And while leadership must first be sober and defend conservative principles, it must also be relatable. Conservatives have come to deplore the role of personality in politics, scoffing at celebrity candidates. This is deeply misguided. Of course, we don’t want blank-slate politicians, but we do need standard-bearers who can instigate a conservative revival. Policy without a politician is a dissertation. Conservatism without a candidate of character, charm and intelligence is reduced to a debating society.
America is no longer Reagan’s America, and the world is no longer fighting the Cold War. A successful political party must not just acknowledge new realities but adjust to them, even embrace them.
Reagan spoke admiringly of our federalist system — no doubt because of his experience running California as a fiscal conservative — but as president, he never managed to devolve significant power to the states, in part because state leadership was not always up to the task. Today, the states are among our best-run political entities, in large part because a majority are run by Republican governors. Leaders such as Christie, Jindal, McDonnell and Walker have implemented school reform, made innovations in health care and restructured pensions while making their states more business-friendly.