Republicans, it's time to stop asking 'What would Reagan do?'

Home / Republicans, it's time to stop asking 'What would Reagan do?'

Whether Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE loses the presidency by a little or a lot, or pulls off the greatest upset in American electoral politics and wins, the Republican Party that nominated him must change.


That a man like Trump — a reasonably vulgar TV celebrity and real estate developer — won a primary in which 14 mostly serious senators and governors competed, by articulating great anger that the Grand Old Party has failed, in this century, to respond to the wishes of its base on critical issues, demonstrates as clearly as possible the need to rethink what the GOP stands for now.

In a nation with two parties, each of which encompasses a broad, sometimes conflicting array of interest groups, priorities periodically shift.  

Interest groups migrate between parties as larger external economic and political forces change the constituent needs, and politicians decide whether to respond or not to those changing demands.

The Democrats have the highly educated, wealthy liberal class, various victim groups, and the welfare-state dependent poor. Their formerly staunch working class bloc has almost fully migrated to the GOP. That means that the GOP needs to take the needs of labor at least as seriously as the needs of those with capital.  What they have dismissed pejoratively as “economic nationalism” should properly be understood as “enlightened self interest.’ Free trade is a tool. It is not a religious precept, to be applied universally and uncritically.

If the GOP wants to win the next set of elections and the ones after that, it is critical that House and Senate leaders — some of whom forget that they work for the people — understand the urgency of the problems the middle class faces. Those include economic stagnation, the jobless (non) recovery, our cultural mess in which the president dictates bathroom usage while the military worries about sexual identity, and population shifts via immigration, at levels that will destroy the culture most Americans cherish, while importing the hideous mess Europe now faces.

It is time for leaders in Congress, but also in the media, at long-influential conservative publications and think tanks to stop supporting the needs and whims of major donors above the needs of the middle class for jobs.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Gods of the Hedge Funds want cheap labor. Your voters want their children to remain middle class and self-supporting. Focus on that.


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Complaining about high levels of immigration, and the changes it brings, is considered déclassé. History textbooks and pundits throw around the insult “xenophobic” as if there is no legitimate reason a nation should control its borders and choose new members of society to meet our needs. When men like Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won’t support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here’s why Lobbying world MORE or Jeb Bush visibly pride themselves on being above such considerations, voters look elsewhere.

This warning should be heeded at conservative think tanks and publications as well. You may not like Trump personally, but you ignore the resonance of his message at your peril. Even if he loses.

It is time to admit that the foremost conservative question, ‘What would Ronald Reagan do?’ may no longer be useful.  

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That is painful for my generation. But I’m pretty sure that Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE and Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Georgia officials launch investigation after election day chaos | Senate report finds Chinese telecom groups operated in US without proper oversight Republican Senators ask FCC to ‘clearly define’ when social media platforms should receive liability protections Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash  MORE gave us, respectively, the small government substance and happy warrior tone that Reagan would have offered.  But times have changed.  2016 is as far removed from 1980 as 1980 was from 1946.  It’s a different era, shaped by the Bushes, Clintons and Obamas, the triumph of globalism, and the emergence of an international elite propagating big state answers.

Restraining government remains the answer to a rapidly metastasizing state. But the administrative state will not disappear, and voters want specific policy solutions to real problems, like Obamacare, instead of speeches about “Constitutional Conservatism.”  And why didn’t GOP leadership block the Obama expansion and spending? Start defunding, or no one will take you seriously.

Acknowledge that the optimistic, uplifting Reaganesque tones and message that appealed to so many Americans for so long, was not compelling this year. Mr. Trump won adherents because the righteous anger he expressed over the loss of material wealth and visible opportunity in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession resonated. Dismissing Trump’s anger as crude populism, misses the point.  

Voters don’t respond to anger when they’re not angry or fearful.  Respect the anger, and respond with urgency.  

Schiffren is  Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, and a writer living in NYC.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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