How the Republican Party Can Create a New Winning Coalition
Barack Obama won. But his victory is not a victory for his ideas. Instead, John McCain lost. More importantly, George W. Bush lost. And Obama, with his powerful rhetoric and unspecific appeals to change and hope, won the personality contest by force, appealing especially to younger voters.
If Obama wishes to retain his party’s Congressional majorities and head for easy reelection, he will govern from the center, as Colorado’s Democrats have done. While some Americans did cast their votes for Obama and his political agenda, many cast theirs against McCain and his. While McCain energized the evangelical vote with his selection of Sarah Palin, he did so only by further alienating the segments of his base concerned with free speech, civil liberties, and economic freedom. The Republican coalition has shattered.
The Democrats offer no viable alternative. Theirs is a platform of corporate welfare, special-interest warfare, dependency, higher taxes, foreign-policy appeasement, global handouts, and central economic planning. This is a platform that can win only when their opponents fail to offer a compelling alternative (or, in the case of Bush and McCain, succeed in offering a worse one).
Independents and many Republicans are weary of the GOP’s faith-based politics. George W. Bush is an evangelical, and, largely because of that, he failed miserably as president, massively expanding the power of the federal government and leading an altruistic war in Iraq. The religious right has destroyed the GOP’s coalition, and the party now seems poised to become a “permanent minority.”
Is there any way that the Republican Party can generate a new, winning coalition? Yes, they can. The question is whether they will. If they fail to do so, the big political action will move to the Democratic primaries — unless this causes an eventual Democratic schism and the formation of a new party to replace the Grand Old one. So what would a winning GOP coalition look like?
1. Religious Freedom. The religious right has held the reins of the Republican Party for far too long — and has driven it straight over a cliff. A fertilized egg is not a person. A woman has a right to get an abortion. Homosexuals deserve equal rights. The government should not subsidize religious institutions, fund religious education, or censor Biblically-incorrect expression.
At the same time, people have the right to worship as they see fit — so long as they respect the rights of others — or not to worship at all. People have the right to teach their children their values, whether at home or at privately funded religious schools. Religion must stay out of politics, and the state must stay out of religion.
Religious voters can remain a part of a winning GOP coalition, so long as their goal is to keep politics out of religion, not inject religion into politics. Abortion bans and fear mongering about homosexuals can no longer be the litmus tests of primaries. Republican candidates must clearly endorse the separation of church and state, a separation necessary for the protection of both church and state.
As for those who insist on imposing God’s alleged will on the rest of us, let them join their compatriots on the left — as many are already doing. They can only corrupt and impede a new liberty coalition.
2. Free Speech. McCain’s lasting legacy is his campaign censorship law. Let the left hold a monopoly on censorship, with its absurdly named “Fairness Doctrine” and government controls of media. Censorship cannot be part of a winning liberty coalition, and a candidate who surrounds the First Amendment with scare quotes cannot lead it.
The GOP should push the civil libertarians of the left into an uncomfortable decision: support the Demcratic censors or support free speech.
3. Free Trade and Economic Freedom. Bill Clinton’s left understands basic economics. They understand it in an Ivy League, positivist, and interventionist sort of way, but they do not pander to populist protectionism (much). They know what damage the Smoot-Hawley Tariff did to the country, and they understand the concept of comparative advantage. In this election, McCain played “me too” to Obama’s protectionist rhetoric.
A new liberty coalition under the GOP could attract the secularist yuppies of the left who are repelled by the faith-based politics of the right but who enjoy the prosperity of a relatively free economy.
McCain pounded the final nail in his own coffin when he suspended his campaign so that he could rubber-stamp Bush’s $700 billion corporate welfare scheme, thereby proving to the free-market segment of the GOP base that McCain, like Bush, cares nothing for economic liberty and will work tirelessly to destroy it.
As it stands, advocates of economic liberty have no political home. The GOP should jettison those huge-government conservatives who confuse compassion with brute political force. Let them join the statists on the left, where they belong.
4. Immigration Sanity. In addition to alienating homosexuals and most women of reproductive age, Republicans have gone out of their way to demonize immigrants. The “family values” voters have wrecked families and torn children from their parents in their anti-immigrant, protectionist zeal. This sort of ignorant populism has no place in a new liberty coalition.
By drawing up sensible immigration policies that open the legal flow of immigrants and treat illegal immigrants with compassion, the retooled GOP would attract the votes of Hispanics and those who understand that one person’s gain is, in a free country, another person’s gain, and that we can only benefit by welcoming hard-working foreigners to our shores.
5. A foreign policy for America. The Republican foreign policy is to send forth the U.S. military to bring democracy to the world and vanquish oppressors. The Democratic foreign policy is to kiss the feet of our enemies and send forth the U.S. military to intervene in tribal warfare. A sane foreign policy looks to America’s legitimate defense, intervenes militarily only to stop serious threats to America, and otherwise practices benevolent disengagement.
A new liberty coalition needs neither the imperialistic neo-conservatives nor the head-in-the-sand pacifists.
The political marriage of McCain and Palin illustrates perfectly the problems of the GOP. McCain alienates those who care about civil and economic liberties. Palin alienates the secularists. They represent the main two types of Republicans today. I cannot point to a single leader within the Republican Party prepared to take on the hard work of generating a new liberty coalition.
Yet, if they want to regain political power — and, more importantly, if they want to restore the founding ideals that made America great — Republicans will find or create such leaders, fast. They have no time to lose. If Democrats manage to govern from the center and avoid a backlash, they appear set to hold power indefinitely. The alternative to the new liberty coalition under the GOP is the stagnation or eventual death of the Republican Party.