Opinion | The false choices facing the Republican Party


These are not the only ways.

Another consistent line of thought and action among conservatives over the past few decades argues that politics should be on the side of the small, and that our existing economic and social institutions also provide the best pathways to opportunity. This kind of thinking has gone by different names in the past, including «reform conservatism» and «compassionate conservatism.» In the 1990s, it animated much of the Republican Party’s agenda in Republican-led states and big cities, and was seen in the policies of congressional thought leaders like Jack Kemp, Dan Coats, and Paul Ryan, and George W. Bush’s presidency.

The goal was to use the best of our market economy – job growth in dynamic sectors, innovation that raises wages and creates new opportunities – while correcting its shortcomings through a combination of grassroots civil society efforts and reforms to government programs so that people are really equipped. to participate in the economy.

Many on the Trumpian right, including those who say they want the Republican Party to be the party of the working class, reject this approach. They claim it would allow «free market fundamentalists» to rule the party. That is simply not the case. Proponents of this philosophy believe that a market economy provides the best path for those lower on the economic ladder, but also that the government has an obligation to remove barriers as they strive to move up and provide a variety of benefits. supports to help them while they do it. .

It’s an “aspirational conservatism,” as we call it, that prioritizes upward mobility for ordinary people. Compassionate Conservatism and Reform Conservatism focused largely on poverty, work, and families. Aspirational conservatism could build on those earlier iterations by tackling what are today the biggest issues felt by working and middle-class families alike. And it could guide the Republican Party in the months and years to come, delivering both a political victory and a real agenda for government.

In numerous surveys In recent years, voters across the political and socioeconomic spectrum have expressed an interest in leadership that prioritizes job opportunities, housing affordability, public safety, and good schools. This creates an opportunity for conservatives who want neither an anti-government ideology nor a hyperactive culture war.

Republicans should focus on three sets of issues.

First, the Republican Party must create a clear set of policy goals to support opportunity, individual initiative, and hope. The party must reject simplistic and binary options on questions of government assistance and instead advocate for public policies that advance the twin themes of freedom and dignity.

Conservatives should support individual initiative while updating safety net programs to help individuals and families when they fail. An ambitious agenda would focus on incentives for states and localities to lower the cost of housing by increasing supply, provide new skills for workers in dynamic sectors, help reduce the costs of caring for young children, and support a new round of of common sense schools. reforms to meet increased parental demand for educational alternatives after pandemic policy failures. These issues—housing, job opportunities, and quality child care and education—are at the heart of most people’s vision for the American Dream.

Second, would-be conservatives should be the voice of reason on crime and justice. Americans of all stripes have ranked public safety among the most important issues, yet elected leaders have largely avoided providing solutions.

Republicans should make sure the police are well trained and have the resources and ability to prosecute crimes, but they should do more. They should support confidence-building reforms through community policing and prevention strategies, including programs that help at-risk youth find purpose in school and work. A coherent policy incorporates all of these principles to ensure that trust in the police increases while crime decreases, and in the words of sociologist James Q. Wilson, the benefits of working outweigh the benefits of stealing.

Third, aspiring conservatives should break with the right’s growing preference for exercising federal power in pursuit of moral goals.

Conservatives should return to a strong vision of federalism wherever possible as the best guarantee of diversity of viewpoints across the country, asking majorities to respect the views of minorities in their communities and denouncing the efforts of the left when it does the opposite. Federalism is essential to preserve personal liberty and honor the independence of families, two values ​​that most Americans consider essential to achieving the American Dream. Most also think the federal government has too much power, and voters in the interior resent elites who force their values ​​on them. Even when it comes to socially conservative values ​​that most Republicans agree with, using federal power to impose them on states and communities undermines core conservative principles and risks voter backlash.

With control of only one house of Congress, the Republicans do not yet have the power to implement this agenda. But they can take this approach on Capitol Hill and in the 2024 presidential campaign. As more and more voters tire of Trump’s bombast and the culture wars that drive our politics, aspiring conservatives have an opportunity to show that they stand with the majority of Americans who care most about a good quality of life, ample opportunity, and a government that works for them. That’s not just good policy, it’s good policy.

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