A Plan for Republican Renewal?

The Republican Party has moved so far to the political right that it is finds itself appealing to an increasingly narrow base of supporters in federal politics.

Growth and Opportunity ReportAfter Mitt Romney’s defeat in the last presidential election, Party Chairman Reince Preibus and five other key GOP insiders put together a 100-page report encouraging the party to reexamine and redefine its message on social and fiscal issues. That report, labeled the Growth and Opportunity Project, opens with the recognition that

[T]he federal wing [of the Republican Party] is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.

The GOP has sometimes been criticized as being primarily a party of “old white men.” Part of the Growth and Opportunity report addresses the need for greater outreach to other important demographic groups including Hispanics, African-Americans, women and youth. Yet this outreach does not seem to be going all that well.

Numerous essays from liberal commentators and even Republican supporters themselves report that Republicans keep sabotaging their own efforts to rebrand their message to these groups. It is not uncommon to hear is said that

the GOP is still failing in its efforts to target and communicate with the voters whose policies it continues to alienate.

david frumDavid Frum is a well-known Canadian journalist who served in George W. Bush’s administration as the special assistant to the president for economic speechwriting in 2001-02. He wrote the first insider book about the Bush presidency, and is the author of many other books that have been highly praised in conservative circles.

Frum is concerned about the Republican Party’s ability to reform itself in a way that will make the party more attractive to a larger segment of the population. In an op-ed piece appearing yesterday in The Daily Beast, he set out a 5 point plan for Republican renewal that is both broad and practical. He says,

I note that the intellectual project of conservative reform remains still at very early days. Here are five essential tasks to commence before conservative reform truly rolls forward.

1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers. If the only policy tool you allow yourself to use is tax credits, your reform agenda will sputter into ineffectuality. Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward.

republican-elephant2) Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality. The conservative project at its best has worked to raise the floor beneath the American middle class, not to lower the ceiling upon the middle class. But one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences. I’m not so worried that the oligarchs will pay for apologetics on their behalf. That’s politics as usual. I’m more concerned that so many people will identify themselves with the interests of oligarchy without being paid, without even being conscious that this is what they are doing. The whole immigration debate, for example, is premised on the assumption that the only interests that matter are the interests of the employers of labor.

3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity’s impact on the climate – and how to address that impact – is our world’s largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.

4) Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It’s the law, and it won’t be repealed. Other countries have managed to control costs while covering everyone, and the US can too. A message of “protect Medicare, scrap Obamacare” reinforces the image of conservatism as nothing more than the class interest of the elderly.

5) I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won’t rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war [on Obama] over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

The challenge for Republicans will be to heed these suggestions and chart a new course. But will they do it?

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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