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.”
Delighted to see byline of my old PI colleague Rambo gracing a PostAlley piece, and arguing the case for a sensible conservatism.
I’m fortunate enough to vote in a contested legislative district which offers greater-of-two goods choices. We need more such choices.
Agree totally with Afghanistan…..and others.
Disagree with Ukraine. Putin’s Russia – the attacker – presents a clear and present danger to NATO and other smaller surrounding countries and members. Poland is not so small.
And if he is “perceived as “winning” – in time we will have to again deal with him or his successor.
Likely I won’t be around for that conflict but do not want to leave it for future generations.
Yo Bruce, howdy neighbor! I’ll echo Joel and say I was happy to see your byline here at PA.
As to the substance of your argument, color me highly skeptical that this is the exact right take for how Rs should respond to what just happened in this election – good luck selling free trade to the MAGA base on the grounds that it makes bank for Boeing and Big Tech – but I do think there’s some good advice here.
Not that the Republican Party is listening.
Good to have your voice, Bruce, even if I can disagree with you over the abortion issue. What matters here is freedom, the freedom to make decisions about one’s own body. The GOP-engineered Supreme Court took away an established freedom, one assumed for 50 years. It was an extraordinarily backward-looking decision backed by those extremists who would grant personhood to frozen embryos, heck maybe even to ejaculate.
Yes, the Republicans do need to rethink identification with abortion and issues like book banning, racism and misogyny, just as Democrats need to be more attuned to blue collar views.
Do you think _current day _ Republicans are capable, much less willing, to even read your article? And ponder it?
I think you’re writing to Democratic center-left and the old responsible Republicans (frighteningly few) that I grew up with.
I guess you have to start somewhere and I appreciate your goals, but I think you’re talking to the wrong party
If Republicans want to rebrand themselves as the party that supports workers, a good place to start might be actual support for raising minimum wages. Red states, especially in the south, have astonishing low minimums. The grand old party seems to think states are living in the good old days. Alabama, for example, has no state minimum wage at all. So the federal rate applies: $7.25 hour.
More of a winner to me, would be to take that anti-China, anti-immigration and anti-tech policy patch and pull the weeds out and make something reasonable of it.
China is our nightmare. Already despicable, they’re going to be scary as their problems mount. You want to take us to “pro China”? Don’t make me laugh.
Immigration is mostly a phony issue, but it sure has potential, with desperate masses headed our way from Central America and elsewhere. People need some reassurance that we are going to control it in the interest of the general public.
High tech … not even sure exactly what we’re talking about here, but if it’s about deregulation, no. There’s no real constituency for it. Net neutrality, regulating social media content etc. – too important. The rest of the issues, you can sell across the political spectrum, this one I don’t think you can sell much anywhere.
Heather Cox Richardson in her 2014 book, “To Make Men Free,” traces two traditions in the GOP, born in the age of Lincoln. One tradition — Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower — pushed for national infrastructure, tolerance, and government-lite solutions to modern problems. The other tradition, currently ascendent, is racism, foolish borrowing leading to recession, and deregulation. In short, as Bruce argues, there are Republican traditions to build on, only lacking a riveting leader to make the case and build the coalition.