Second, Reagan was, as his nickname indicated, a great communicator, and he articulated conservative ideas better than any politician then — or since. Reagan taught conservatives how to talk about first principles, and not just short-term political goals. He did this for years on his speaking tours and in his radio addresses, and he continued to do it as a political candidate and later as president. His administration made direct communication with the American people a priority. According to Reagan communications aide David Gergen, Reagan spoke “to the American people through prime-time television more often and more effectively than any other president.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, who came to the attention of Reagan on the basis of her famous article “Dictatorships and Double Standards” in Commentary, understood that Reagan’s communication skills were his key contribution to the movement. According to Kirkpatrick, Reagan “was not an intellectual, not a professor, [and] not a journalist — but he was a person who communicated.”
Third, Reagan found ways to unify conservatives even though there were serious divisions among them. Anderson, for example, distrusted Pat Moynihan from their days in the Nixon White House, and for a time blackballed Moynihan ally Checker Finn from an administration position. The neoconservatives and the old-line conservatives battled over whether Bill Bennett or Mel Bradford should become chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Bennett won.) Yet Reagan did not let these battles break the larger unity of conservatives behind his administration. He did not invent what Frank Meyer called “fusionism” — bringing together the vitality and strengths of conservatives and libertarians — but he knew how to use these two strands of thought to further the cause of freedom and constitutional government. A latter-day conservative leader may not be able to harness the same unifying issues that Reagan used (such as anti-Communism, toughness on crime, and tax cuts), but there are still plenty of opportunities to focus on the first principles that unite conservatives rather than the issues that drive the movement apart.