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Craig Shirley, Reagan biographer, businessman, author, ponders the state of the GOP.
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CS: It makes little sense to ask someone to contribute to a party that is made up of Reaganites and Bushies. They are inconsistent philosophies. And since Reaganism is closer to the natural roots of the party’s support for less government and more freedom, it seems to me that the GOP ought not to be afraid to stand for something and admonish Republicans who do not. Right now, the Republican Party more resembles the Politburo than Independence Hall.
Bill Buckley said he’d rather be governed by the first thousand names in the Boston White Pages than by the entire facility at Harvard. Of course, Reagan once quipped that Harvard was not the answer to juvenile delinquency.
JL: A lot of Republicans pay lip service to Ronald Reagan. You worked for him and have written a book about him. What is it that you think he did right, what have other GOP nominees done wrong, and why do you think that none of the seven Republican presidential campaigns since 1984 (Reagan’s last campaign) have been as successful as were Reagan’s 1980 and 1984 campaigns?
CS: Actually, I’ve written two books about Reagan and am working on a third and fourth as we speak. What he did was read, write, listen and think. And Reagan came to the inescapable conclusion via Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American populism that freedom is the destiny for all people and he opposed anything that stood in the way of that destiny, whether or was Soviet Communism, or the American government or American corporations.
He then went out and forcefully articulated his desired goal of “maximum freedom consistent with law and order” and individual rights and individual privacy, grasping the intellectualism of this better than anyone since Lincoln and Jefferson.
But Reagan also knew the world he lived in and was not interested in lost causes or tilting at windmills. He was interested in accomplishing what was possible but because he knew America and history and human pathologies better than most others, what others thought was impossible he knew was possible.
Too many Republicans pay lip service because that’s all they can do when it comes to Reagan. They’ve never studied him. He was actually far more subtle and nuanced in his thinking and was never the one-dimensional character Mitt Romney and some other 2012 aspirants thought he was. Point of fact is, Gingrich is one the few politicians around today who really understands Reagan and Reaganism.
JL: What is your view of the RNC’s role — and that of the Republican Party generally — with Senate, House, governorship, state legislative and local candidates? Should party committees based in Washington be interfering in state primaries — or should they sit out the primaries and let the voters choose.
CS: The modern RNC operates in a fashion that is antithetical to its supposed organizing philosophy of freedom and federalism. In fact, the RNC more closely resembles the Democratic Party’s philosophy of collectivism. Centralized authority has never worked for long nor will it ever. The concentration of power inevitably leads to the diminution of freedom and greater corruption.
That giant sucking sound is all the money going from the states to Washington, leaving them with little resources to conduct their own voter registration drives or recruit candidates or campaign schools.
The RNC reminds me of what Twain said about the weather: everybody complains about it but nobody does anything.
If I could click my heels together three times and make a wish, it would be to decentralize the RNC and send the money and talent back to the states. The purpose of the national GOP should be to stay out of the way, except to articulate an organizing philosophy and become the Amway of politics, helping the states and localities create their own strong organizations instead of sucking money and talent out of the sovereign states. The RNC should mainly provide knowledge and philosophical guidance and little more.
JL: The media environment today in the mainstream is one of undisguised hostility to Republicans. Perhaps one of the more prominent examples of this was the attack from Chris Matthews on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus this summer. How does an RNC chair respond to this kind of hostility both directly and through the structure of the RNC?
CS: By working with them. By not showing any fear. With a good sense of humor and a firm handle on principles. Attacking the media rarely works, at least for the long term. Matthews is all bark but really little bite. He is actually a pretty decent guy who can be reasoned with. The best way to annoy the media is to not live down to their lowest expectations.
JL: What are your suggestions as to how the GOP as a party should address issues such as immigration, gay marriage, and abortion?
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