Millennial Republicanism

By Fairooz Adams, Outreach Director

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Competition is in the public interest. Not only do consumers benefit when there is competition for the efficient distribution of goods and services by businesses, but citizens benefit as well when there is a competition of ideas in politics. An evolving world requires evolving solutions undergirded by sound principles. Yet in the last quarter century, political traditions - which enabled America’s constitutional system to operate - have ceased to work.

Myriad different theories have proliferated to explain why that is so; some speculate an actual changes in ideologies are to blame, others believe it is the dissolution of the immense power parties used to exercise on America’s political process, and of course some insist the problems are chiefly due to race. But perhaps the most compelling case is argued by the authors of Its Even Worse Than It Looks. Written by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, of the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institute respectively, they assert Newt Gingrich began the downward spiral by employing politics of extreme obstruction as a way to recapture the House from Democratic control after four decades. Under his leadership, the Republican Party had focused on obstructing Democrats, disheartening the opposition, and winning elections by hamstringing President Clinton. In order to counter the enormous losses in 2008, the Republican Party adopted a similar plan to obstruct President Obama, with the objective of giving the impression that the president is hapless and his ideas constitute an existential threat to the republic.

The strategy worked. The 2016 election has presented the Republican Party with some of the most robust majorities at every level, occupying a majority of state legislatures, governorships, Congress, in addition to winning the presidency.  Given the results the seemingly tremendous successes, it will be very easy to become complacent.

Yet, 2016 exposed enormous problems in the Republican Party for the world to see. While the GOP is traditionally known for its ideological cohesion, Donald Trump was the “insurgent outlier” – to borrow a term from Ornstein and Mann – within the “insurgent outlier” that is the modern day Republican Party. Donald Trump won the nomination by eschewing Republican orthodoxy, and even so, he wound up losing the popular vote in the general election. His popular vote loss follows a trend since after the 1988 election in which every Republican presidential candidate lost the popular vote to his Democratic opponent with only the exception of 2004.

The Republican Party needs a reformation. The outcome of the 2016 election will force Democrats to pivot toward populism. Along with the ascendance of Bernie Sanders’s acolytes in the Democratic Party, comes a pristine opportunity for the GOP to gain over a large swath of centrist millennials; to win the support of those who do not wish to adopt far left policies that will diminish opportunity and reinforce divisions in American society. At present time, the Republican Party is a coalition of neoconservatives on social policy, libertarians on economic policy, and conservative Christians on social policy.

A future GOP that works will require a new synthesis.

In order to win over the next generation of voters and a wider array of Americans, the GOP ought to conclude the culture war and adopt a libertarian attitude on social policy. Such a move will resonate strongly with millennials frustrated with infantilizing hypersensitivity led by regressive leftists on college campuses. A social libertarian approach would leave personal freedoms intact, for individuals, families, their communities, and churches to live as they wish. Should social justice extremism become the next culture war as the millennial generation ascends the corridors of power, the Republican Party will be the side to achieve victory.

A socially libertarian Republican Party would recognize the criminal justice system as it exists is a vast and wasteful government program, and would also support legal status for undocumented residents. Legal status, even if it is without citizenship, matched with an expanded guest worker program would simultaneously preserve the rule of law and avoid economic disruption.

Free markets are good; they have been the greatest vehicle of wealth creation in the history of the world. Fundamentalism is virtually always bad. Instead of the relentless pursuit of free markets, the Republican Party ought to embrace reform conservatism – reformicons, as supporters are often called – which believes the current formula the GOP offers is anachronistic; the solutions are fit for the era of Ronald Reagan, when top marginal tax rates approached confiscatory levels and over regulation burdened the American economy. Reform conservatives seek to refocus conservative priorities from entrepreneurs to working class families.  They also correctly support free trade, which ought not to be opposed as doing so would make all Americans poorer without expanding opportunity. Instead, policies to assist workers and families adjust are needed.

J.D. Vance, an occasional contributor to the National Review, describes what he calls a “learned helplessness” in Rust Belt and Appalachian communities where people “believe their choices don’t matter.” The conditions of poverty that have taken hold in many of these communities exist not merely for laziness, though social decay is a major contributor, but also because of a lack of opportunity. Confronting the issue of frayed communities must come from within, but policy ought to assist families and individuals access opportunity – exactly the arena reform conservatives have the most to offer. Communities must be empowered to rebuild their social fabric and local institutions, and policies must be enacted to restore America’s fundamental promise of the equity of opportunity.

A solution must be found to the increasing cost of college: perhaps incorporating the teaching of more technical skills into high school and the expansion of vocational programs so students do not need to spend hours and dollars on useless credits before receiving a degree. The surging demand for colleges must be relieved, and students must be able to acquire the skills required for the twenty-first century workforce through alternative means.

A blanket refusal to ever raise taxes must be done away. When in the 1980s the federal deficit surged, Ronald Reagan increased taxes. Fiscal responsibility also means recognizing when deficits are dangerous and revenues ought to be raised.  

Amongst a multitude of issues, climate disruption is one of the principle concerns confronting millennials and other young Americans. Instead of the complete rejection of scientific consensus, the Republican Party must put forth rational and robust means through which to mitigate the effects of climate disruption. Be they market based answers, incentives, or other methods, actionable solutions ought to be crafted. Many millennials consider climate disruption an urgent issue, and deafness to millennials’ concerns is a primary factor driving them into the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party also ought to reject the growing tide of foreign policy isolationism brought about by Trumpism, along with the strain of isolationism that can be expected in a more populist Democratic Party. The lesson of both world wars was that problems may come before America that the United States had no hand in creating: problems will fester, grow, and come to the nation’s shores. A country as large and as prosperous as ours – where between a fifth and a quarter of the world’s economic activity takes place – cannot pretend events on the other side of the ocean do not matter.

An actively engaged United States secures the world because there is peace through strength; an overwhelming American military presence diminishes threats in strategically consequential regions, opens sea lanes and trade routes, and stabilizes global markets. The post-Cold War American-led global order is, despite a worldwide population that has grown by leaps and bounds, closer to achieving world peace, or something like it, than ever before. In this American led world more people have escaped the bounds of extreme poverty, more people can live in safety, and more people can afford to live without the perpetual fear of hunger and want. Should America abdicate its leadership of the international system, it would not only enable the destabilization of global security, economic order, and cause tremendous hardship, but trouble will certainly encroach on our home soil just as surely as it did on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

A “Millennial Republicanism” is for freedom and opportunity, it is about leaving people to live their own personal lives as they choose without excessive government supervision, it is about the responsible use of government to expand the pathways of opportunity so all men and women may be free to pursue their dreams and achieve on their own hard work and talent, and it is about maintaining America’s leadership in the world because above all the United States is the one indispensable nation: the expansion of American freedoms has led to an era of unparalleled global prosperity, and because American prosperity depends on a stable world. The Republican Party must forsake the divisive temptations of Donald Trump and white identity politics and instead once again become the party of reason – a party that supports business and freedom while also protecting the livelihoods and opportunities of all Americans. The Grand Old Party must abandon the allure of short term electoral victories and stand for something: namely the quest to make the lives of Americans freer and more prosperous than ever before, by unleashing the potential of our nation’s people and in the process create a more perfect union.