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A Time for Choosing: Reagan Makes His Mark on CPAC

AP Photo/Barry Thumma

It was Oct. 27, 1964. Reagan stood before a live audience to promote then Senator for Arizona Barry Goldwater, who at the time was running for president. It was pre-recorded and televised to the American people.


The speech wasn’t made during CPAC, nor did CPAC exist at the time. But Ronald Reagan’s famous speech not only jump-started the former president’s career but serves as a timestamp foreshadowing CPAC’s initiation.

He admitted to previously being a Democrat but made clear that he came to realize the issues of big government. He brought to light the government's failure to take care of its debt and its failure to secure victory in South Vietnam, letting many young soldiers die serving their country.

“We're at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars,” Reagan said. “And it's been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.”

Reagan discussed the times of our Founding Fathers and how their ideas generated a new idea about how government should run.


“And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man,” he said.

There are only two paths that a country can evolve in its existence, and Reagan told his audience which side he felt the country should take.

“You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right,” he said. “Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down: [up] man's old -- old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”

Despite the popularity of Reagan’s speech, Goldwater lost the election. Feeling defeat but refusing to give up on the conservative movement, a group of political figures and leaders came together in Washington to form the American Conservative Union (ACU). Talks of forming larger conservative conferences continued to pop up in meetings, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the ACU voted to hold the first CPAC for the next year.


Reagan’s speech, while not directly involved in CPAC’s creation, was the spark that ignited a new conservative revolution, and succeeds at defining the core values of the movement today. He would go on to make many more inspiring speeches at the convention. 

These speeches are being compiled in the new book, Reagan at CPAC: The Words That Continue to Inspire a Revolution, with commentary from conservative figures like Ronald Reagan's son, Michael Reagan; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Townhall's own Katie Pavlich. The book will be available Feb. 26. Stay tuned for Townhall's review.

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