Politics

Does Nancy Reagan's Death Coincide with the Death of Our Party?

Former first lady Nancy Reagan is congratulated by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., while President George W. Bush, left, and Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., look on, at a ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building to honor former president Ronald Reagan with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Melodramatic as it sounds, I wonder if Nancy Reagan's death has coincided with the imminent end of the Republican Party as we know it. Not that it's cause and effect, of course. But many of us have been lamenting the unraveling of the Reagan conservative coalition for months now. It feels like we’re at the end of an era — and that her passing symbolizes the turning of the page.  

Columnists-Bug-Web-LEWIS This political speculation, I'm glad to say, was not the first thing that struck me when I heard the news. But the first thing I did think about was arguably even less noble, and certainly more self-centered. This is the end of an era that I was, to some small degree, a part of. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were the president and the first lady of my childhood, a fact that speaks to my own mortality as well as to hers and the many Reagan friends and aides and confidants who preceded her in death.  

Next, my thoughts turned to the romance between the Reagans. Political life can be all-consuming, but you wouldn’t know that by reading the smitten love letters Ronnie sent Nancy years after they were married.  

When everyone is deferential to you, perhaps there’s only one person in your life who can declare, “The emperor has no clothes.'' Or, perhaps even more importantly: “The people telling you the emperor is fully clothed and needs to be fired!” Nancy Reagan definitely did the latter.  

For every Winston, there is a Clementine — for every Ronnie, there’s a Nancy. This may not be a coincidence. I suspect people who are carrying the world on their shoulders need unconditional love even more than the rest of us.  

It’s not uncommon for people to marry someone they’d never go into business with. But marriage is more akin to a business partnership than it is to a first date. With apologies to Harry Truman, the best way to make a friend in Washington might be to marry the right person before you move here.  

The best spouses are also strong where you are weak. Ronald Reagan, affable hero and star, needed someone with more managerial skills to balance him out. Enter Nancy Davis.  

And she wasn’t just his protector during his political career; she played that role, too, during the years when he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, as well as in the years since his death.  

For most of her adult life, Nancy Reagan was a brave and dutiful protector of her husband’s legacy. As today’s Reaganites face an uncertain future, and as we contemplate the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination for president, Reagan's political legacy looks more tenuous than ever.  

Perhaps his beloved wife's death can remind us before it's too late of all we'd be losing were that to occur. And in that way, perhaps she can protect his life's work one final time.  

Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a Senior Contributor at the Daily Caller and author of the new book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter at @MattKLewis. Related: See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. NEW! Download the Roll Call app for the best coverage of people, politics and personalities of Capitol Hill.