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Linder Letter: Republicans Need to Focus on Reagan Democrats


If they hear a choice they will vote. If they hear an echo they will just stay home.

Photo Credit: Houston Press

I have enjoyed reading the many articles attacking Ted Cruz lately. They remind me of some happy times. I have seen this act before and when the curtain finally fell we were left with some wonderful memories.

Thirty-eight years ago Ronald Reagan announced that he would challenge President Ford for the Republican nomination for President. That excited me and I became one of his campaign leaders for Georgia.

Most of the friends I had in the party at that time made up the establishment. They were beside themselves with anger and fear. They were convinced that Reagan would destroy our party.

Photo Credit: AP Photo Credit: AP

Their concern with Reagan was that he just wasn’t up to it. What did he know about foreign policy? How could he stand up to the Soviets? Did he understand Realpolitic? Does he have to be so dogmatic? He was just an actor for God’s sake!

During that campaign, as in all campaigns, the establishment sat on the stage at the head table and the rest of us milled around the small round tables below.

After Ford won the first several primaries, his people reached out to the Reagan side. They urged us to switch sides. They wanted to focus on Carter.

They were convinced that Ford could beat Carter and that Reagan could not. No one would take Reagan seriously. The conservatives in the media had a field day ridiculing the actor.

I remember a conversation I had with my friend who chaired the Ford campaign. After listening to his plea I said that, to me, politics is about what you believe. I knew what Reagan believed. If Ford had convictions I had no idea what they were. I urged him to watch Reagan connect with the people. New people were coming into the party every day. And these were not folks you might meet at the Club for lunch. They carried a lunch bucket to work. Or a brown paper bag.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation January 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Brendan Smialowski) U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation January 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Four years later we had the same fight. The establishment was with George Bush or John Connally or Howard Baker. Again, the Wall Street crowd sat at the head table and Main Street sat down below.

The arguments against a Reagan candidacy did not change. Reagan’s tax cut idea was a “riverboat gamble.” The insults from the chattering class were reconstituted. It was a never-ending series of put-downs until New Hampshire. Then it was over.

Reagan won that election with the support of Larry Lunch-bucket and Betty Brownbag. They were called Reagan Democrats. When asked why they chose to vote for Reagan they said, “When he talked we felt that he was talking to us.” The Reagan Democrats have been ignored since 1984. They are being ignored today.

The establishment doesn’t like change. They’re afraid that their seats at the head table will be taken by those new to the club. Those who so ardently opposed Reagan’s nomination in 1980 crawled all over each other to chair his 1984 race. The conservatives in the media were in awe. Today they have convinced themselves that they put Reagan in power. His presidency was their presidency. They are the keepers of the flame.

Photo Credit: Houston Press Photo Credit: Houston Press

Today’s establishment includes elected officials and commentators. They genuflect before wealthy consultants who declare that you must be nice and poll your way to victory. Most important, do not take hard positions. Hard positions are easy for the media to ridicule. We don’t want to be embarrassed on the front page of The New York Times.

Larry Lunch-bucket and Betty Brownbag don’t read The New York Times. They really do want to know what you believe and how it will impact their lives. They want your positions to be hard positions. They want you to not only believe them, but to act on them. If they hear a choice they will vote. If they hear an echo they will just stay home. They have really important things to do.

Just ask President McCain or President Romney.

John Linder can be contacted at or on Twitter @linderje

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