gave his famous speech “A Time For Choosing” a week before Election Day 1964. Nearly six decades later, the speech remains relevant, and the parallels to the circumstances we face today are striking. The battles against big government and Marxist do-gooders have changed only in the sense that they have intensified. Americans are still debating our role in the world—even as war rages in Europe. We are uncertain of our future, as we were then.
Reagan decried a bloated welfare state, a militant tax-and-spending regime in Washington, and the blatant bribing of Americans with their own tax dollars for their votes. Full Democratic control of Washington over the past two years has produced the kind of government Reagan could have imagined only in a fever dream. The inflationary Inflation Reduction Act and the unconstitutional forgiveness of student loans via executive fiat were shameless attempts to buy votes before a midterm election.
The choice before Americans next month is simple. Will we sell our votes to politicians promising us prosperity if only we give them more of our money? Will we choose to be free—acknowledging the risks and challenges that inevitably accompany freedom—or will we choose to be dependent? Will we, as Reagan said, “believe in our capacity for self-government, or abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves”?
As Republicans, we believe in the challenge of freedom and individual responsibility. We affirm, as the Founders did, that prosperity and innovation and greatness are born from free enterprise, and that the government exists to protect that freedom, not diminish it. The good news is that polling indicates most Americans agree. This election may well be a referendum on the kind of governance Reagan warned us about decades ago.
But it is also a time for choosing for conservatives. We have to choose how we will fight for the great vision that Reagan articulated.
The right is divided these days, which is odd, considering that by any measure there are fewer ideological and policy differences within the Republican Party than ever. Yet factions persist. The divisions are becoming more severe and more toxic. Some in our movement insist on sorting themselves into labels: populists, nationalists, MAGA, mainstream—but without any real clue as to what ideas separate these groups. These groupings function more like grade-school cliques than serious political divisions. They are about style over substance.
These divisions are manufactured by opportunists—mostly online and on television—who can’t string a sentence together about serious public policy but are quick to label anyone and everyone a “RINO” or “establishment sell-out.”
These are the people who say they fight for the conservative movement but in reality only fight for attention, fundraising dollars, clicks and views. They know that Americans have been conditioned to be attentive to Kardashian-like drama, and so they serve it up in our political arena. It’s unhealthy, and we have to stop rewarding it. It makes us seem bitter, unserious and unlikable.
To beat the increasingly radical left, we have to unite, and we have to fight to win. In politics, you win only when you’re persuading those who disagree with you.
This is the choice before conservatives: Will we be happy warriors or furious flame throwers? When we communicate, will we persuade? Or will we serve up a limited menu of red meat? Will we succumb to our grievances and bitterness as the left advances, take the bait they’ve set for us, and become the caricatures they want us to be? Will we do the hard work, play the long game, win majorities and sustain them, in order to implement policy?
I would rather we follow the electoral success of President Reagan, achieved not through grievance but through inspiration. We may win this one election off the coattails of the other side’s seemingly endless incompetence. But we will win the next 10 elections with inspiration, with vision and with the time-tested principles that Reagan defended so well.
That is the choice before us. Let us choose wisely.
Mr. Crenshaw, a Republican, represents Texas’ Second Congressional District.
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