The Conservative Opportunity: 2017
While the world was focused on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Paul Ryan was hard at work developing a comprehensive agenda for himself and his colleagues to tout during their own campaigns. With nearly everyone in Washington convinced Trump would lose, many welcomed this Better Way approach to saving themselves and their majorities in Congress, but they didn’t seriously think they’d get the opportunity to turn it into policy. Of course, Trump didn’t lose and now Paul Ryan’s effort will help in another way.
Ryan explains, “the concept from the start was simple: if we had a Republican president ready to sign bills into law, what would we do?” We will have a Republican president, but he’s more of an independent populist. Thus, it is crucial to look for ways to pair a reform-focused agenda with Trump’s populist message. As Senator Mike Lee of Utah points out: “the rough terms of a successful partnership seem obvious. Populism identifies the problems; conservatism develops the solutions.”
Both parties are having an identity crisis and, at the same time, Americans are becoming increasingly partisan. That makes for an ominous situation in which Americans are more often looking for cues from their party and their parties are only looking for ways to win. As the adage warns, “those that stand for nothing will fall for anything.” Voters are well aware of what Democrats and Republicans are against, but hard-pressed to identify what the parties stand for. It is our duty to advance real solutions and give the country an idea of what Republicans stand for.
Conservative principles, rooted in those of the Founding Fathers’ and often taught by our faith, are the best guidelines for a world that is far different than the one our parents experienced. The challenges and opportunities we face in the 21st century are different and will require different solutions, but they will always require solutions that rely on conservative principles to be effective — a reliance on free-market economics, a federal government limited in its power by The Constitution, equal treatment under the rule of law, and safety through strength.
The nation has lost sight of what truly unites us — shared values of freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice for all - and this should be a galvanizing moment for those that believe our government exists solely to protect our liberty and empower individuals to lead their lives. American history is defined by leaders that reminded the country of our shared principles when times seemed the most bleak. And conservatives are the champions of the free market, of workers, of better schools, plus individualism, and innovation. This is our greatest opportunity: to lead a great renewal of principled leadership through the politics of better ideas and reform.
The media will tell us that voters are no longer amenable to calls for persuasive leadership. They will tell us we are no longer the party of Lincoln and even Republicans have no interest in uniting around their once shared values. And they will tell us the country has changed, the American people have changed, and there are no more universally shared beliefs among us.
That is the nature of leadership, though, not the ability to accept conventional wisdom, but the courage to resist it and rescue a cause from those that wish to see it buried. Good leaders unite factions; great leaders unite the whole.
The lessons of 2016 should motivate us: anything can happen and no person is unreachable. While we did not receive the votes of all Americans, we are obligated to pursue policies that will improve their lives just as we would our own. We must unite in the pursuit of an opportunity agenda based on these core principles to inspire confidence in the American idea and exalt leaders that believe in our cause.
We should remember this timeless advice from Heritage Foundation President and former Senator Jim DeMint: “no one wants conservatism; they want the outcomes that conservatism can produce." In fact, that was the genius of the Trump campaign. He boiled everything down to simple, direct promises. “Secure the border” became “build a wall!” and the crowds loved it. Conservative policies are most effective and appealing when they're not sold as conservative policies, when they're not the domain of a single party or a single movement, and when they're not ideological exercises but instead results-focused reforms that anyone can get behind. After all, conservatism isn’t reactionary - it’s about preserving what works and discarding what doesn’t.
Conservative policies offer real change and real change can’t come soon enough.
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