Commentary Magazine


The Republican Path Ahead

I have a column in TIME magazine in which I describe the three different camps Republicans have broken into in the aftermath of the 2012 election, some policy proposals the GOP might consider, and urge Republicans to draw on a conservative tradition that:

seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

First, Republicans should make front-and-center their plans to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, immigration policies and regulatory regime are outdated, breaking down, and creating substantial wreckage. If I had to boil it down to a single sentence, I’d urge the GOP to develop its reputation as the party of reform and modernization.

Second, Republican leaders at every level need to conduct themselves in a manner that not just reassures voters but appeals to them. As former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has put it, “as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” This is not just a matter of style; it’s a disposition that reflects an approach to the world. And it matters.

Third, Republicans must resist the temptation of defeatism, enervation, and turning against the country. It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans. An intellectually self-confident party would, in fact, be energized by a challenge of this scale.

But it seems to me that the main reason for Republicans to be confident, and the main reason they should act quickly to revive their party, is that reactionary liberalism is exhausted. It has nothing to offer when it comes to the greatest domestic threats facing America: our massive fiscal imbalance, the impending collapse of our entitlement programs, our insanely complicated and inefficient tax code, and anemic economic growth. By the end of President Obama’s second term, the Affordable Care Act will be viewed as a monumental failure. Liberals will have had nothing useful to say about combating poverty, improving education, energy independence or stabilizing a disordered and dangerous world. The propositions of progressivism will have been tried and found wanting in almost every respect. The public will again turn to the Republican Party.

For the GOP to fully reposition itself will require the right presidential nominee to emerge. But the groundwork needs to begin–has begun–with governors, members of Congress, public intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs.

In 1980, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan admitted, “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” As it was, so shall it be again.

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