In each Republican presidential debate over the past months, somehow the conversation found itself focused on Ronald Reagan. Maybe it was the candidates themselves claiming the mantle of "Reagan conservative," or perhaps it was the moderators demanding who Mr. Reagan himself would have supported. The idea of "being like Reagan" has taken hold of both candidates and pundits and the result has been something less than inspiring.
Mr. Reagan's successes were in large part due to his ability to focus on those things that unite us. Rather than trying to divide the American people along philosophical or political lines, he made a connection with average citizens through themes that inspired us and policies that restored our national pride as well as the security and prosperity of a nation. Mr. Reagan did the unthinkable: He helped America embrace conservatism and the core beliefs of the Republican Party.
A great deal has changed since Mr. Reagan left the national stage. Our enemy has come to our shores, the rising tide of our economy has not "lifted all boats" and our government has increased, not lessened its intrusion into our lives. However, many of the issues that united us during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s — lower taxes, less government spending, free markets and strong national security — are the same issues that motivate voters today.
Our party has changed too, but the core of who we are and what we believe has not. We are conflicted not by the ups and downs of elections, but rather by the very nature of conservatism in this post-Reagan era. We are conflicted over the vision of the conservative movement, its radical nature, and the unique challenges and opportunities that lie before America. We are conflicted over who and how we will lead during these changing times. Republicans stand on the precipice of conservatism, ready to throw each other off because we feel as if we've lost our grip on what conservatism means; indeed, what it means to be a Republican.
Conservatives now have a window of opportunity to act in a genuine way to demonstrate the truth of America: that every American, regardless of his or her station in life, upbringing or social status has the opportunity to turn their hopes into action and to realize the promise that is the "American Dream."
Ronald Reagan understood that, and he acted to lift a dispirited nation to become that "shining city on a hill."
The Republican Party is the party of ideas and leadership that have made and will continue to make this nation great. Republicans must now gather strength from within as we enter a critical period in America's history. We must work to restore faith in our party by standing on those principles that not only unite us as Republicans, but as Americans. Republicans need to stop looking for Reagan and start acting like Republicans.
It is still a long and bumpy road to the White House this November, but I am confident that Republicans and the conservative movement they inspired will regain in strength if we stick to those values that have long-united our party and stirred a generation to join our cause. These are the values that continue to empower, uplift and remind us that America will always be the one place on earth where possibility meets opportunity — a place we call the "American Dream."