In The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk observed that “conservatives inherit from [Edmund] Burke a talent for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time.”
That is precisely what the conservatives of the late 1970s did. The ideas that defined and propelled the Reagan Revolution did not come down from a mountain etched in stone tablets.
They were forged in an open, roiling, diverse debate about how conservatism could truly meet the challenges of that day. That debate invited all conservatives and, as we know, elevated the best.
The bottom line was that in 1976, the conservative movement found a leader for the ages, yet it still failed.
By 1980, the movement had forged an agenda for its time, and only then did it succeed.
The gaping hole in the middle of the Republican party today – the one that separates the grassroots from establishment leaders – is precisely the size and shape of a new, unifying conservative reform agenda.
For years, we have tried to bridge that gulf with tactics and personalities and spin. But it doesn’t work. To revive and reunify our movement, we must fill the void with new and innovative policy ideas. Today, as it was a generation ago, the establishment will not produce that agenda. And so, once again, conservatives must.
Grassroots and establishment. Conservatives and moderates. Libertarians and traditionalists. Interventionists and non-interventionists. Economic conservatives and social conservatives. All are part of our movement, and all are vital to our success – so all should be welcome in this debate.
There are still nearly three years before Republicans will have a chance to select a new, unifying conservative leader. But together we can start debating and developing a new, unifying conservative agenda right now.
There is much more. And it’s all good. Let the debate begin.