[T]he more things change, the more they stay the same. The very forces of the establishment Republicans who made war against Reagan before he was REAGAN are at it again, saying the Gipper could not have survived in the modern Republican party or would have been rejected by the tea party or could not have been elected today. Actually, the Constitution would forbid him from completing a third term, and we all know in what reverence he held that sacred document. Those same forces who thought men like Bill and Jim Buckley were unsophisticated and out of touch are now making war against the intellectual conservative forces of the tea party. It’s as if an Iron Curtain has fallen across the GOP, with the statists on one side and the forces for individuality on the other.
Jeb Bush has said Reagan would be too liberal for the modern GOP. Jon Huntsman has made the same claim. As scions of wealthy, establishment families, their observations need to be taken with a little more than a grain of salt. Actually, the fight inside the GOP today, pitting the insider elites against the outsider reformers, is very much like the fight in which Reagan found himself in the mid-1970s. Reagan, the intellectual populist, was a tea-party leader long before there was a tea-party movement — but there was a conservative movement, and he was very much the leader of that vibrant political force.
Those who write that Reagan would not now fit in the party he largely created make the mistake so many do in discussing Reagan: They confuse tactics with principles.
They charge that it is forgotten that Reagan compromised; but in fact, conservatives celebrate him for compromising on tactics, but never on goals or principles. Changing tactics can be smart politics. Changing principles is not.