Special Report

Return of the Reagan Revolution

GOP outsiders out-finance the insiders.

By 2.4.14


The Reagan Revolution is back. In fact, as documented side-by-side on the front page of the New York Times — on the Sunday before the February 6 celebration of Reagan’s 101st birthday no less — the Reagan Revolution is not just alive but thriving.

Ironically, one story was about The Why. The other story was about The Results of The Why.

The first Times headline put it this way in describing The Why:

Law Doesn’t End Revolving Door on Capitol
Plenty of Exemptions
Ex-Aides Find Ways to Rapidly Begin New Lobbying Jobs

The first paragraph of this story began this way: 

A top aide to a Republican congressman from Arizona helped promote a legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s home mortgage finance system. Weeks after leaving his government job, he reappeared on Capitol Hill, now as a lobbyist for a company poised to capitalize on the plan. 

The second story, what we might call The Results that come from The Why, appeared right next to the first above-the-fold, was headlined this way:

Fund-Raising By GOP Rebels Outpaces Party Establishment

The paper began this report as follows:

Insurgent conservatives seeking to pull the Republican Party to the right raised more money last year than the groups controlled by the party establishment, whose bulging bank accounts and ties to major donors have been their most potent advantage in the running struggle over the party’s future, according to new campaign disclosures and interviews with officials.

The shift in fortunes among the largest and most influential outside political groups, revealed in campaign filings made public late Friday, could have an enormous impact on the 2014 election cycle….

Groups representing the party establishment, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads, are struggling to bring in the level of cash, when Crossroads spent more than $300 million in a failed effort to defeat President Obama and retake the Senate, leaving donors grumbling that their dollars had been wasted.

And the GOP Establishment shivers. 

The second story in the Times went on to cite — gasp! — Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin who, doubtless with a smile, pointed out:

“Not just the volume of money, but the volume of donations and how many people are so active and engaged in our organization — those two things combined will allow us to get involved in more races.”


And yesterday, the folks at Rasmussen Reports had these interesting results on the Kentucky Senate race. Recall that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell faces Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin in the GOP primary, the winner to face Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. The poll’s results, in the words of the Rasmussen story — bold print supplied — began this way:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell runs dead even with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Kentucky. But McConnell’s GOP primary rival Matt Bevin leads Grimes by six points.

Why is this so significant?

What does this say about the Return of the Reagan Revolution?

Let’s go back to an introduction Reagan wrote in his post-presidential years for a volume of his speeches, this one that introduced a March 20, 1981 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Reagan begins by noting that he had attended CPAC routinely not only while president but years before as well. He went on to write of CPAC attendees — precisely the kind of folks who now make up Jenny Beth Martin’s Tea Party Patriots and other non-Establishment conservative groups supporting candidates like Kentucky’s Matt Bevin, as well:

These were my people, the people who had labored for the conservative cause when it seemed like a hopeless endeavor. These were people who fought the cause for individual liberty and freedom when the government seemed to be getting more powerful by the day. They were the people who persevered, and I can’t tell you how much I admire them for their tenacity and their hope.

I also can’t tell you how embattled we felt over the years. The pundits and intelligentsia often treated us as if we were some kind of Neanderthals, our brains developed barely enough to come into our caves out of the rain. We were often ridiculed and usually dismissed. Such treatment only strengthened our ideals and resolve.

The more things change, as they say, the more things stay the same.

Here we are 33 years later — and the fight between conservatives and the GOP Establishment or the Outsiders and the Insiders has renewed itself. And as of this cold February of 2014, the conservative movement once led by Reagan is again on the march. It is, to go to that inevitable Super Bowl analogy with the above noted financial filings, the upstart Seattle Seahawks running rings around the Establishment Denver Broncos.

There are reasons all that money is pouring into the coffers of what the Times calls “insurgent conservatives.” As we called it, “The Why.” At bottom those reasons are not only identical to the passions that elected Reagan in two landslides unequaled by any GOP presidential nominee since. Thirty-three years later, those passions are more vehement than they were when they fueled the original Reagan Revolution. And that vehemence springs in part because the GOP Establishment is seen as having abandoned conservative principle wholesale across the board — for a reason that corresponds exactly to the Times story about the revolving door on Capitol Hill: money.

What Jenny Beth Martin has touched on when she speaks not just of “the amount of money, but the volume of donations and how many people are so active and engaged in our organization” speaks exactly to a central truth that Reagan had discovered for himself. As, over time, the one-time movie actor and TV star evolved from actor to traveling pitchman for General Electric to a Goldwater-for-President activist and TV spokesman to governor to president.

That central truth?

As liberals expanded the role of government in American life — and notably as Establishment Republicans took on the role not of the Opposition Party but a “Me-Too” or, in Goldwater’s phrase, a “Dime Store New Deal” party — energy, excitement and most importantly votes to win elections — began flowing to conservatives.

The understanding began to permeate not simply that, in Reagan’s words, “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” What has now taken hold in addition to Reagan’s original formulation is that the GOP Establishment in Washington is filled to overflowing with people identified as Republicans who make very considerable livings lobbying the Leviathan they are supposedly sworn to limit.

The Times story, for example, reports that “more than 1,650 congressional aides have registered to lobby within a year of leaving Capitol Hill.”

Says the story:

The rules are particularly loose in the House of Representatives, where aides and lawmakers enjoy significant leeway in hopping from job to job — and from government pay to six-and seven-figure private sector salaries. 

The House, of course, is run by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is a frequent Tea Party target.

It is stories like this one that fuel the Tea Party, which is the modern-day version of all those Reaganites of decades ago whom Reagan himself saluted for their perseverance in the face of a constant barrage from “the pundits and intelligentsia (who) often treated us as if we were some kind of Neanderthals, our brains developed barely enough to come into our caves out of the rain. We were often ridiculed and usually dismissed. Such treatment only strengthened our ideals and resolve.”

Such treatment is routinely dished these days to Tea Party supported-candidates, not to mention conservative candidates in general. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Breitbart reported awhile back that Senator McConnell was said to have attacked the Tea Party as “bullies” in need of a “punch in the nose.”

And just as with Reagan and his fellow conservatives as they rose to power in the 1960s and 1970s, climaxing with the 1980 election, there is now a distinct division between “Insiders” (whom Reagan scorned as “fraternal order” Republicans) and “Outsiders” inside the GOP.

One looks around at candidates mentioned for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 and one sees that division sharply in evidence.

Merely to mention as potential nominees names like Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, or Donald Trump is to watch Establishment heads explode in much the same fashion as they did decades ago when Reagan himself was mentioned as a potential nominee over Gerald Ford in 1976 or George H.W. Bush in 1980. Ford went so far as to tell the Times in March of 1980 that Reagan was too “extreme” to ever be elected in the first place.

There is a reason for this.

Cruz, Palin, Paul, and Trump, like Reagan, are seen as direct threats to the way business is done in Washington. Perceiving the country to be in real trouble, a trouble brought about not simply by Obama liberals but by too many Establishment Republicans anxious to get along, they have not the slightest interest in going along to get along.

And as that Rasmussen poll illustrates, the more the Insiders attack the Outsiders, the better the Outsiders do. The reason, one suspects, that Matt Bevin outpolls McConnell in a prospective race with the presumed Democrat is precisely that there is an enthusiasm factor for the Outsiders — Matt Bevin in the case of the GOP Kentucky Senate race. That enthusiasm comes from grass roots conservatives who have been made to feel like, yes, Outsiders themselves — in their own country. Or, in Reagan’s, they have been depicted as “some kind of Neanderthals, our brains developed barely enough to come into our caves out of the rain.” 

Outsiders look at stories like that lead piece in the Times and see a GOP Establishment filled with Insiders getting cushy jobs for selling out principle — for selling them out. Couple that with a story like this one that says the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of all people, will spend $50 million to crush the Tea Party in 2014, or this one about Karl Rove’s American Crossroads seeking to defeat conservative candidates with those approved by the GOP Establishment and the outrage is almost palpable. Or, as the Times reports here, aflame.

Come to think of it, strike the word “almost.” The outrage at all of this is palpable.

And in turn this accounts for, again to quote Jenny Beth Martin from the Tea Party Patriots, “Not just the volume of money, but the volume of donations and how many people are so active and engaged in our organization.”

In that 1981 CPAC speech, Reagan recounted a recent conversation he had with his friend and political soul mate, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Reagan told Thatcher he believed that everywhere one looked in 1981 what Reagan called “the cult of the state” was dying, noting of the Soviet Union that “the largest planned economy in the world has to buy food elsewhere or its people would starve.”

One suspects that were Reagan here today he would be disappointed that with the Soviet Union vanquished it is his beloved America that has now turned to the follies of central planning, this time of American health care.

But he surely wouldn’t be surprised that those he called the “fraternal order” Republicans were suddenly finding themselves on the short end of the fundraising stick as that New York Times story tells us after studying the newly filed financial statements.

The reason is as simple now as it was in 1980.

Revolution is in the GOP air.

As Jenny Beth Martin can verify, millions of Americans are ready to back up that revolution with their money and their time. And their political targets are Republicans who, in one fashion or another, have signed on to the “cult of the state.”

Thursday, as mentioned, will mark the 101st anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth.

In Hollywood he was the ultimate Insider — who became Washington’s ultimate Outsider.

Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is watching the Outsiders he once led take on the Insiders who are the GOP Establishment he once defeated.

And one suspects he is smiling.

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About the Author

 Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. An author and CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com and @JeffJlpa1. His new book, What America Needs: The Case for Trump, is now out from Regnery Publishing.