Michael Reagan at Restoration Weekend

To win the future, conservatives must look to the great leadership of the past.

Editor’s note: Below is the video and transcript of the speech given by Michael Reagan at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2012 Restoration Weekend. The event took place Nov. 15th-18th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. 

This is really great.  I’ve had a very busy week, how about you?


I started off Monday speaking at a high school in Santa Clarita Valley, got on a midnight flight, flew back to Maryland, spoke at a college or a high school in, what, Delaware on Tuesday night; flew home on Wednesday, spoke at Pepperdine Wednesday afternoon, flew here yesterday, and now I’m speaking.  By the way, after I speak, I’m catching a plane, going back home to be with my wife.

I don’t know what you did on November 7th, but my wife and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary by getting on a plane at 6:00 a.m. and going to Cabo San Lucas.  And that’s where we went.  And I took my phone, put it in the safe, and locked it.  Because I didn’t want to talk to anybody.

And about Megyn Kelly and Fox – if I had her legs, I’d be in her spot.  All right?


And you were speaking about my father, and your kids going through the library, and going through that part where they replay my dad’s – the assassination attempt on my dad.  They now have that suit; it’s lying out there.  It’s a very tough place for my family to go through.  But I remember the morning after my father was shot, going in to visit my father.  And I said good morning to my father, and my father said good morning to me.  And I said – how are you doing?  He said – well, you know, yesterday I was shot.


And I said – well yes, everybody knows you were shot, Dad.  Well, I just want to tell you, if you’re ever going to be shot, don’t be wearing a new suit.


And I said – why are you telling me this?  Well, yesterday, you know, when I was shot, I was wearing a brand new suit I’d just picked up the day before, was a brand new, blue suit.  And I’m just telling you, if you’re ever going to get shot, don’t be wearing a new one.  I said – well, I’ll tell Colleen that – in case ever I’m going to get shot, I’ll wear an old suit.


And I said – why are you telling me this?  Says – well, you’d think they’d let me undress; I am the President of the United States.  But when I walked into the hospital, they put me on a gurney and they cut that suit off of my body.  And the last time I saw it, it was in shreds in the corner of the hospital room.


And I said – well, no wonder you don’t want to be wearing a new suit, if that’s what’s going to happen.  He goes – well, that young man who shot me, Hinckley – I said – yes, John Hinckley.  Well, I understand his parents are in the oil business.  I said – yes, they are.  Well, I understand they live in Denver.  Yes, they do.  Well, do you think they have any money?  I said – well, Dad, I’m sure they have money.  Denver?  Oil business?  Course they have money.  Well, do you think they’d buy me a new suit?


So you see, what you all got from my father, we also got at the house and home from my father.  He made us feel at ease.  He made us feel good about our lives and who we were.

And I look at this weekend, Restoration Weekend.  And David, thank you again for inviting me to be here.  And this is my first time at Restoration Weekend.  And the key word is “restore.“  And if I can make a suggestion – that if we want to restore, you know, who we are, maybe it’s time to stop talking about Ronald Reagan and start once again embracing Ronald Reagan and who he was.


Because I watched the campaign this year of everybody trying to out-Reagan Reagan.  And that’s what I saw.  And I heard people talk about the fact it was the mainstream media and the elite that chose Mitt Romney to be the nominee of the party.  Well, Ronald Reagan always supported, by the way, the nominee of the party, bar none.  He went out and campaigned for the nominee of the party.  He didn’t try to cherry-pick what he believed and what he didn’t believe.  Ronald Reagan was that kind of a person.

But you might remember also that the mainstream media never supported Ronald Reagan.  But how did he, in fact, get elected back in 1980?  How’d he get elected in 1984?  How’d he get elected as governor?  Because he went over the heads of the media and talked to the people, and he had a message that was inclusive.  He had a message that was inspirational.  And people listened, and people brought it in.

I watch politicians today who speak to us in sound bites.  Well, I looked at my father, who spoke to us in parables.  He told us stories.  We didn’t just hear his speeches; we felt his speeches.  And we knew when he gave those speeches that it wasn’t coming from somebody in the campaign who said – try this one on.  Try this.  Speak to that group, speak to that group.  It was inspirational.  Because Ronald Reagan actually believed what in fact he was telling us.

And he also lived what he was telling us.  It was not a surprise who he was. We knew exactly who he was from the 1960s, when he ran for governor of California; all the way through the 1980s, right up until his death.  And in 2004, the United States of America lost America’s cheerleader.  We need to find a cheerleader for the United States of America.


I was here last night, and looking around the room.  And I look around the room this morning.  We talk about – well, the Hispanics came out for the President.  The black community came out, the African American community, came out for the President of the United States of America.  Look around your tables, look around your room, your rooms where you are.  Look at this weekend.  It’s a great weekend; you’re all wonderful people.  But if I asked all the blacks in the room to stand up, where would they be?  If I asked all the Hispanics to stand up, where would they be?  And unless we start reaching out to those people, and talking to them like Ronald Reagan did, we’re never going to get their votes, we’re not going to win any more elections.  And that’s a fact.  We need to reach out to people and quit being insular.

I mean, the fact of the matter – we have politicians today who say – if I get on Fox enough, I’ll get elected.  If I get on talk radio enough, I’ll get elected.  Well, you have a maximum group of people there of about 16 to 20 million people.  We’re speaking to each other.  And yes, we get the votes of those people.  But over 100 million people voted in this last election, and we’re only speaking to 20 million of them.  If we want to get elected, we have to find a way to speak to the 100 million people out there, not just the 20 million that watch Fox or listen to talk radio.  We need to spread out.  We need a message that’s going to include people.

When you talk to the Hispanic community, what do they hear from us?  They hear – we’re going to throw you out.  We’re going to get rid of you.  And I got a little tired over this year of listening to Republicans use my father’s name to infer that my father somehow would, in fact, throw young Hispanics out of the United States of America and throw them back into a country they never lived in.  And then you say – why don’t we get their vote?

Let me tell you a story about a young man who we give, in fact, checks to – we’ve given two out of the last three years – we’ve given checks to him for an ongoing education.  Through the Reagan Legacy Foundation, we support the kids who serve on the USS Ronald Reagan financially for their ongoing education.

The young man who was brought to the United States of America by his mom and his father – they were illegals back in the 1980s.  Came into the United States of America.  When this young man was able to become a citizen under 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli, he did, along with his parents.  When in fact he turned 18 years of age, in order to thank the country that allowed him to become a citizen, he in fact joined the United States Navy to serve the United States.

When the USS Ronald Reagan was commissioned and brought around to be in San Diego, he volunteered to serve on the USS Ronald Reagan, where he serves today.  And today, that young man mentors 275 sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan, making them better sailors, better Americans; while at the same time going to get his master’s degree to better his education for himself and his family.

But we never hear those stories.  But those stories are in fact out there.

And that’s what’s we’ve got to do.  We’ve got to find the good stories.  Ronald Reagan told us good stories; he didn’t tell us bad stories.  He didn’t use negativity to get elected; he used positive messages to get elected.

I thought about the election this year, and about all those debates, the 10 debates that took place between all of our candidates.  And I tried to juxtapose my father on that debate stage, especially when it was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and say – where would my father fit in?  If we never knew my father as President of the United States – we only knew him as governor – how would he figure into the debate?  What will all those candidates be saying about Governor Ronald Reagan?  Who would’ve been taking him on because he signed an abortion bill?  Who would’ve been taking him on because he raised taxes?  Who would’ve been taking him on because he signed no-fault divorce?  And how many on that stage would’ve taken him on because, my God, he was a union leader – the Screen Actors Guild?

They would’ve looked at Ronald Reagan, and there are those in our party who would’ve referred to him as a RINO Republican.  They would not have nominated him.  The Berlin Wall would still be up.  The Cold War would still be going on.  And 1.4 million refuseniks would still be in gulags in Eastern Bloc countries today.  Because we’ve stopped looking at the whole of the person, and instead we just look at certain little points in their lives.  And we hold it against them for their entire life.

We need to start embracing the whole of the person, and who they are.  And that is the way we will move our party forward in this country and start winning elections again.


Honey, can you imagine Ronald Reagan meeting with Margaret Thatcher and asking her, first of all, if she was pro-life or pro-choice?


And then, based on the answer, say we can work or not or not work together towards the betterment of the world?  Can you imagine Ronald Reagan meeting with Pope John Paul and saying – before you and I talk about Gdansk, before you and I talk about the solidarity movement, before you and I talk about saving Poland – which will be the first step in the bloc’s falling and the Berlin Wall coming down – I need to know your immigration policy?


And then, based on an answer, he may or may not work with Pope John Paul?  But that’s exactly what we do as a party.  It’s exactly what we’re doing every single day of the week.

And as I say to people, you know, liberals are led by ideology.  Conservatives are led by a leader.  And if we do not have a leader, then we’re all over the map, forming our own little thiefdoms, giving our own little purity tests.  And my God, if you don’t pass this purity test, that purity test, this purity test and this purity test, then in fact three million of us will not show up on Election Day, and Barack Obama will become the President of the United States.

But what happened?  Three million didn’t show up, and Barack Obama’s the President of the United States of America.  We have to learn to fight for the things that we believe in.  Too long, Republicans have sat back and said – well, someday, they’ll get it.

My sister told me this back in the 1960s, campaigning for my dad for governor.  And Maureen being – and how we miss her today – Maureen being four years older than myself – and I was talking to her about the two parties.  And I said – what’s the real difference?  And my sister Maureen said – well, the Democrats hope you never get it, and the Republicans hope someday you will get it.

And that’s how we’re acting today – that someday the world will get it.  Well, someday they might.  But what kind of a world will be there for them when they ultimately do get it?

I wrote an op-ed piece that’s out this week, it’s on the Internet today, it’s in newspapers around the country today.  And you may not like this op-ed piece that I wrote.  But the op-ed piece said – where was George W. Bush in this last election?  Because talk radio and Fox have been defending his administration for the past four years, at least; while the Democrats, this last election, sent out President after President after President – Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Jimmy Carter when they could dust him off.


And they sent those three Presidents out – two ex and one now – to bash George Bush and his administration and blame the economy on George Bush.  And as I say in the op-ed piece, he’s MIA, he’s AWOL.  If we want to get to the mainstream media, then it was incumbent upon George Bush to stand up and say – I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.  The economy is not my fault.  Look to Barney Frank, look to Christopher Dodd, and look to the Democrats.


And what I say in my op-ed piece is – you know, for five years, the Democrats have blamed George Bush; maybe we should blame him for the next four.  But it’s true he has not stood up.  He’s been absent without leave.  And I say if he’s not willing to defend his administration, his policies, then why should we be defending his policies and his administration?  He needs to stand up.


I was sitting there watching the convention, the Democrat Convention, and Bill Clinton talking about the fact that no predecessor of his, not even himself, could’ve saved this country.  That’s why Barack Obama needed four more years.  I thought to myself, as I tweeted that night, I remember my father doing it in three years.  Didn’t he turn it around?


So with all this malaise going on, can we turn it around?  Yes, we can.  But we have to have a plan.  You have to have a party that’s going to be inclusive, not exclusive.  My God, sitting at the Reagan table at Thanksgiving, you have to be inclusive.  That’s where my father learned it.  Imagine sitting with Patty and Ron at Thanksgiving?  I used to sit at that same Thanksgiving table and think to myself, they should’ve stayed with adoption.



You know, they’re right – that gene pool doesn’t go far.  What can I tell you?

But you know, we can get it back, we can move it forward.  But you have to have a plan, you have to have an inspirational message.  You have to have an inclusive message.  It doesn’t mean you’re giving up all your beliefs to move forward.  Ronald Reagan understood that.  My father was pro-life but supported his daughter Maureen, who is pro-choice, to be in the Congress of the United States.  Why?  Because he agreed with her 80 percent of the time.  And the person that took over that seat he disagreed with 100 percent of the time.  So he said – I’m going to take Maureen, and support Maureen.

And we’re not doing that much anymore.  If you don’t agree with me 100 percent of the time, I’m not going to agree with you any part of the time, or any time at all.

And we need to get back to that.  We need to understand that we own the House of Representatives.  Their side owns the Senate and the White House.  We’re not going to get everything we want in Washington.  But we can move the ball forward.

Who agrees with this statement – the Republican Party today is not fearful of the Democrats; the Republican Party today is fearful of itself?  Am I right?


They are, because they’re fearful – ask Dick Lugar – they’re fearful that if they don’t make the right decision – if, in fact, they negotiate at all – then somebody in the party will in fact unseat them in a primary.  And guess what happens then?  Then we lose Senate seats, Congressional seats, and what have you.

Ronald Reagan understood you had to negotiate.  He understood that if you moved the ball 10 yards at a time down the football field, you would get to the other end zone.  You didn’t have to throw Hail Mary passes every five minutes and, if nobody was there to catch it, take your ball and go home, and blame everybody else.  He understood that, and that’s what he did as President and as governor of California.  And that’s what we need to get back to also.

And by the way, if you think the United States of America’s in trouble, and the world’s in trouble, don’t move to California.


Because the rest of the world looks great compared to what we’ve done in California.  We raised our taxes, voted to raise our taxes $7 billion.  Cap and Trade just kicked in.  They just voted in the City Council in Los Angeles to put on the ballot in March an increase in sales tax.  So if you live in Texas, you live in Florida, you live in any state but California, we’re coming to you.  We’re moving in.


Varney’s had a house ready for me in New Jersey for the last year and a half.  So I think I may be moving in with Varney.  But in fact, we also need to stop always trying to be kingmakers, where we’re going out and working for a governorship, we’re going out and working for a presidency; and we forget to work for city councils, we forget to work for supervisors.  We forget to work for mayors, we forget to work for assembly, we forget to work for state senators.  We forget to work for those people who are closest to us and the things we’re doing – school boards, what have you.

The Democrats for years figured this out.  They didn’t need a presidency, they didn’t need a governorship, when in fact they owned every other piece of the pie.  And when they got a governorship, or they got a presidency, they’re in tall cotton.  We need to start working from the ground up.

Ronald Reagan, I might tell you, was probably the original Tea Party.  Because he was elected because of grassroots America.  He spoke to grassroots America.


And we need to really start talking again to grassroots America; not over the top of their heads, but actually to them.  We need to be involved in their lives all of the time.  The other side is working against us every day of the week.

I remember Newt Gingrich coming up to me one time and say to me – Michael, why is it that when we get elected, Republicans get elected, why is it that we end up ultimately losing here and losing there in other situations we get into?  I said – because Republicans look at elections as an endpoint; liberals see it as a beginning.

So what happened is, the election was last Tuesday.  How many of you just packed it in, said that’s it, it’s over; and you’re not going to be engaged again for two years?  Those of you who write checks to the Republican National Committee or to your state party or whatever, you’re not going to be hit on for about another year.  Ask Barry, ask Mireille.  They’ll be hit on, and the calls will start coming in – we need your money now.

No, they need your money on November 7th.  Because if we’re not engaged all of the time, 247, we’re going to keep on getting beat.  Because the other side is already working towards the election of 2016 for the presidency and for governorships, state legislators, and what have you.

So if we’re not engaged now, get ready to lose again.  If we’re not ready to embrace all of America, get ready to lose again.  But we need to stand up and fight.  We need to have a message of inclusion, an inspirational message that’s going to make America feel good about supporting Republican and conservative ideals and conservative, in fact, candidates.

And we can do it.  1980, we all felt the same way.  We found someone with an inspirational message, who we all got behind.  And they brought in the Reagan Democrats and independents.  And we can do it again, working together towards the betterment of this country.  Why don’t we not look for the cheerleader; why don’t we be the cheerleader for the United States of America?


I know so many people who say – I wish we had your father back again.  You know, nobody more than myself, my brother and my sister, and Nancy – we’d love to have my father, in fact, back again.  But do we do a disservice by looking for Ronald Reagan in every politician?  And when we do that, they’re going to fail, because nobody is going to in fact live up to being Ronald Reagan.  But you can embrace his policies and embrace his greatness, and move forward.  Don’t do a disservice and try and look for another Ronald Reagan.  My God, we had one in our lifetimes – be happy and glad that we did.

But let me just mention something else.  And I say this when I go out and talk.  Remember 1976, which – by the way, my father did live by the 11th Commandment in 1976, because he put it in place in the 1960s – just want to make that point.

But my father in 1976 came down at convention, asked by the president to speak to a convention.  And he told us about being asked to write a letter to be put into a time capsule.  And he said – what a daunting task to be asked to write a letter to be put into a time capsule, to be opened on the 300th anniversary of the United States of America.  He says – what do I write about?  He says – as I’m driving up the coast of California with the Pacific on my left, [Santa Ana] Mountains on my right – he says – I’m thinking, what do I write about?  Do I write about nuclear proliferation, but we may not know if we in fact used those weapons?  Or do I write about freedom, knowing if we don’t make the right decisions, they may very well not even have the freedom to open up the time capsule that I’ve written a letter into?

And my father did write a letter in that time capsule, and I want to see them open it on the 300th anniversary, so that my father’s grandchildren, Cameron and Ashley; and their children, can see what their grandfather and great-grandfather, at that point, wrote to America.

If you want to be like Ronald Reagan, don’t do what we normally do – write on your calendar that this weekend, I was in West Palm Beach at the Breakers, having a wonderful time – and then go home, and it’s over, until the next time you all get together.  I want you to do this – I want you to write a letter.  Start your own time capsule.  And put a letter into that time capsule of what you’re going to do from this point forward to ensure the freedom to your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so that they can have freedoms on the 300th anniversary of this country.  You don’t have to sit there and say – what would Ronald Reagan do?  Do what Ronald Reagan did.  It’s all there.  You don’t have to guess.  It’s all there.

But do your own time capsule.  Write your own note.  Say – what am I doing to ensure the freedom of this nation, of this country, of the world?  And challenge your lineage to do the exact same thing in the future.  And if we follow what Ronald Reagan did, and really do it, instead of just giving lip service to it, I will tell you – we will once again be that shining city on a hill that my father spoke about.  And we will be the ones cleaning the glass to make sure the world sees it bright, shiny, and full of freedom.

Thank you very much.

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