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The Quest for a GOP Majority

12:01 PM, Jul 1, 2014 • By FRED BAUER
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Republicans could offer an alternative narrative of market-oriented uplift, in which decentralization, economic growth, and a vibrant, multifaceted civic space encourage a broad pursuit of happiness. They might note that massive bureaucracies can often become of a tool of enriching the powerful rather than leveling the playing field (as Too Big to Fail potentially demonstrates, for instance). By warning about the potential for government bureaucracies to facilitate favoritism and corruption, Republicans could appeal to the skepticism of Outsiders, Skeptics, and even some of the Next Generation Left. Furthermore, by attending to the possible injustice of this favoritism and corruption, they can also reach out to the economic and social-justice concerns of the Skeptics and Faith and Family Left. In contrast to present stagnation, Republicans could make a case for a dynamic economy, in which economic gains are not reserved for the few.

In their approach to the role of government, Republicans might put forward the idea that government can be a legitimate actor but that it is also an actor about which we should be skeptical. Rather than denunciations of government as an endless font of evil, conservatives might instead advance the traditional American viewpoint that the government should be rigorously held to account. Many in the center believe that government does have a purpose, but they also worry about government becoming unmoored from its constitutional foundations and becoming a tool for a self-dealing, self-perpetuating elite. A Republican case for limited government can be allied to a case for effective government: Placing limitations upon a government may make it most effective in its role of protecting fundamental rights and advancing the public good. 

Two of the types that Republicans most need to improve their standing with (Outsiders and Skeptics) are skeptical about Wall Street, and the GOP can channel this skepticism not through class warfare but instead by making a case for financial reform that advances both the principles of the market and the interests of the economic middle. The economic concerns of Skeptics and others could partly be met by advancing a pro-worker set of immigration policies. The hollowing out of the nation's manufacturing base has likely caused particular pain for members of the Hard-Pressed Skeptics—who, along with Steadfast Conservatives, are the types most skeptical about purported "free trade" agreements—so a rethinking of trade policy might be in order.  

GOP approaches to health care will likely need to go beyond attacking Obamacare and will instead need to offer at least an outline of ways to improve the health-care system. The middle might agree with the GOP that Obamacare is flawed, but Republicans still need to show that they are capable of addressing the real concerns of the working and middle classes. Republicans might counter the Obama administration's big-bureaucracy approach to education by instead emphasizing the values of educational pluralism and localism and a sense of educational achievement beyond standardized test scores. A more pro-family tax policy might bring in both Skeptics and members of the Faith and Family Left. Though the types in the Democratic coalition are mostly supportive of developing alternative energy sources, they also (with the exception of the Solid Liberals) support the Keystone Pipeline. A defense of an affordable energy policy could win over some members of the Democratic coalition, especially Skeptics, who have much to lose from escalating energy prices.

Republicans need not totally ignore social issues or surrender these issues to the ideological left. Hard-pressed Skeptics and the Faith and Family Left have significant doubts about some of the social and ethical teachings of ideological leftism. Key in Republican and conservative discussions of social issues would be to approach these issues in non-polarizing yet principled ways. An outright defense of public tolerance and pluralism might be especially effective in response to an increasing purge-happy far left. Against those trying to shut down debate about key ethical questions, conservatives could argue for a public discourse that respects the seriousness of these moral considerations and finds that political tolerance is one of the major tools for maintaining a free society.

Pew's typology suggests a path forward for a governing coalition if Republicans are nimble and imaginative enough in both their messaging and their policy positions. Sluggish economic growth, a drumbeat of scandals, and a fear of an unraveling of the social compact have made many Americans open to an alternative narrative of political life. The coalition that brought President Obama to power and returned him to office in 2012 remains a fractious one.

In the wake of Mitt Romney's loss, an increasing number of Republicans and conservatives have focused on how to make conservatism responsive to middle-class concerns. The YG Network's recent collection on conservative reform, Room to Grow, exemplifies some of the developments along those lines in the policy sphere, and a number of Republican politicians, including Utah's Mike Lee and Alabama's Jeff Sessions, have advanced a message combining conservative principles and attention to the economic middle. Pew's political typology suggests that a market-oriented defense of the middle class could have significant electoral dividends.

The point of conservative policy innovation would not be simply to create a slicker message to sell to the electorate; it would be to put forward a set of polices in accord with central ethical and civic principles in order to improve human lives, advance the prospects of freedom, and realize some of the central aspirations of the American republic. Conservatives have much to gain from arguing on behalf of government policies that reinforce the broader civic culture and institutions helpful for sustaining a free and prosperous society. Rather than redistribution to lessen the burdens of long-term stagnation, Republicans could offer a vision of opportunity and growth. Instead of class warfare (of which makers vs. takers is one variant), Republicans could call for a vision of civic pluralism, which celebrates the diversity of human virtues and accomplishments while also acknowledging some essential equality and common dignity. In addressing the concerns of the American electorate, Republicans and conservatives could simultaneously expand their political coalition, enrich their thinking about central philosophical principles, and put forward policies that have great potential for improving the lives of Americans. 

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