The GOP has been hijacked. That’s right, hijacked. Over the past 100 years, an elite progressive minority has taken the Republican Party far afield from its conservative platform and the interests and values of its grassroots conservative base.
I’ll admit that, in the aftermath of the disappointments of the 2012 elections, conservatives like me are angry.
We are angry at being blamed for Mitt Romney’s defeat, when we argued from the beginning that he was a Big Government establishment politician and that if he ran a content-free campaign, he would lose.
We are angry at the disrespect shown to limited-government constitutional conservatives who were delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention. We are angrier still when members of Congress, whom we elected, and who want to use the democratic process to push policies based on conservative principles, are told to “get their ass in line” by Speaker of the House John Boehner, and to go along with the Republican Party leadership’s betrayal of conservative principles—or else.
It’s time for conservatives to channel that anger. It’s time to take our party back.
In some ways, I was a Tea Partier before there was a Tea Party.
I vividly remember back in 1952 when, as a 19-year-old kid too young to vote (you had to be 21 at that time), I sat in a polling place in Houston, Texas, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., trying to help “Mr. Conservative,” Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, win the Republican nomination for president. It mostly ended up being a “family values” moment, when the only people to vote that day in my precinct were my mother and father.
Republicans were rare birds in Texas in 1952, and I’m sure plenty of my college friends thought I was nuts for spending my time on politics, particularly Republican politics.
Since Reconstruction, no Republican in Texas had been elected governor or senator. Republican elected officials in Texas were few and far between, with the GOP existing largely as a patronage party to claim federal appointments during the times when there was a Republican in the White House.
From my perch out in Houston’s Harris County, it looked like Taft had it wrapped up. After all, he had won the most votes in the primaries, had the most delegates going into the Republican National Convention, and despite frontrunner Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s status as a war hero, Taft was the favorite of the grassroots activists of the GOP.
But Taft was not the favorite of the Eastern establishment leaders of the National Republican Party; they worked all out to hand the nomination to Eisenhower, and when Senator Taft was defeated, I was surprised and disappointed, but I was not dissuaded from my interest in conservative politics.
Making sure that I was on the winning side wasn’t what interested me; making sure the right side won did.
Fast-forward to Sept. 11, 1960, and a meeting at the family home of William F. Buckley, Jr. in Sharon, Connecticut: The Sharon Statement, primarily drafted by author and educator M. Stanton Evans, and still one of the most compelling statements of conservative principles and values ever written, was adopted and signed by the 90-some young attendees.
The Sharon Statement, in its eloquent homage to liberty and limited government, has stood the test of time. With the exception of its provision regarding international Communism (for which we might today substitute radical Islam), it is still relevant. Young Americans for Freedom was launched, and with it began the modern conservative movement we know today.
Less than a year later, in August 1961, I became executive secretary of Young Americans for Freedom, and because we needed to raise money to build the organization, I began to learn how to market the conservative ideas, principles and values for which we stood.
For those born in the Internet age or after the advent of cable TV, it may be hard to imagine how difficult the job of marketing conservatism and conservative ideas was in 1961. To this day, the New York Times carries on its front page the motto “All the news that’s fit to print,” and in 1961, as it is today, liberals were largely in charge of deciding what was fit to print in the establishment press and what wasn’t.
The conservative print media was small; Human Events was an eight- to 12-page newsletter, the National Review was just getting started, and YAF’s publication, the New Guard, first edited by Lee Edwards, now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, had just a few thousand subscribers.
It was hard, if not impossible, to find the conservative point of view on television. Walter Cronkite of CBS and his establishment media colleagues at ABC and NBC would go on air at 6:30 p.m., and by 7:00 p.m. America would have been told what to think— and it wouldn’t be that communism was evil and dangerous and that lower taxes, less government and more freedom were good ideas.
This remained true into the 1970s and 1980s, even as Ronald Reagan rose to national prominence and won two landslide elections.
If you were a conservative on a college campus or in a suburban neighborhood reading the newspapers and watching TV, you were marooned in a world where the elite opinion makers of New York and Washington found your ideas fit to be ignored or attacked, but not printed or aired.
The one means we had to get our message out, to share ideas and to bypass the establishment media filter was direct mail—the first and longest-lived form of new and alternative media.
I didn’t set out to change the media or the media culture by applying the techniques of commercial direct marketing to conservative politics; we simply needed money to run Young Americans for Freedom and it was my job to raise it—a job that became all the more urgent after our conservative standard-bearer, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, was obliterated in the 1964 election.
Goldwater—the candidate of the New West and conservatives— had won the Republican nomination over the strong objections of the Eastern establishment Republican leaders. Once he had the nomination in hand, they did little to help him and much to hurt him, and when he went down in flames, they were quick to blame conservatives for the party’s defeat and do their best to purge Goldwater supporters from the GOP.