Donald Trump seems to have become the latest in a long line of Republican candidates for president who allowed themselves to be confused about what it takes for the GOP to win the White House.
The Republican establishment thought Jerry Ford, Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney, George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1960 could all win without committing themselves to conservative principles.
And we all know how well President Romney worked out.
Trump seems to making the mistake of assuming that conservatives are merely a "wing" of the Republican Party, perhaps like sugar growers or angora goat ranchers, whose votes can be had by making a deal or promises to protect or restore their federal subsidies.
Let's get something straight—conservatives aren't a wing of the Republican Party; we ARE the Republican Party.
We may not hold all of the levers of power in the Party apparatus or even have a majority of votes at a given Republican National Convention, but adherence to our principles decides who wins the November election.
And it's the principles, not the rhetoric that matter.
Even an insider like former Senator Bob Dole recognized that he must come to terms with conservatives saying "If they want me to be Ronald Reagan, I'll be Ronald Reagan."
Dole thought he could shut conservatives up by putting pro-growth economic conservative Jack Kemp on the ballot as his running mate and then spending the rest of the election in a content-free bubble while his highly paid consultants looted the campaign.
Dole's loss to Bill Clinton should be a lesson to Donald Trump about how important conservative policies and principles are to generating the conservative enthusiasm necessary to defeat the Clinton machine.
Likewise, the decidedly anti-conservative Senator John McCain thought he could finesse conservatives by choosing a genuine conservative, Governor Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Palin electrified what had been a lackluster Republican National Convention.
Once on the campaign trail, at huge rallies across the conservative heartland, her advocacy of a "drill baby drill" energy policy and her unqualified commitment to the right-to-life drew larger and more enthusiastic crowds than McCain ever did.
The response of McCain's campaign team was to engage in content-free personal attacks on Obama and to try to stifle Palin's advocacy of conservative principles, even as the candidate himself supported policies, such as the Wall Street bailout, that were anathema to conservative principles.
The result was a muddled campaign that left many right of center voters, especially libertarian leaning conservatives, wondering to where the maverick John McCain who had taken on the Republican establishment on their issues had disappeared.
You would think that the examples of not-the-President Romney, not-the-President McCain and not-the-President Dole would have convinced the Republican establishment that conservatives do have other places to go and things to do when the GOP nominates a candidate who won't stand for conservative principles.
However, for most of the past 50-years (really the past century as I outlined in my book Takeover) the Republican establishment has held the attitude "where else are they going to go" when conservatives demanded that Republican candidates for president campaign as conservatives and adhere to the principles the GOP espoused in its platform.
But conservatives do have other places to go between now and Election Day: I know I've got a 100-year-old apple orchard on the farm that needs tending, a bunch of grandchildren to keep me young, and while I'd never fail to vote, those Wednesday evenings given over to precinct meetings might be better spent at church.
Conservatives are getting restless and waiting to see if Donald Trump will break the cycle of Republican failure and commit to campaigning and governing according to conservative principles.
Bad things happen in the GOP when conservatives are unhappy. And Mr. Trump, being a lot smarter than his media detractors give him credit for, should be able to figure that out, even if it eluded the out-of-touch establishment Republicans who have opposed him at every turn.
Richard A. Viguerie transformed American politics in the 1960s and '70s by pioneering the use of direct mail fundraising in the political and ideological spheres. He used computerized direct mail fundraising to help build the conservative movement, which then elected Ronald Reagan as the first conservative president of the modern era. As the "Funding Father of the conservative movement," Viguerie motivated millions of Americans to participate in politics for the first time, greatly expanding the base of active citizenship. He is our era's equivalent of Tom Paine, using a direct mail letter rather than a pamphlet to deliver his call to arms.
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