June 10, 1985

The President. I know you've made Ed Rollins very happy -- [laughter] -- and I can tell you that George and I are very happy also.

The Vice President. Yes, we are.

The President. Can't tell you how happy.

Welcome here to the White House. You've already met a few converts from the other two branches of government. I'm very excited today because Ed Rollins is allowing me to speak for the executive branch. [Laughter]

Welcome to the Republican Party. Welcome to the party of the open door. We're happy to have you, and we're richer, very much so, for your presence. You have our admiration also.

Many of you hold public office, and you were longtime Democrats, and you changed parties at considerable risk. It was an act of courage and an act of conscience. When Winston Churchill did what you did in his country, he said, ``Some men change principle for party, and some change party for principle.'' He was one of the latter, as you are. And you have our thanks.

I was thinking this morning about political independence, and I remember the story of President Kennedy and how he asked an aide how he planned to vote in an important election back there in Massachusetts. And the aide hesitated; he didn't want to admit he just couldn't, in good conscience, vote for the Democratic candidate. And Kennedy said, ``Say it. Of course, you're going to vote for the Republican. Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.'' [Laughter] Well, sometimes it does.

You know what you've left and why, and I'm not going to use this forum to run down the other party. They have enough troubles -- [laughter] -- and we don't want to add to them, well, maybe later. [Laughter] But as a fellow convert, let me tell you what, in my view, you've joined. You've joined the party of ideas, a party that has positive and coherent programs to deal with the great problems of our time. You've joined the party of the working man and woman.

Let the other party have the entrenched interests and the powerbrokers and special interest politics; we don't have any of that. We just have the people -- and more and more people who won't be held down by any government plans but who are going to break free to follow their dreams -- and that's the great opportunity party that we're building together.

You've joined the party that can speak of and glory in the best of American tradition and American culture because it believes in those traditions and that culture. You've joined a party that looks at our vast and imperfect nation and sees that it's precious and to be protected, a party that still feels the old tug of the immigrants' love for America -- the pure, unalloyed love of those who have experienced less free places and who adored America for giving them freedom and opportunity.

You've also joined the party of the young. I don't mean to brag but 59 percent of those aged 18 to 24 voted for the Republican national ticket in 1984; many people see this as a trend. There is a rumor that our young people just kind of related to the youthfulness of the top of our ticket. [Laughter] I not only heard that rumor; I spread it. [Laughter]

You've joined a party that was once rather sedate. That party was -- or that was until the current leaders and shapers of the GOP started lobbing around intellectual hand grenades and insisting that America stop talking about economic justice and start creating the conditions that make it possible and stopped ignoring or just talking about ways to deal with the greater foreign policy challenge of our time -- the militarist, expansionist intentions of communism -- and start doing something about it.

And the supply-siders, the ``Neocons,'' the New Right, the new Republican majority -- whatever you call them -- they took the Grand Old Party and made it the grand new party, with great new power -- the GNP -- speaking of which, we also turned the economy around.

You've joined a robust and rambunctious party that is rich in diversity and full of variety, a party that is black and white and brown and yellow, old and young and rich and poor.

You're not joining a perfect party. We began in greatness more than 100 years ago, and we've known considerable greatness since. And, yes, we've made our mistakes. There've been good ideas that we embraced too slowly and movements that we rejected outright when, at their core, there was really some good.

And I have to tell you that I know what you've gone through and what you feel, because it's still -- I find it a little strange when I keep going on here saying ``we'' so much. For a long time I was saying ``they'' about the Republican Party.

But more often than not, we've been on the right side and fought the good fight, and it's wonderful to see our new recruits. And it's wonderful to be fighting for a second American revolution of hope and opportunity for all the American people.

Now, members of the press in the back there and many others are interested to know who the new Republicans are. Well, they're Judge Berlaind Brashear, a lifelong Democrat who switched parties, because in his words, ``I feel many black leaders have lost faith in our two-party system, but I have faith in the people.'' The judge is one of the first black Texas Republican elected officials since Reconstruction.

And there's an Italian immigrant who taught himself English, earned a college degree in America, and was a loyal Democrat all his life. But after being elected to his State assembly, he switched parties and became a Republican -- all that in the year 1984, in the State of New York, and with the name ``Ferraro.'' [Laughter] We welcome Arnaldo J.A. Ferraro to the Republican Party.

Then there is Dexter Lehtinen, a member of the Florida State Legislature and a decorated Vietnam veteran who was wounded in action. He, too, was a longtime Democrat, but he became a Republican in March. He told us, ``I grew weary of trying to convince the Democrats that crime should not pay and that crime victims matter.''

Well, you know, I have to tell you when I was Governor of California and had a majority of the Democrats in both houses of the legislature, and then through a couple of special elections and coincidences we wound up with a one-vote majority in the legislature, and in that year, with that one vote in each house which allowed us to put the majority on the committees and appoint the chairman of the committees, we passed 41 anticrime bills, every one of which had been in the legislature for quite a period of time and buried in the committees until they became Republican committees.

Well, these that I've named are just a few. You're not isolated cases. You're part of a great national change, a national movement that is sweeping the electorate. You're representative of something that's going on across the country -- the millions of grassroot Democrats and Independents who have been voting for the Republican Party because they feel it represents what they believe about America and the future.

You and people such as Andy Ireland, Bob Stump, and Phil Gramm are part of a change that is sweeping the country. You're familiar with all the polls; the most recent was in the New York Times last Wednesday. I don't normally read the New York Times for fun -- [laughter] -- but there it was on the front page: ``About the same number of people now identify themselves as Republicans as call themselves Democrats.'' Remember when they called us the minority party? How sweet it is! [Laughter]

I just want to add one thing -- not for those in this room, but for those who may listen later -- it's that in America a lot of people are sort of born into a political party. Their families belong to the same party for generation after generation. And it seems like heresy or a renunciation of who you are and where you're from to switch. Well, this kind of fidelity to traditions and old ties is good; Americans are a faithful people. But the thing is, all of you have demonstrated when the party you were born into changes, when the party you were born into no longer represents the hopes and aspirations of the people you came from, well, then that party left you -- you didn't leave it. And that has happened.

I cast my first vote as a Democrat in 1932. And the Democratic Party platform in that year called for a 25-percent reduction in government spending; it called for the elimination of needless bureaus and agencies and departments of government; it called for a return to States and local communities the authority and autonomy they said had been unjustly seized by the Federal Government. And I think you're evidence today that there is a different party today that runs on that platform, and that is the Republican Party.

You went to a new party, becoming a faithful member of that party, and doing that as a reaffirmation of what you are and where you're from. As I've said, it's a reaffirmation of the dreams that your parents and grandparents dreamed. It's a reaffirmation of your tradition, your culture, your ethnic loyalties, and your Americanism. And let me add that if we ever let you down, you don't owe us your undying loyalty. If we ever leave you, you'll be right to leave us.

We're richer for your presence, and the future of this party is in your hands and the hands of your friends and relatives and fellow Republicans, which leaves me, as I look at you, very optimistic about the future of the GOP and very optimistic about the future of America.

I just have one little personal thing I have to say here talking about my own conversion. I campaigned for awhile as a Democrat for Republican candidates. And finally I was pretty much accepted as a Republican and was speaking at a Republican fundraiser, and right in the middle of my speech a woman stood up out in the middle of the audience, and she said, ``Have you reregistered yet?'' [Laughter] And I said, ``No, but I'm going to.'' She said, ``I'm a registrar.'' And she came right down the middle -- [laughter] -- put it there on the podium, and I signed up and then said, ``Now, where was I?'' [Laughter]

Well, welcome aboard, welcome home, and thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you very much.

And converts make the best kind. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:02 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.