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An Open Letter to Scott Brown

The modern anti-Establishment GOP was Reagan’s creation.

By 8.27.13

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Scott Brown doesn’t get it.

We like the former Senator. He scored a genuine coup in winning the Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy, even if only temporarily.

However. And it’s a big political however.

Friday night last, former Senator Brown, now a Fox Contributor, filled in for Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor. The Senator opened with the trademark O’Reilly “Talking Points Memo” delivered Scott Brown-style. Asked Mr. Brown: “Would President Reagan be called a ‘RINO” -- a ‘Republican in Name Only'?”

Brown then went on to cite conservative disfavor with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has, said Brown approvingly, a “70%” approval rating in a “blue state.” The former Senator mentioned his own disapproval of Christie’s not being invited to CPAC last winter and then… yes… rehashed those sacred and ancient moderate GOP totems of the “Big Tent” and the need to “move the party forward.” Hanging all of this on President Reagan’s relationship with then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill and a Reagan quote that he would rather have a “60% friend than a 100% enemy.”

To borrow from Reagan: Well, Senator, there you moderates go again.

How to answer Senator Brown? And for that matter how to answer recent attacks on Texas Senator Ted Cruz from ex-Bush aides Nicole Wallace (here, where Wallace accuses Cruz of “lying” to the American people) and Pete Wehner (here, where Wehner accuses Cruz of being “willing to take positions that are irresponsible and would be harmful to both his party and his country in order to appeal to its hard-core base”)? How to answer this kind of predictable nonsense from Jennifer Rubin over at the Washington Post.

Let’s try directly: 

Dear Senator Brown:

CC: Nicole Wallace, Peter Wehner, Jennifer Rubin

Your “Talking Points Memo” of Friday, August 23rd, “The State of the Republican Party,” caught my eye.

Alas, I must say, were he here today I suspect President Reagan himself would take issue with your Talking Points. But as he isn’t here, the best we can do is rely on the President’s record about this issue -- which fortunately exists in abundance.

The Reagan record is quite explicit about what he believed was necessary to, as you put it, “move the party forward.”

While that record has been discussed many times in this space, your Talking Points Memo -- and recent attacks on Senator Ted Cruz by former aides to President George W. Bush, plus a recent (and yet another) attack on conservatives from Jennifer Rubin, the “conservative” columnist of the Washington Post, provide a further opportunity for discussion of the differences between Reagan and the perpetually losing moderate wing of the Republican Party. Not to mention that it is a chance to examine just why Americans routinely rate Reagan -- not moderates Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Bush 41 or Bush 43 (as in this Gallup poll) as America’s “greatest President.”

So if I may, a response.

1. Clarify Differences, Don’t Blur Them

From the moment he appeared on the national political scene on the night of October 27, 1964 -- the night he delivered his televised speech A Time for Choosing (seen here) all the way through his years in the White House, President Reagan believed that if the GOP were to survive and prosper it needed to forthrightly declare its conservative beliefs. This was the exact opposite of moderate GOP dogma -- then and now.

Unabashed and fearless, in A Time for Choosing Reagan took on every liberal sacred cow, challenging directly what was in fact the overwhelming conventional moderate GOP wisdom of the day. He directly attacked liberal tax policy, spending policy, government interference in agriculture, the bureaucracy, welfare -- and specifically attacked the Aid for Dependent Children Program, which he accused of fostering dependence and wrecking families. He went after LBJ’s “Great Society” and its underlying belief that Big Government was a benefit rather than something that wreaked havoc and unlimited damage on Americans. He specifically celebrated and defended the Constitution. Perhaps most notably, Reagan looked Americans in the television eye that night and said that Democrats were:

…taking the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin and Stalin.

One suspects, Senator, that had you, Wallace, Wehner and Rubin been around as sentient adults that October night of 1964 all of you would have fainted dead away at that line.

Reagan didn’t hesitate to take on the hard task of defeating the moderate Republican President Gerald Ford in 1976 by doing more of the same. He did so in the same fashion that many “Tea Party” or “anti-Establishment” conservatives have taken on the Gerald Fords of today in their own states. Reagan spent the entire 1976 primary campaign, a campaign in which he came within a dramatic whisker of defeating an incumbent GOP president for re-nomination, making the conservative case in, to use his phrase, “bold colors.” On issue after issue after issue, from abortion to the Panama Canal to the role of government, Reagan went after Ford by drawing a stark, clarifying difference between moderates and conservatives. The same approach that he used when discussing the differences between conservatives and liberal Democrats.

In fact, in doing so, Reagan in essence invented today’s anti-Establishment, Tea Party movement.

He became the gold standard, the role model, for the successful primary challenges of today’s Establishment Republicans from people like senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. And yes, he served as inspirations for challengers like Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Joe Miller of Alaska who successfully defeated Establishment favorites in primaries (in the case of O’Donnell and Miller defeating a sitting GOP congressman and GOP senator respectively) but lost in November. All of these challengers -- the winners and the losers -- are latter day personifications of the Ford-Reagan, Establishment-Anti-Establishment battle. They clarify -- they don’t blur. 

2. Move the Center to the Right, not the Right to the Center.

Reagan understood the mistake moderates always made.

Moderates held (and still hold, your Talking Points Memo a case in point) as gospel the idea that in order to win elections you must win the center of American politics by moving to the center. Reagan understood that this cherished moderate belief had it exactly backwards.

Move the Center to the Right -- not the Right to the Center.

Always -- always, always, always -- articulate the conservative case in as crystal clear a fashion as possible.

In public Reagan referred to moderate, Establishment Republicans as the “fraternal order” Republicans or the “pale pastel” Republicans. In private he disdained them as “the rabbits” -- as in “we had more rabbits when we needed more tigers.” As discussed in this space a while back, Reagan was making this point -- the same point he had illustrated 23 years earlier in The Time for Choosing -- as president in 1987 when he vetoed a Clean Water bill. The bill was loaded with pork, the President determined to veto it as soon as it got to his desk. He could not have cared less that the bill was being pushed through by Democrats under the guise of environmentalism and was fully aware the he was being specifically and personally being accused on the House floor by the liberal House committee chair sponsoring the bill as follows:

Should we follow President Reagan’s recommendations, we’ll return to the dark days when our oceans, rivers, streams were choked with poison.

Reagan understood what to do -- and why.

He vetoed the bill -- and met personally with the GOP congressional leadership to ask for their support in voting against a veto override. He failed -- and the results were written up in his diary:

A meeting with Repub. Cong. Leadership. I pitched a plan that they stand together so that even with the Dem’s out voting us we can point out to the people how different the Dems & Repubs are. I don’t think they got the message. In the House today only 26 Republicans supported my Veto of the Clean Water bill.

In true Reagan style, he led with bold colors. And in true moderate style, the GOP moderates fled…using Reagan’s disgusted term…like “rabbits.”

The point?

Reagan, by then in the seventh year of his presidency, understood to his core that even in failure there is victory -- as long as, to use his phrase, we can point out to the people how different the Dems & Repubs are. 

Not how similar they are. How different they are.

Notably and not coincidentally, this was exactly the approach shared by his British conservative soul mate -- Margaret Thatcher.

In the new “authorized biography," Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands, Charles Moore records a 1975 breakfast meeting Thatcher -- then the Conservative Party’s brand new Leader of the Opposition -- had with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger, of course, the longtime aide to the Establishment GOP Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Secretary of State for two GOP moderate Republican Presidents, Nixon and, in 1975, Gerald Ford. Said Kissinger years later of that 1975 first-meeting with Thatcher:

I found her totally different from other politicians. Every other politician I knew said that in order to win elections you had to win the center. Her position was that you have to articulate your position as clearly as you can and the center will come over to you…But I thought she might never get elected with those views 

In fact, at the time, after that 1975 breakfast meeting Kissinger write a memo to his boss, President Ford, saying: “I don’t think Margaret Thatcher will last.”

Thatcher’s views on moving the Center to the Right as opposed to the reverse were Reagan’s views exactly. Note well that the assessment of Thatcher by Ford’s man Kissinger -- that she “wouldn’t last” -- are in tune exactly with Ford’s own views that Reagan was too “extreme” to ever get elected president.

To get elected president, of course, it helps if you can get support from those who live in states like -- Massachusetts. Your state, Senator. Meaning the Northeast -- states like (since you brought him up) Chris Christie’s New Jersey.

Among Reagan’s problems, it was said at the time, was that as a conservative he could never hope to carry the liberal Northeast as he was anathema to voters in states like your own Massachusetts, Chris Christie’s New Jersey, or, to use GOP moderate figures of the day, Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits’s New York and Bill Scranton’s Pennsylvania.

This old chestnut -- an article of faith among moderate Republicans -- belies a hard and often (deliberately?) ignored truth.

To take your own state as an example, Senator, in the 52 years between the time Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was the Democrats’ nominee in 1960 and Massachusetts ex-Governor Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee in 2012, Massachusetts voted Republican for president only twice -- for Ronald Reagan.

3. Governor Christie

Speaking of Governor Christie, the other day in the Washington Post was this story focusing on the rivalry between Governor Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Wrote the Post (bold for emphasis mine):

Down the other path is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the blue-state chief executive cruising to a second term this fall with a message that vacillates between brashness and bullying — with a pinch of bipartisanship thrown in for good measure. Christie laid down his marker for where the party needs to go at last week’s Republican National Committee gathering in Boston, delivering a stern warning to his side. “If we don’t win, we don’t govern,” Christie said. “And if we don’t govern, all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.” 

….Christie is openly dismissive of the “college professors” in the party who would rather win arguments than win elections. He is a political and policy pragmatist who is explicitly positioning himself as the guy best able to break the Republicans’ White House drought. 

This, Senator, is the classic rhetoric of moderates who keeping trying to drag the Right to the Center instead of moving the Center to the Right.

It is always -- again, always, always, always -- the rhetoric of exactly those who are in fact responsible for what the Post calls “the Republican’s White House drought.” Do the names Ford, Dole, McCain, and Romney ring a bell?

To borrow from Reagan, here we go again.

Chris Christie is rapidly on the way to making of himself the modern version of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey -- he who lost back-to-back presidential elections all the way back there in the primordial mists of moderate Republicanism in the 1940s. In fact, Governor Dewey could not have said it better than Governor Christie today. Come to think of it, Governor Dewey actually said almost exactly the same thing, as we have also noted here many times. That would be in his 1950 Princeton lectures where Dewey sneered at conservatives as “impractical theorists” and the “vociferous few” who would drive moderates and liberal Republicans to the Democrats in return for a conservative GOP. Said Dewey channeling the still-twelve-years-away-from-being-born Chris Christie:

The results would be neatly arranged, too. The Republicans would lose every election and the Democrats would win.

This, mind you, from a man who carried the banner of Northeast moderate Republicanism into not one but two losing presidential elections, the second of which (against Harry Truman) he was expected to win in a landslide. Instead, to the shock of the Establishment GOP, Dewey got clobbered.

So… Christie sneers at “college professors.”

And… Dewey sneered at “impractical theorists.”

This is the same old, same old losing political mush dished up all over again and it was a loser 70 years ago. 

Newsflash for Governor Christie:

Ronald Reagan wasn’t a college professor. But he was a fabulous teacher. He taught us that he simply didn’t believe it was his job as a conservative -- whether as candidate, governor or president -- to be some sort of propagandist for socialism. Governor Christie prides himself on being blunt. But in typical moderate style it is political timidity disguised as bluntness.

Here is Christie:

If we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern, all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.

Anything? Really? I’m waiting for Governor Christie or any moderate (you, sir?) to step up and look the American people in the eye and bluntly explain the actions of the Obama administration in 2013 as Reagan explained the actions of the Johnson administration in 1964:

Democrats are “…taking the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin and Stalin.”

It will never happen. Why?

Because now -- as in 1964 -- moderate Republicans believe that speaking like Ronald Reagan, not to mention acting like Ronald Reagan, will cause them to lose.

You mentioned Governor Christie and the fact that he had not been invited to CPAC earlier this year. I’m glad you brought it up.

Here is what the chairman of CPAC, Al Cardenas, had to say at the time about Governor Christie, bold emphasis added: 

Governor Christie was invited to CPAC last year because he did a great job in N.J. facing up to the teachers unions, balancing the budget and cutting debt. This past year he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak.

If memory serves, Senator -- and please correct me if I’m wrong -- not only did Governor Christie blow his stack when this bill was rejected by the House GOP, you yourself voted for that very same bill on your way out of the Senate. Among other things, this bill that was supposed to provide disaster relief for New Jersey residents contained, according to the Heritage Foundation, vast amounts of pork -- including, for instance, $150 million for Alaskan fisheries.

Contrast Governor Christie’s performance on this with the aforementioned Reagan presidential veto of the Clean Water bill in 1987 and in a nutshell you will understand in side-by-side fashion why Reagan is a CPAC hero and Governor Christie was rejected as a speaker. CPAC is not, by the way, the Republican Party. It is a conservative conference. It is the Conservative Tent -- not the so-called Big Tent.

To sum up?

Senator, this is 2013. The ideas and ideals associated with the American Left have, as Ronald Reagan spent a career illustrating, failed. Failed miserably. The country is some $17 trillion in debt -- and that’s before you get to all those unfunded liabilities of trillions more. "Moderating" failed ideas and ideals as Governor Christie and others -- yourself? -- wish to do yet again is just begging -- just begging -- for defeat.

Well aside from the fact that moderate Republicanism continually loses the White House, the hard fact for some (ahem…this means you Wallace, Wehner and Rubin) is that when it does manage the miracle of squeaking by -- and squeaking by is the word -- it instantly begins the process of acting like Leftists themselves -- just, you know, a little less here, a little better managed over there. Bipartisanship, consensus, yada yada yada.

The late William F. Buckley, Jr. dealt with this problem this way:

The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties (under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship”).

And what, Senator, do Republican Establishment moderates stand for?

Don’t Establishment Republican moderates stand precisely for just such “fatuous and unreasoned slogans” as “middle of the road” and that Chris Christie favorite “bipartisanship” -- as Buckley stated?

Isn’t “bipartisanship” and “middle of the road” your favorite way of governing? It certainly wasn’t Elizabeth Warren’s -- and she won.

Why did the moderate Bush 43 presidency end with support at 34%, and the moderate Bush 41 and Ford presidencies end in defeat? While the forthrightly conservative Reagan won two-terms, both of them landslides, and left with a 63% approval rating? 

And what are Wallace, Wehner and Rubin pushing if not the GOP Establishment when they say Ted Cruz is “lying” (Wallace), “irresponsible and …harmful” and showing “a lack of public character” (Wehner) and that the “far right” (read: Reaganites) are speaking in “shrill tones” “living in an intellectual ghetto” and cannot acknowledge “reality” (Rubin).

Facts are stubborn things, as Reagan liked to quote your fellow Bay Stater, John Adams.

And indeed they are. Beginning with the fact that moderate Republicanism -- whether called “moderate” or “compassionate conservatism” or Chris Christie’s “pragmatic conservatism’ -- is a loser politically and a failure governmentally.

As this is written, Senator, my former Reagan colleague Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic is #1 on bestseller lists at Amazon, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Sources in the world of books tell me it will hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list on September 1.

Every book signing at which he has appeared -- on Long Island (as seen here), in suburban Virginia, and -- yes indeed -- in Chris Christie’s New Jersey, as seen here in this video -- Mark has been greeted by literally thousands of people eager for a signed book. Within 16 minutes of the announcement that he was appearing at the Reagan Library, the event was sold out.

Why?

What does this have to do with your "Talking Points Memo"? With the mushy wanderings of Wallace, Wehner and Rubin? With the unpopularity of the Bush presidency at its departure and the inability to elect a successor? 

The answer is because the American people are now, just as they were when Ronald Reagan was in our midst, hungry -- starving -- for someone who supports the founding principles of America and knows how to translate those principles into policy.

They have no interest in much less excitement for yet another Establishment Republican presidential nominee who is too timid to say aloud what Ronald Reagan said not only aloud but often:

We are simply saying, "What does our party stand for?" ….A political party is not a fraternal order. A party is something where people are bound together by a shared philosophy.

To which, Senator, I can only say: Amen.

Thanks and best wishes,

Jeff Lord

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.