How to Fix the Republican Party

How to Fix the Republican Party
August 9, 2013

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)

Why does the Republican Party keep nominating all these loser candidates, like Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney? Why did Republican primary voters pick George Bush over Jack Kemp in 1988? Why did they pick Romney over more conservative candidates, including some proven winners?

There is a structural problem in the party’s presidential primary system that leads to these results.

The GOP Presidential primaries are dominated by corporate executive donors who tend to support people who fit their personal style and demeanor, and speak their language. The problem is that “county club” profile resonates with only about 10% of the electorate.

Mitt Romney was the perfect candidate for these donors. His entire career was selling consulting services to precisely this demographic, after all. But to the rest of the country, he was too easily caricatured as the little Monopoly man in the top hat and tuxedo.

The problem is greatly exacerbated because these “country club” Republicans do not know how to explain conservative ideology to the general public. To the contrary, they seem embarrassed by it. Romney, who proposed sweeping middle class tax cuts, even allowed Obama to define his program as tax increases for the middle class, to enable tax cuts for “the rich.”

Republicans had been cutting taxes for the middle class since Reagan, to the point where the middle 20% of income earners paid only a small fraction of total federal income taxes. The bottom 40% were actually paid by the federal income tax system. Virtually all federal income taxes were paid by the top 40%, and the great majority by the top 10%.

Yet, Romney was embarrassed to even try to explain this reality. Obama campaigned on the false caricature of Republicans cutting taxes for the rich, and raising them on the middle class. But Romney offered no effective response to any of these false Obama campaign narratives.

Romney understood how to make the economy boom, and had an economic program to do it. But he was too inarticulate and even embarrassed to explain it to the public. Instead, he was reduced on the stump to saying only about fixing the economy, “I know how to do it.” That was true, but not believable or inspiring to the general public. It was truly lame.

Adding to the problem is the class of professional campaign consultants, especially at the national, presidential level. They too do not understand how to explain conservative ideology to the public, and are frankly embarrassed by it. I am sure Romney’s line on fixing the economy, “I know how to do it,” was vetted thoroughly by highly paid consultants, who personally get rich off of these losing campaigns. That is exactly the kind of message they would approve.

The Club for Growth has exactly the right idea. What is needed are alternative sources of campaign financing, so real conservatives and free market libertarians can have a chance. But the Club can’t do the entire job by themselves. What is needed is dozens of Clubs for Growth.

Some new organizations need to arise based on small donor lists of grassroots conservatives and libertarians. Organizations should be identifying these small donors today, and preparing them to give support. Some money can even be raised now to finance the start-up costs for the organizations. Ten million people giving $25 each, maybe not all at once, adds up to $250 million. Several of these groups can certainly be the foundation for real partisans of the free market to run for President.

But it wouldn’t cost much for just one organization to publish lists of Romney and McCain campaign consultants, to identify the “brains” behind these failures. Let campaigns be forewarned over who to avoid. Maybe the Club for Growth can publish a no support list, meaning no support for any campaign that hires any consultants on a RINO, country club consultant list. This can be useful information for the entire “new campaign finance” movement.

Taking Republicans National: The Libertarian Moment
The Republican Party is doing well politically in at least half the states, with complete control of the Governor’s office and the state legislature. But in 14 states the Democrats are completely dominant, with total control over the state government. There really is no Republican Party functioning in New York state, and throughout New England. On the West Coast, the GOP is barely functioning as well.

But there is special political opportunity in these no-GOP states. As total fairy tale Democrat control takes these states down the tubes, the public is going to be searching for some functioning alternative.

Just back from an extended weekend in California, it occurred to me that a libertarian Republican could be elected Governor there. Republicans in these states need to scrap the model of nominating hapless rich candidates just because they can finance their own campaigns. Nominate a true-blue ideologue who knows what he or she believes and why, and raise money from the grassroots to support their campaign, by direct mail, or otherwise.

A libertarian Republican who is liberal on social issues and conservative on economic issues would fit the state perfectly now. That candidate can be unapologetically supply-side on tax policy, favoring lower rates to promote economic growth and prosperity, which is going to be in shorter and shorter supply in that once highly prosperous state. He can be unapologetically for reduced state spending, and wow are there opportunities for spending cuts in that state. He can be unapologetically for reduced regulatory burdens, and wow are there opportunities for deregulation in the state. This would lay the foundation for a breathtaking, economic boom in California, restoring the American Dream in the state.

Such a candidate can and should favor the concept of a clean environment, and preservation primarily by ownership. (If you want to set land aside undeveloped, then raise money from the grassroots, or rich environmentalist donors — or current landowners — and buy it.) But the candidate would be free to run on energy development of the state’s rich energy resources, generating new tax revenue that can help pay for sweeping tax rate cuts, and essential state spending. That can and should include controlled development of lucrative offshore drilling, particularly with federal legislation freeing the states to reap the bounties of such development. This would further fuel the record shattering economic boom, with new jobs and rising wages. The candidate can further campaign on freeing the state from the most egregious burdens of the California Air Resources Board.

The candidate can run as well on entitlement reform, but not on a radical, anarcho-capitalist philosophy of abolishing all programs for the poor. A reformed safety net can promote work and family while still providing essential support for the truly needy. The candidate can favor block grants of federal programs back to the states, such as Medicaid, envisioning reforms to provide assistance to the poor to buy private insurance vastly superior to Medicaid.

California remains entrepreneurial. The state’s liberals are not 19th century Marxists who see profit as inherently evil. They could embrace such a candidate to bring back true prosperity to the state. Such a platform would inherently appeal to upwardly mobile Asians. And it would appeal to Hispanics as well, hungry for the traditional American prosperity that originally led their families to the state. Moreover, a libertarian Republican candidate can favor more welcoming attitudes toward immigration.

The candidate should not be hostile to religion and the traditional family. But this would not be an overtly religious campaign pitching evangelicals and social conservatives, which is not a winning formula in California today. The candidate can win such votes avowing no interference in religion or the family, on the libertarian slogan, “Live and Let Live.” That can include as well drug decriminalization (which doesn’t have to mean hard drugs).

Dozens and dozens of Libertarian Republican candidates for the state legislature can ride the coattails of such a candidate to state office as well. That can create a political thunderclap across the country, analogous to Proposition 13 that heralded the Reagan supply-side revolution at the federal level.

Such a platform, and candidates, would appeal all the way up the West Coast, creating a new political revival that would generate renewed grassroots excitement. And it would appeal in New York and New England as well. Libertarian Republican candidates running for federal offices would include a non-interventionist foreign policy, but a strong national defense for Peace through Strength, along with social liberalism and economic conservatism. That would further resonate in the now Democrat-dominated states.

I foresee a day when the debate is no longer between old-fashioned, neo-Marxist Democrats and their blue states, and more traditional Republicans and their red states, but between the Libertarian Republican, red, white and blue states, along the West coast and the Northeast, and the traditional Reagan Republican states in the South, the Mountain states, and the Midwest.

I have a dream. Imagine a future Republican National Convention with a Libertarian Republican candidate for President who swept through the now blue states, and a more traditional Reagan Republican candidate who swept the now red states, battling it out for the nomination. Let the debate begin, with the winner on the top of the ticket, and the runner up on the bottom of the ticket. Then let the ticket carry all 50 states. Don’t forget Reagan’s small l libertarianism, and the 1984 election.

And the best part of the Dream is, good riddance to the 19th century, neo-Marxist Obama Democrats. We would be finally be beyond Left and Right, Red State, Blue State after all.

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at The Heartland Institute, a... (read full bio)