – "electability." "Electability," a quality with little ideological meaning, has become a buzz word for surrogates seeking to make the case for a candidate who fails to unite our party and bring together all Republicans, including social conservatives.
Was Ronald Reagan wrong?
No. But that is what some in our party would have us believe. They tell us that our party's success depends on a New York-California strategy. That the only way to put those states in play is to nominate a Republican who like Hillary Clinton, opposes a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, a candidate who, like Senator Clinton, supports confiscatory gun-laws and taxpayer funded abortion.
These Republicans tell us that our party's strength can rest on a two-legged stool of a strong military and a strong economy. They ask social conservatives to wait upstairs until the party is over -- because they wouldn't want to embarrass their other guests. If Republicans just hide their social conservativism under their coats, they tell us, we might just slide by.
History tells us they are wrong. Experience proves their "electability" theory elects Democrats.
Ronald Reagan was more than just an appealing candidate. He was a compelling leader capable of uniting and mobilizing economic, social and defense-minded conservatives together in a movement to bring change to our nation. His victories would not have been possible without this coalition. Reagan didn't carry California by running as Hillary-lite.
I know, because I was there. I first joined the "Reagan Revolution" in 1975 after being recruited by David Keene, the current leader of the American Conservative Union, to co-chair South Florida's effort for the Gipper. It was an uphill effort to run against an incumbent President in the post-Watergate era. The battle for the nomination may not have been won in Kansas City's Cow Palace during the summer of 1976, but the war for the soul of our party was. The GOP came to embody conservatives' principles from then on.
We won that struggle because our principles were more important than power. We knew that the passion and emotion that the movement stood for surpassed the "electability" arguments for victory that our opposition was touting as they headed to defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter. To this day, I remain convinced that Ronald Reagan would have defeated Jimmy Carter in 1976 just as he did four years later in 1980. Elections are best won when they are run on purposes higher than personal gain or victory for victory's sake.
Not since 1976 have I felt a stronger need to put our house back in order; to have a national referendum on who we are and what exactly we Republicans stand for today. A healthy debate on the principles that our party's standard bearer should swear to uphold will ignite a rejuvenation of our base, a rekindling of our spirit and the selection of the right nominee for the presidency.
We are at an inflection point in our history, which deserves serious thought. A presidential primary should be about who can best represent the conservative values that Ronald Reagan and I fought for in 1976, and have ever since. In a few months, this primary election process will be concluded. Voters have precious little time left to ponder the future of our party. Are we in favor of fundamentally strengthening the house that Ronald Reagan built, or are we willing to head in a different direction because of a superficial case for "electability," a case history has proven wrong?
More importantly, can America meet the new generation of challenges by only strengthening its military and economy, without renewing its inner strength? Our conservative principles of faith and family, our unique culture form America's heart and soul. They compose the most important leg of the stool on which America's strength rests.
Those who are making the "electability" argument have either forgotten the lessons of 1976, 1980 and 1984 or were too young to even remember. Who can defeat Hillary Clinton? It's not the Republican most like her.