By the 1980s, when Reagan was ultimately elected president as a Republican, Rusher had changed his tone years later, calling for a united GOP as the most effective way to advance conservative values. “Above all else in politics,” he told one of us three decades after the third-party flop, “remember that it isn’t enough just to have a set of principles. You have to have people out there representing them, getting elected on the basis of them.”
Tea Party and libertarian insurgents should think hard about that. If conservatism is truly the legacy they want to represent, they can’t just focus on their own frustrations and political reputations, bandying about loose rhetoric claiming their own particular brand of conservatism as the only real one. The GOP might lack an intellectual leader as prominent as Buckley and a preeminent political leader like Reagan, but it’s clear that the current factionalized, twitterized shouting match will get us nowhere.
Take it from Rusher: It is “dangerous,” he wrote a few years ago, for the right to “engage in maneuvers that try to narrow the GOP’s appeal to militant conservatives only.” Buckley and a chastened Rusher would try to shepherd those wayward conservatives back into more orderly discourse—and a single Republican party.