Grass-roots tea party activists are on the verge of triggering another "Reagan revolution," and have actually begun to overshadow the GOP in importance, according to conservative historian and author Craig Shirley.
"The incredible explosion of government and the concentration of power in Washington, the money and the lobbyists, should give alarm to any traditional conservative, whether its Barry Goldwater or Bill Buckley or Ronald Reagan," Shirley says during an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV's Kathleen Walter.
Editor’s Note: See the historian Craig Shirley talk to Newsmax.TV about Ronald Reagan below.
Shirley, the CEO and president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, has written a new book, "Rendezvous With Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America,"
with a foreword by columnist George F. Will.
Shirley says eight years of governance by Republicans who veered away from conservative principles set the stage for Reagan's emergence. And during the George W. Bush years, Shirley says, the GOP repeated its mistake of transforming itself into "the second big-government party in America."
The public relations expert who worked in the Reagan campaign says he sees many parallels between the modern tea party movement and the forces that brought Reagan to power.
"That came about because conservatives were so dismayed at what had happened to the Republican Party," Shirley says of the Reagan years. "We have a natural outgrowth again with the tea party movement of populist, optimistic conservatives who have become very concerned about both political parties."
He adds that Reagan "would have been very skeptical" of President Obama's healthcare reforms and other initiatives, which are based on the notion that "government knows best."
Shirley says that in many ways the tea party movement "has overtaken the Republican Party." As evidence, he cites the grass-roots organizations' ability to draw hundreds of thousands of rally-goers to the Nation's Capital.
"You have to ask yourself one question: Could the Republican Party turn those numbers out on the Mall here in Washington? The answer, I think everybody would agree, is no," Shirley concludes. "So right now, in many ways, the tea party movement is more formidable, and more important, than the Republican Party establishment is itself."
Shirley says the GOP should focus "on mending relations with the tea party, and making amends for the mistakes of the last eight years."
Asked whether the Republican Party should embrace the Reagan mantle, or find a new way forward, Shirley says he's given that matter a great deal of thought.
"I've come to the conclusion, whether through my faith or my belief in enlightenment, that freedom is the inherent destiny of all people, especially here in this country. And that government poses the most direct threat to that freedom today," he says. "I put my faith in the American people, and the individual dignity and privacy of the American individual today, so I come down firmly on the side of the citizenry over the state."
Shirley also offered Republicans some free public relations advice for the midterm elections. Running against healthcare reform, he said, is only half of the equation needed to win big at the ballot box in November.
By way of precedent, Shirley pointed to the 1994 Contract With America.
"Opposition is never enough," he says. "You have to answer the other side of the equation, which is, 'OK, buddy when you're in power what are you going to do?' That's where the Contract was so brilliant, because it gave Republicans something to point to and say, 'If you put us into power … here's what we're going to do.' Republicans have yet to answer the other side of the equation."
Shirley says Republicans must propose ideas that are within the framework of true conservatism and that will better meet people's needs.
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