Conservatives embraced Reagan out of desperation. As a result, they experienced a tactical victory and a strategic – I can’t even say defeat because it’s a nearly apocalyptic creaming that’s much bigger than a simple defeat.
From the beginning, Reagan made it clear that he wasn’t a conservative in any meaningful way. “Liberalism is conservative. It’s stuck in the past,” he said. “Our movement, on the other hand, is progressive because it’s forward-looking.” (I’m quoting from memory but this is the gist of Reagan’s statement.) Note the unquestioning assumption that “forward” and “future” always equal “good” and “past” always equals “bad.”
Reagan rejected old-school liberalism in favor of a new brand. We now call it neoliberalism. It’s a deeply progressivist movement that abhors any rootedness. “Change”, together with “choice,” is its key word. That’s why the ultra-neoliberal Obama adopted “hope and change” as his slogan.
Today, Reagan’s open borders and austerity are embraced by the most left-wing movements in this country. And conservatives are horrified with the results of Reagan’s neoliberal revolution. Without it, we wouldn’t see the idea that humans should be free to change physical reality by naming it. We wouldn’t face the results of putting the pouty freedom of entitled consumers above every other consideration.
It’s actually quite funny that Reagan’s open-border policies have made it impossible for Reagan’s party ever again to have a meaningful presence in Reagan’s own state of California. It’s a fitting punishment for embracing a progressivist slick talker. Democrats made the same mistake when they embraced Bill Clinton, a neoliberal Reaganite, and forever lost the working classes, becoming the party of the chi-chi fru-fru folks.