Out of the Ashes...
After Trump Loses, We Can Build a Sane Republican Party
A small and quiet gathering last week took up the question: Can the post-Trump GOP be dragged back toward the center? Signs were encouraging that the answer can be “yes.”
This week, as we witness the horrifying spectacle of the GOP crowning Donald Trump as its presidential nominee, we may find solace by anticipating the positive change that his ill-fated candidacy might actually bring about. Ever since Trump secured the nomination, influential leaders and intellectuals on the right who reject him have been working to reimagine the right as it should be. Under normal circumstances, envisioning a more mature version of Republican politics might just be speculative fantasy. But this unique historical moment provides the American right with an unprecedented opportunity to redefine itself and reclaim its role as an effective bulwark against the shortcomings of the left.
Toward this end, last week I was privileged to participate in a small gathering of influential conservative and libertarian leaders who came together for three days to imagine a “more evolved” version of right-wing politics. The group included distinguished author Charles Murray, Republican gay rights activist Margaret Hoover, and anti-tax icon Grover Norquist. Also present were prominent libertarians, right-leaning political scientists, and numerous Republican media personalities. And while we did not reach a clear consensus on the “future of the right,” we did find remarkable agreement around the potential for a revitalized center-right coalition that could offer a viable alternative to unprincipled right-wing populism.
By the end of the three-day meeting, many were optimistic that a fresh kind of conservative and libertarian politics will rise from the ashes of Trump’s impending loss. The group was excited by the possibility of a new American right that could be “radically innovative and radically inclusive.” We agreed that a key strength of the right is found in its championing of entrepreneurial innovation and the values of personal and economic liberty. And this same spirit of creative innovation can be used to craft positive proposals for market-based healthcare reform and a meritocratic immigration policy.
Despite polls that show large-scale Republican support for Trump, after Hillary Clinton’s likely victory, conservatives will come to realize that they need a more moral (while simultaneously less moralistic) form of Republican politics. This post-Trump soul-searching can accordingly lead to a new coalition of business people, libertarians, progressive conservatives, and even market-friendly Democrats who are worried about the left’s move toward Sanders-style socialism and its intensifying identity politics.
By freeing itself from the backward-looking concerns of nativists, Tea Partiers, and some religious conservatives, this emerging center-right coalition could embrace political issues currently owned by the left—issues such as income inequality, environmentally friendly energy policy, immigration reform, and even a conservative plan for affordable health care. By advancing solutions to these issues that are primarily market-based, and thus more acceptable to conservative and libertarian sensibilities, this center-right political alliance could make progress in areas that are currently stymied by hyper-partisan polarization.
Moreover, by working to restate the platform of the American right to make it more socially liberal, even while it remains fiscally conservative, this emerging center-right coalition could also attract a politically significant number of millennial voters who would help make up for the loss of social conservatives in the Republican base. While this culturally updated center-right platform may not gain the assent of an electoral majority in the near term, most of the meeting’s participants were willing to admit that the demands of responsible leadership now require a more long-term view.
While we did not reach consensus on every issue, our group did agree that this historical moment calls for a bold vision of the future of conservative and libertarian politics—an innovative platform that can effectively integrate and use values and solutions from across the political spectrum, even while continuing to stand for the essential values of liberty and heritage that are the right’s enduring strengths.
Rather than lamenting Trump, after three days’ rigorous discussion and friendly camaraderie, many of us came to appreciate the upside of the “creative destruction” he is wreaking on the Republican Party. By providing an opening for reform, Trump’s anticipated loss in November can help bring about a new version of the right that can continue to champion the power of free markets, while simultaneously welcoming immigrants, displaced workers, environmentalists, and ethnic and religious minorities.
This emerging center-right coalition could not only reinvigorate the Republican Party, it could also help save American democracy by overcoming our crippling polarization. There will always be some version of the right in American politics, so even liberals have a stake in the right’s positive evolution. And in the end, whether the right’s next evolutionary step results in a “New Republican Party” or a distinct third party, what matters most will be the quality of values it chooses to represent.