As the midterm elections made clear, the Republican Party urgently needs new ideas — and the return of some old ones. After the debacles of 2018, 2020, and now 2022, Republicans should know they do not need any more Donald Trump.
For years, I was a business reporter at the Post-Intelligencer. Then I was on the Seattle Times editorial board from 2000 to 2013, as the editorial page’s pro-business guy. I was a kind of libertarian conservative, pro-Republican more than not, but I never voted for Trump. So, what is the post-election lesson for the Republican Party? For instance, should it be the party of less government or the party of the working class?
I like the Jeffersonian less-government theme, though I don’t know how far a mass party can go with it. And since we’re Americans, not Europeans, I’m uneasy about defining our parties by social class. If the Republicans (following Trump) define themselves as a working-class, populist party, they take on the prejudices of that class — anti-China, anti-immigrant and anti-tech-company.
The winning party in America needs to be a party for progress and the pursuit of happiness. To be that, Republicans should be the party that respects work, and the rewards of work, at any point in the social scale.
Recall the Democrats in the debates of 2019 — Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and the rest of them, and how sour they were. The worker was being crushed, they said. The negativism was so intense that Biden said at one point, “I’m so tired of everyone walking around with woe-is-me.” Well, let them have that problem.
In this state, we have built a successful economy on global trade. Republicans need to support it. We have Boeing, which needs to sell its products to the world. So do our farmers. So do the tech companies, which need the freedom to hire skilled immigrants. The Republican Party is not going to be the party of unlimited immigration, but no party that seeks to represent Washington can be a party of protectionism or nativism.
Trump called for an “America First” foreign policy. Joe Kent, who just lost a Republican seat in Southwest Washington, was signed on for America First. If that means we avoid foreign wars like the one Kent was in — Afghanistan — or follow a more cautious policy in Ukraine, I’m in. Let the Democrats champion other people’s wars. But the promotion of American interests requires allies, skillful diplomacy and patient strength, not the bluster of Trump.
Part of Trump’s appeal has been his disdain of the “woke” left, with its nasty shout-downs of all who deviate from the party line. Republicans have no need to genuflect to the wokies. As one example, Republicans can and should defend Washington’s law forbidding government from using racial preferences. The public has affirmed that law, and it has worked all right. Let the Democrats be the party of racial spoils. Equal treatment is a core American value, not a “dog whistle” — and Republicans need to make sure it never becomes that whistle.
On the abortion issue, Republicans have had their first battle with Roe disallowed and have emerged losers. A clear majority of the American people, even in Kentucky and Kansas, want abortion to be legal. The polls — Pew, for example — have shown this for years, and it’s not going to change.
So it’s time for Republicans to take their medicine. I know that many of them believe deeply that from the moment of conception a fertilized egg is a full person deserving protection of the law — but sorry, most Americans don’t believe that. As with gay marriage, that front on the culture war is over. You lost. Campaign against abortion all you like, as a private choice — but stop doing it under the Republican brand.
As a political issue, abortion is a sideshow. Think of what else our government does. All around the world, our government has military bases stuffed with lethal weapons. Its soldiers have been killing and dying, somewhere or another, for most of our lives. Nationally, government is a trillion-dollar machine of taxing, borrowing, and spending. At the state level, government is mainly about “education, incarceration, and medication.”
If democracy is to mean anything more than a story for children, politicians should be talking about what the government actually does. Instead, they talk about one medical procedure on pregnant women and gives everything else a pass. For politicians of both sides, the abortion issue has become a permanent program of fund-raising and propaganda. Spare us any more of this.
Spare us also the cries of “stolen election.” That the election of 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump when he was in power is a charge that requires a high level of proof, and it isn’t there. In this state, which has decided to hold elections by mail, it is reasonable for Republicans to defend the verification of signatures. But they need to focus on policy, not phantoms.
Finally, the quality issue for candidates. Trump was never qualified to be president. As a businessman, he was a borrower and a bankrupt, what George Will calls a “Potemkin tycoon.” Trump had neither the character nor the experience to be President. Now he has four years of experience, but we have four years’ experience of him. Epic failure!
In 2024, the Republicans need someone else. (So do the Democrats.) And look at the state level. To challenge a United States senator of 30 years’ experience, the Republicans chose a woman who had held no public office. In 2020, their candidate for governor was the police chief of a town so small that people had to Google it to find where it was. On the page in the Voters’ Pamphlet for that man, under “Experience” it said, “No information submitted.”