I had a very exciting time at the Republican National Convention. My conservative allies and I all worked very hard in the presidential election. When I woke up the day after the election, everything I had worked for appeared to be in ruins. An extreme leftist had been re-elected president of the United States.
Some liberal Republicans immediately began to blame newly active conservatives for the presidential defeat. I knew they were wrong. It was clear to me that these newly active conservatives would become key in the future to major victories for conservative principles.
The day was Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1964.
The Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, had suffered a crushing defeat. He won just six states and 52 votes in the Electoral College. But from the ashes of that loss sprang a vigorous conservative movement.
The conservative movement grew from modest beginnings to become a major force capable of nominating and electing candidates, including Ronald Reagan, at the local, state and national levels.
Waves of newly active conservatives elected Reagan to the White House in 1980, broke Democratic monopolies in Congress and were decisive in the thrilling 2010 elections that greatly benefited the Republican Party.
It would be foolish for conservatives, defeated for now, to form a circular firing squad and start shooting at one another. Each element of our coalition — limited government, free enterprise, strong national defense and traditional values — has a long and strong background of working together. These principles will lead to victories in the future as they have in the past, as recently as two years ago.
For those disappointed by the results of this year’s presidential election, remember that it is a long ballgame. Politics has a natural ebb and flow.
Now is the time to study the lessons of this election and to chart a course for conservatives to win in the future. The stakes could not be higher. The margins of victory in the public policy process may be smaller now than at any other time in American history.
Conservatives must reach out and identify philosophically compatible individuals among the types of people with whom leftist organizers have had the most success.
Seek out the reasonably conservative people — the younger, the better — who happen to be in categories long targeted for organization by the left, people who share our American view of individual rights rather than group rights. Help them deepen their understanding of public policy issues. Many have strong opinions they already share with us. Then undertake systematic, persistent actions to recruit them into the public policy process, teach them political skills and place them where they can be effective.
Work hard and wisely to increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists in all categories of people. Do all you can to advance and protect them. Their successes will break the leftist organizers’ near monopolies among people like them.
The most important lesson you will learn at any time in your life about success in the public policy process is this: Being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win. The winner in a political contest over time is determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective sides.
You owe it to your philosophy to study how to win. You have a moral obligation to learn how to win. That was the clinching argument Goldwater conservatives used to revive the power of conservative principles in America in 1964. Conservatives will find it helpful today.
Conservatives can and will win big again in presidential elections. First, however, we must learn from our experiences, do what must be done and study diligently to become ever more effective.
You have fought for good causes before. I pray you will continue your fight for good causes now. Victories may be just around the corner.
Morton C. Blackwell is president of the Leadership Institute. He was Barry Goldwater’s youngest elected delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention.