The passing of Nancy Reagan brings home the passing of the Reagan era in the Republican party. There is both an irony and a poetry to her death in the midst of this raucous 2016 Republican primary campaign — a campaign her husband would likely have found unacceptable. As much as Ronald Reagan’s name and legacy has been tossed around the past few months, Nancy ‘s passing spares her from suffering through the fracturing of his legacy in this life. We remember Ronald Reagan. We remember what he stood for and what he did. And none of the current candidates are worthy successors.
With all do respect to Donald Trump — which admittedly is very little — Pope Francis was right. Real leaders and real Christians build bridges, not walls. What was Reagan’s famous line? “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But Reagan succeeded in far more than demolishing the Iron Curtain and sweeping the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history.
Conservatism today is fractured. We have blue-collar conservatives, libertarian conservatives, evangelical conservatives, national security conservatives, big money or establishment conservatives. It seems everyone has a piece, but no one grasps the whole. And everyone clings to their piece and excludes anyone who doesn’t hold as essential what they hold essential.
Reagan did not exclude anyone from the conservative movement, nor did he abandon principle or seek to widen the definition to make the designation all inclusive and therefore meaningless. Reagan sought to convert. He was The Great Communicator. He brought the the message to the people, then brought the people along beside him.
Reagan was not perfect, and he knew it. He remained humble. He didn’t tout his own accomplishments or successes, instead he proudly proclaimed what we the American people had accomplished in the past and could accomplish in the future. He was sustained by faith and a knowledge he was doing what was right.
Today’s candidates forget government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. Everyone plans to abolish Obamacare, only to replace it with other federal programs. Why is the solution to affordable health insurance allowing it to be sold across state lines, making it subject to federal regulation instead of state regulation? Does anyone really believe this will result in greater competition rather than rapid consolidation? Why is health insurance and health care even an issue for the federal government? Because multi-state companies want to reduce HR costs.
Twenty-first century American conservatism is on life support. IT doesn’t need a bigger tent, nor is the tent so full people need to be turned away or ushered out the door. The tent is big enough, being held up on all sides by solid principles. What American conservatives need before this century proceeds much farther is someone to explain the delights within the tent and a committee to welcome newcomers inside.