Reagan dared to challenge an incumbent president of his own party. He dared to challenge the establishments of both parties. He thought big, acted boldly, and ultimately won.
So, as Republicans consider their situation halfway through the Obama presidency, they might want to turn for inspiration to Reagan’s impromptu remarks when President Ford invited his defeated rival to say a few words at the close of the 1976 Republican convention:
If I could just take a moment; I had an assignment the other day. Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now, on our Tricentennial.
It sounded like an easy assignment. They suggested I write something about the problems and the issues today. I set out to do so, riding down the coast in an automobile, looking at the blue Pacific out on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains on the other, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to be that beautiful a hundred years from now as it was on that summer day.
Then as I tried to write—let your own minds turn to that task. You are going to write for people a hundred years from now, who know all about us. We know nothing about them. We don’t know what kind of a world they will be living in. . . .
And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know . . . whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.
Will they look back with appreciation and say, “Thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom, who kept us now a hundred years later free, who kept our world from nuclear destruction”?
And if we failed, they probably won’t get to read the letter at all because it spoke of individual freedom, and they won’t be allowed to talk of that or read of it.
This is our challenge; and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.
We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.
Republicans are in opposition. This provides opportunities for clear speech and bold proposals. It implies also the responsibility to do what they can to mitigate the damage of the next four years. But, at the end of the day, there is no substitute for victory.