Richard Viguerie is a conservative icon and direct mail pioneer. The Houston, Texas-area native, in 1961 became executive secretary of the conservative youth group Young Americans for Freedom.
After Sen. Barry Goldwater's defeat as the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, Viguerie had the presence of mind to follow up on his donor base. Using publicly-available records filed with the House of Representatives, Viguerie took copious notes on who had given to Goldwater's principled, but losing effort.
Starting in 1965 Viguerie became owner of direct marketing/advertising companies such as American Target Advertising. Viguerie founded Conservative Digest magazine in 1975 and served as its publisher for ten years.
Viguerie, 80, is now chairman of The ConservativeHQ.com. He's out with a new book, Takeover: The 100-Year War For The Soul Of The GOP And How Conservatives Can Finally Win It.
In Takeover, Viguerie writes that 102 years ago President Theodore Roosevelt, running on the Bull-Moose ticket, split the Republican Party to advance his progressive agenda. Progressivism, or Big Government Republicanism, as Viguerie call it, became the philosophy of the Republican Party's establishment elite. Fifty years ago conservatives began a battle for control of the party.
Viguerie notes that national polls show the American people self-identifying as conservatives by a margin of 2 to 1 or more. But he says establishment Republicans have failed to win key elections because they have failed to roll back Big Government.
Politix Editor-in-Chief David Mark spoke with Viguerie about his vision of limited government and constitutional conservatism. And about the movement's beginnings with the signing of the 1960 "Sharon Statement", which detailed principles of the Young Americans for Freedom. The statement is named for the location of the inaugural meeting of Young Americans for Freedom, National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr.'s estate in Sharon, Conn.
What's the main message of your book?
The main purpose of the book is that it's the only book that focuses on this subject. There are lots of conservative books out there, by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin and others. But none of them are devoted to discussion of the most important political battle in America. The fight inside the Republican Party, between constitutional conservatives and big-government Republicans.
It's a 102-year-old war. It really began with [former President] Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, when he bolted the Republican Party and ran as an independent. He handed the election to the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, who was a disaster. Conservatives have been battling that wing of the party ever since.
But most conservatives haven't recognized they've been in this war. We've had the political guns focused on the wrong target. Our #1 opponents are [House Speaker], [RNC Chair] Reince Priebus, Karl Rove, etc. Until we focus on them we're going to keep losing. Whenever they are the face of the opposition to the Democrats, we lose.
You look at the big Democratic wins in recent years - picking up the House in 2006, adding onto their majority in 2008. Barack Obama winning that year, and 2012. It's not because voters loved them. It had everything to do with the failed, immoral leadership of the big-government Republicans.
Two Thousand Ten was the biggest Republican win in more than 80 years. What the voters see as the opposition to the Democrats is the tea party. That include Rush, Hannity, Levin, [now-Sen.] Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
We've produced great cars, but we've hired terrible salesman.
When the last time government was actually rolled back?
There are some places where it happened under Reagan. It was good under the first year or so in the Gingrich Congress. But mostly government has been growing all these times I've been involved.
But it doesn't have to be that way. I've been there in times of darkness for conservatives of biblical proportions. Like after 1964. We didn't have Rand Pauls, and Mike Lees, and Ted Cruzes. Within a few years it's possible, entirely likely that we could cut government if we elect the right people in the primaries.
If there's one underlying theme of the book, it's "It's the primaries, stupid." If all we do is sweep out a lot of Democrats, it brings in more John Boehner's and Mitch McConnell's.
Who should replace John Boehner as speaker?
Perhaps [Reps.] Jeb Hensarling [Texas], Jim Jordan [Ohio]. We'll have to see who emerges. But I guarantee we don't want Boehner replaced with [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor [Va.]. [House Majority Whip] Kevin McCarthy [Calif.] falls into that category, too.
If [Boehner] pushes through amnesty [on immigration] later this year, I think he's gone. There are 45-50 conservatives who would just withhold their vote for him as speaker.
Gingrich wasn't a limited government conservative. But his redeeming quality was he was a fierce fighter. That's what we need more of. If you look at the Democratic side, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, [Sen.] Dick Durbin, and [Sen.] Chuck Schumer - " these guys are tough.
Fifty years on, what did the Goldwater campaign teach us?
As George Will has written, Goldwater "won" the 1964 election - it just took 16 years to count the ballots. Goldwater knew when he announced form president in 1964 he was not going to be president. But he said he did it for this reason - to launch the conservative movement.
The only time you lose is when you fail to fight. We lack leaders. From the Goldwater campaign a lot of good leaders came forward. I think the tea party movement is producing a lot of leaders. We're seeing it in the House - people like [Rep.] Justin Amash [Mich.], [Rep.] Tim Huelskamp [Kan.].
Describe the importance of Sharon Statement
Young Americans for Freedom was the first big, conservative organization that was on the cutting-edge.
In March of 1962, I was the old man of the group, at age 27. We literally filled up Madison Square Garden. If you wanted to date the birth of the conservative movement, that's as good a date as anybody. We had Barry Goldwater, John Tower, the new senator from Texas, Strom Thurmond. It was electrifying. You could just cut the energy with a knife.
These same people were later on the frontlines in the Reagan revolution, the Gingrich revolution. We were unknown, but we were putting together a movement. Much like the tea party today. Unless they have a big rally, they work under-the-radar.