A Trump Victory and the Reagan Strategy Derails Conservative Momentum Chuck Mason April 18, 2024

A Trump Victory and the Reagan Strategy Derails Conservative Momentum

A Trump victory in November will set the nation back for a decade as conservatives return to the Reagan strategy that ultimately failed the nation.

The Reagan strategy placed its political capital on Federal elections to safeguard America. It relied on a charismatic president who united Congress to pass Federal legislation that preserved conservative values against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The strategy’s success during the 1980s was alluring, as conservatives bought into the illusion that National politics was the only game they needed to play. They wanted a Federal majority to do the heavy lifting so they could vote and go home to a life of leisure.

Conservatives ignored the axiom that all politics is local. Societies are created from the local community, which takes hard work that doesn’t appeal to most conservatives.

Running for state assemblies and attending school board meetings inconvenienced their Fox News rotations and bowling leagues, so they searched for Reagan’s successor to recreate the strategy’s success in every generation.

However, conservatives failed to understand two crucial points. First, the Reagan strategy only worked when Reagan Democrats and conservatives united around a shared vision of a safe, free, self-reliant, prosperous, and morally conservative nation. But American demographics have changed. The Reagan Democrats died, and the nation is far too divided to unite. Second, ignoring grassroots politics for decades has been an unmitigated disaster for the country.

Reagan’s success relied on American demographics as much as his leadership. The Reagan Democrats, which were essential to his success, were the Silent and Greatest Generations who shared Reagan’s vision for the country. They had suffered through the Great Depression and World War II and refused to give four more years to the malaise of the Carter Administration. Reagan Democrats and Republicans had differences but united to do what was best for America.

That unity allowed conservatives to ignore state and local elections without consequences.

In the 1980s, the entire country leaned Right. California voted for Bush on his way to the White House, and it didn’t matter if Reagan Democrats were elected to school boards or state house seats. They instilled the same core values within school systems and state government as Republicans. Conservatives didn’t pay a price for ignoring grassroots, which led them to believe they could replicate the strategy in every generation.

However, the demographics that played a critical role in Reagan’s success changed over time, and conservative strategy didn’t change with them.

As Reagan Democrats faded with age, Progressives took their place and moved the country to the Left. Baby Boomers rose to power during the Clinton administration, and their Gen X and Millennial kids were anything but Reagan Democrats. They didn’t respond to Reagan’s vision for America like their parents and grandparents did; they wanted a more progressive and tolerant society.

But, House majorities and presidential wins led Conservatives to believe they were duplicating the Reagan strategy’s success.

They ignored the grassroots, which devastated the nation.

The Left took grassroots community building seriously. They used the local and state elections that conservatives ignored to embed their ideology into American society. Grassroots seemed powerless compared to the punch of Federal law to conservatives, but school board majorities and state policy wins accumulated over time. The Left created a revolution that transformed America as they slowly transformed school districts, universities, and America’s institutions to promote a progressive vision. The nation embraced a tolerant and inclusive America that rendered Federal legislation meaningless.

Conservatives hailed Clinton’s Federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, then watched in horror as kindergarten drag queen story hours indoctrinated America’s children. The Left’s long march through America’s institutions demonstrated that the foundations of society are built not by federal fiat but from visions cast within local communities.

Conservatives had their come-to-Jesus moment with the Reagan strategy when COVID-19 and the Biden administration revealed how much ground they lost by ignoring local politics. They finally accepted that grassroots was as essential as federal law and that school board members had far more impact on kids than the president. Communities that ignored state and local elections reap what they sow.

Once the wailing and gnashing of teeth were over and sackcloth changed back to suits, conservatives discovered the true conservative movement. They went to work on local politics and started reclaiming the nation. Parents won school board races, read their kids’ curriculums, and people who never thought about running for office won state races. Moms took over where the Tea Party failed, as conservatives realized that they had to do the dirty work of local politics, which inconvenienced lives and upset agendas.

A Trump victory will set this movement back for a decade.

For all the progress grassroots conservatism is making, only a tiny handful of people are leading the revolution; the rest are waiting for the next Reagan to take back the country. Trump is no Reagan, but his larger-than-life personality has convinced the faithful that he can Make America Great Again from the Whitehouse. Conservatives, who were only starting to realize they had to get involved in local politics, now believe Trump can get the job done. They want payback, and political revenge is in the air, and they are all too willing to cling to the strategy that continues to fail the nation.

This keeps the majority on the sidelines, derailing grassroots conservatism for a decade.

Trump’s gains will only be temporary, as a subsequent Democrat administration will undo whatever progress he makes. As DOMA demonstrated, Federal victories are only temporary in a heavily divided society. People will live through the pain of Democratic administrations to relearn the bitter lesson that the country must ultimately be won at the local level. Nothing replaces the hard work of school board members, state legislators, and the people who door-knock to get them elected.

The Reagan strategy is an illusion that can’t be sustained in a nation as fractured as ours. Reagan was a unique man during a unique time in America. He can’t be duplicated, just as the political strategy that worked in a united America cannot be effective in today’s divided society.

Conservatives need to let the Reagan mystique die. They need to vote, then go home to the hard work of grassroots politics and building communities. This strategy is easily duplicated in every generation and has always been effective. It’s the true heart of patriotism and must recapture the conservative movement in the days ahead.

Anything that distracts from that set’s conservatism and America back for the long run.

Even a Trump presidency.

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