Don’t Lose Sight of What Makes the Reagan Republican Party Special

Grover Norquist – February 6, 2023.

Any ‘conservative’ alternative that plans to tax or regulate or subsidize will find itself outflanked by the professionals who have been doing this for centuries — the statists.

Is the modern Republican Party still the Reagan Republican Party? 

The answer is yes, and it will be for the next 50 years. But the question is worth exploring. 

The Reagan Republican Party is coherent, internally consistent, and low maintenance, and wins elections with an agenda that creates the conditions for future victories. It is sustainable. 

No right-of-center political tendency with two senators and a think tank can make that claim. 

Every such imagined alternative to Reagan Republicanism consists of empowering the government to subsidize activities the would-be “fearless leader” wants, taxing the alternatives to desired behavior or outright outlawing them. 

There is nothing new about a new way to wield state power. And nothing American about it either.

Such efforts, however well-intended, will always be outbid and displaced by left-of-center subsidies, taxes, regulations, and laws. Amateur abusers of state power will quickly be crushed by those who have created and wielded power in the U.S. since 1932 — it would be like watching the Washington Generals face the Harlem Globetrotters. 

So what makes Reaganism unique?

The Reagan Republican Party did not exist before 1980. The Republican Party was not the tax-cutting party. Goldwater voted against the Kennedy tax cut of 1964 that was a model for the Reagan tax cut of 1981. Jack Kemp — an early Reagan acolyte — dismissed pre-Reagan Republicans as “tax collectors for the Welfare state.” 

Rockefeller Republicans were willing to not only collect taxes for the welfare state but also to cheerfully increase the welfare state — just not as quickly as Democrats. 

The Reagan Revolution began with one Reagan Republican, and by 1988 the House and Senate had majorities of both chambers that identified as Reagan Republicans. 

The modern Republican Party, still the Reagan Republican Party in Congress, governorships, and state legislatures, can best be understood as a “Leave Us Alone Coalition.”

Since 1980, the Republican Party has been a coalition of groups, individuals, voting blocs, and structures that have one thing in common: On their vote-moving issue (not all issues or even three or four), they want the same thing — to be left alone by the state. 

Taxpayers: Do not raise my taxes; minimize them. Second Amendment voters: Leave us be. The various communities of faith: Let us practice our religion and transmit it to our children. Parents who wish to control the education of their children, including the 3-5 million homeschoolers, parents of the 3 million students in now-threatened charter schools, and others: Let us make these choices for our kids. The self-employed contractors and small-business men and women: Leave us to organize our own work and investment. 

Sixty percent ofAmericans also have 401(k) or IRA defined-contribution pensions. They wish their investment — their life savings — to be left alone by the government and its taxes, laws, regulations, and inflation. And now we see the threat of BlackRock and Fidelity and banks and state pension funds investing Americans’ life savings for ESG political reasons at the expense of their retirement.

The Leave Us Alone Coalition is a low-maintenance coalition. No member of the coalition wants anything at the expense of anyone else on their vote-moving issue. No proffered alternative to the Reagan coalition has that cohesion or longevity.

The gentleman who wishes to go to church all day does not bother the woman who wants to make money all day. Each may question the focus of the other, but they are not in conflict. Both may wonder about the guy who wants to handle his guns all day. But all three realize their freedom requires the protection of a political movement and party that protects the key vote-moving freedom issue of many groups. 

The coalition comprises parents, independent contractors, property owners, taxpayers, investors, users of energy, hunters, gun owners, men and women of faith, and every other group threatened by the growth of the central government — owners of gas stoves coming up next. 

The strength, viability, and longevity of a political movement or party are only tested and understood in comparison to its opposition. 

What are the building blocks of the modern Left?

The modern Left is a “Takings Coalition” — groups that want the state to take things from one group and give to another.

Government employees. Big-city political machines. University bureaucrats. Trial lawyers. Labor bosses. Coercive utopians who want to push people around. Both wings of the dependency movement — those locked in welfare dependency and those earning $120,000 a year managing the dependency of others and ensuring that they never escape and get jobs and become Republicans. Owners, managers, and employees of government-favored, subsidized industries.

The coercive utopians are smarter and better than the rest of us and hurl the fatwas, laws, and regulations requiring that we buy toilets that do not completely flush and light bulbs that convince you that you have glaucoma. Now they want to tell us what energy and how much we can produce or use, or how our pension savings will be invested. Their power and their ability to dominate most parts of your life is ever-growing.

In sum, the modern Left is made up of groups and individuals who want the government to take something from one group and give it to another. Usually money and usually to them. Sometimes they just want power and control over others without direct financial benefit. 

All deviations from Reaganism borrow from the Left the idea that they can make the world a better place by taking things away from some and giving them to others. First, they are wrong. They never understand or admit secondary effects. Second, all attempts to buy votes, including new or old welfare programs promoted as “conservative” programs, can be defeated by the Left. 

Give every parent $1,000 — as a pro-family measure. Moments later the Left will offer $2,000 without any silly requirements about anybody being married or working or remaining sober. Any “conservative” spending program can be appropriated and swallowed whole by the Left offering more cash without any of the promised “conservative” bits that once distinguished this idea from the welfare we have watched fail since 1934 or 1965. 

Any “conservative” alternative that plans to tax or regulate or subsidize as its preferred weapon will find itself outflanked by the professionals who have been doing this for centuries — the statists.

Reaganism offers competition and more choices, to provide more at lower costs. Your child’s education. Your retirement investments. Your car. Your use of energy. 

No alternative to limited spending, limited taxation, and limited regulation — limited government — can stand up to the Left. They will simply be the updated version of the Rockefeller Republicans, pale imitations of the real thing that will be seized and turned into the real thing after the next election. Romneycare became Obamacare after a bad election and a few tweaks. 

And why are some self-proclaimed “intellectuals” and underappreciated elected Republicans flailing around looking for oobleck to replace rain, fog, snow, and sun? (Google Dr. Seuss.)

To get attention and hopefully a leadership role, they claim the GOP is falling apart and must be torn down and rebuilt. 

Really. From 1932 to 1994, Republicans held Congress for only four years. Since 1994 when the GOP became the party that would never raise your taxes, they have won Congress more than 50 percent of the time. Since the aftermath of the 2010 elections, the GOP has held a majority of governorships and state legislative chambers; since 2020, six of nine Supreme Court seats. And the Democrats’ war on parents has unleashed a movement that may bring the GOP control of more than half of school districts in the nation. Local government is the only part of government not yet contested by the Reagan Republican Party. 

The New Deal was enacted (1934-36) with almost 80 percent of the House and Senate controlled by Democrats. The Great Society (1964-66) was enacted with a Congress 70 percent Democrat. Those programs together consume 10 percent of GDP or half the federal government.

We will not turn around the debt and spending burdens with single-digit margins in the House and Senate. 

That takes work. Many are willing to complain that we have not yet won. Whining is not work. Work is work.

Reagan built a movement and structures that brought us to parity with the Left. Now we must continue to build our strength. Expand our coalition by increasing choice and competition. Reduce the power of the Left by defunding its government-funded fortresses.

It is unserious to assert that we could compete with the Democrats by mimicking their tax-and-spend-and-regulate policies — even with good intent. 


This piece was written for and originally appeared in National Review on February 6, 2023. Grover Norquist is the Chairman of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project.