Opinion

Five years later, the Tea Party prepares for their Reagan moment

|
Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Charlie Spiering,Republican Party,Tea Party,Ted Cruz,Ronald Reagan,Mark Levin

Several hundred Tea Party activists and professionals gathered in Washington on Thursday to celebrate their fifth anniversary.

It was a chance for activists to remember how far they have come and plan ahead for the future, but more importantly, to try to show that the movement was growing and their ranks were swelling into a dominant political force.

This time, the conference had just as much to do about President Obama's agenda as the internal struggles between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party.

That struggle is seen through the historical lens of former President Ronald Reagan's primary loss against the more establishment choice of Gerald Ford in 1976.

"You see, Ronald Reagan was not part of the establishment," talk radio host Mark Levin reminded them. "He was an outsider, and like you and so many others throughout history, he had the courage to stand up and be counted."

Levin reminded the audience that Reagan and his supporters were once disparaged by the media and the "ruling class." To illustrate his point, he read assessments of Reagan from the media and his fellow Republicans in the late 1970s.

He cited a 1974 column from George Will suggesting that Reagan was too old to run for president and that Reagan supporters were "kamikaze conservatives" left over from the Barry Goldwater era.

"Does this not sound familiar to you?" he asked as he audience laughed.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told activists that the political environment was very much like the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter.

What changed the malaise of Carter, Cruz explained, was the grassroots movement that swelled behind Reagan.

"Let me tell you, the same grassroots movement, the same awakening is happening all over again," Cruz said.

Speaking with reporters at the event, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., compared the tension between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party to that of the struggles between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson.

"While he lost to Johnson, he paved the way for the guy that we all consider the hero of conservative politics, Ronald Reagan," he said.

The 2014 midterm elections, Salmon said would be one more sign of the Tea Party movement having a "Ronald Reagan effect" in American politics.

The Reagan references were particularly effective at the conference as most of the audience was old enough to remember the Reagan Revolution.

During the event luncheon, public affairs consultant and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley delved deep into the history of Reagan's hard-fought rise to national politics, reminding them of the elements key to Reagan's success. (Disclosure: The Washington Examiner has previously worked with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.)

"With your principles, with your faith, with a good sense of humor, you cannot fail," Shirley said.

In spite of the revolutionary fervor in the room, there was a deep sense among the participants that the Tea Party was suffering through trying times in the Obama era.

In response, Levin pointed out that Reagan frequently quoted a famous passage of Thomas Paine in such moments.

"These are the times that try men's souls," Levin quoted. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

Reagan, Levin asserted, would have been proud of the Tea Party.

"I feel certain, he would be enormously proud of you," Levin said. "In fact, I bet he would have been thrilled to stand before you right here, and thank you for all you're doing."

View article comments Leave a comment