The History of Conservatism

Conservatism in America began with its founding, however we will concern ourselves with the modern conservative movement which began in the early to mid 50s.

The modern American conservative movement is often identified by historians to be born in 1953 with the publishing of The Conservative Mind by Russel Kirk and the founding of the National Review by William F. Buckley in 1955. The late William Buckley is considered by many to be the modern father of conservatism as he had a tremendous gift for articulating the modern views of the ideology. The movement did not gain enough in strength to field a presidential candidate until 1964 when Barry Goldwater ran against the incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson but lost in a landslide. However, that election showed that the movement had taken root, ala a grass root that appealed to a wide spectrum of voters who initially were composed of various fractious groups, namely disaffected Roman Catholics, some libertarians, anti-communists and a variety of other traditionalists. Conservatives would not field another candidate until 1976 when Ronald Reagan tried to take over the Republican Party from Gerald Ford. But again the conservative lost, this time in the primary and it was said the movement was doomed. But Reagan vowed to return and he did in sensational fashion when in 1980 he defeated the Democrat incumbent in an electoral landslide, the first elected incumbent president ousted since Herbert Hoover in 1932. Ronald Reagan was then reelected in 1984 by the largest electoral margin in history, cementing the conservative movement as a permanent force.

The conservative movement drifted toward a big-government bent with the election of George H. W. Bush in 1988. However, it was this era that the second coming of conservatism was reborn in the body of one Rush Limbaugh who became the iconic voice of the movement from the time of his national arrival in 1989 to present. Rush took the mantel from William Buckley to become the modern day “politiwonk of conservatives”. Even with Rush Limbaugh, the movement had to be content with maintaining a base of supporters without national leadership as Bill Clinton had ousted the moderate Bush in 1992. And so the hiatus continued for 8 long years but with conservatives controlling Congress for most of the period were able to moderate the progressive leanings of Bill Clinton. Finally George W. Bush tried to redefine conservatism by labeling his brand “compassionate conservatism”, which we found out just meant bigger-spending and bigger-government, perhaps in response to the mainstream media’s attempts to skew and obscure the ideology as “mean and stingy”. President Bush had upheld the conservative long-held philosophy of supporting a strong national defense but had failed on the domestic side and drove conservatives to the bunkers once again. Hence, Barrack Hussein Obama, the most liberal member of the Senate defeated the moderate of moderates, John McCain and buried conservatives again.

But as history shows, when political overreach exceeds voter expectations new movements are born. One such movement was born of this overreach, the “Tea Party Movement” which began with the idea from a CNBC business reporter suggesting ironically that we should hold a tea party in Chicago of all places. The Tea Party Movement possessed an amazing ability to avoid identifying with any single leader or leadership organization and concentrated on the broad electorate in the 2010 midterm elections with great success. As the newly formed Tea Party Movement gained strength the mainstream media began to fight back as they sought to define the new movement as “angry white racists” before it could lift off its grass roots. But the movement was so broad and non-centralized, the mainstreamers could not identify a single leader to demonize and were left with vague references and innuendos that thus far have been ineffective against its leaders, however they did succeed in driving the movement somewhat underground. The mainstreamers were aided by a politically active IRS who harassed and intimidated the Tea Party participants. The movement was further eroded by the emergence of Donald Trump starting in May 2015 who attracted some of the less conservative elements of its membership.

The conservative movement or what is left of it has now completely adopted its new leader in “Constitutional Conservative” Ted Cruz. It seems whenever movements begin to attach adjectives to their names, aka, “compassionate”, “constitutional”, “social”, “fiscal” is when we must admit we may be again on the decline. We think of Ronald Reagan as “conservative”, nothing more and nothing less, but it is the “Johnny-come-latelys” who just wish to be elected under the mantel of conservatism who corrupt our name. The measure of a true conservative according to Reagan is one must stand on all three legs of conservatism, i.e., ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, and NATIONAL DEFENSE. When judging one’s characteristics to meet Reagan’s guidelines who among the current movement leaders satisfy all three?

I have concluded that only Ted Cruz satisfies all the criteria to take over the mantel of conservatism. Rush agrees. In fact Cruz has redefined conservatism to such a degree that even Ronald Reagan would not measure up to the new standard.