To Define the GOP's Identity, Justify Conservatism
One of my cousin who knows I am a conservative writer recently asked, “So you are a conservative Republican?” I answered yes, and in dismay she followed up by saying “ So that means you support Donald Trump”. I am not a Trump supporter and have outlined in previous articles why I believe he is the antithesis of a revitalized GOP brand and lack the credentials of a true conservative or a Republican. However, the assessment by my cousin is also shared by many voters and puts into context a political dilemma for the GOP.
Conservatives and the GOP have an identity crisis of what conservatism and being a Republican really means to a lot of voters who are unaffiliated to any party, or do not perceive the GOP to be aligned in their interests. More so, the GOP presidential nomination process is failing to justify real conservatism, and to make a basic sales or marketing argument by a brand to broaden its appeal - “What this means to you as a benefit is…”
While GOP candidates often evoke Ronald Reagan to earn conservative points, few seem to grasp that Ronald Reagan was not only a successful President because he was a conservative, he was successful because he justified the benefits of conservative ideas as solutions in such a away that it won over people who were traditionally non-affiliated to conservatism. He grew the party not by compromising his principles but by making a case why they were valid as a benefit to others.
The GOP’s anger establishment which includes many in conservative media and ‘purists’ of the party believe that if a candidate can get the base angry enough that they turn out in large numbers, the GOP will win the election. However, for the GOP to win in November it will also need a solid majority of independents and a larger combination share of votes among key demographic groups including Hispanics, Millennials, women and blacks than it did in 2012. So far in this regard, the GOP has a major demographic challenge that has gotten worse in the last few elections. To overcome the challenge of reversing this trend, a lot will depend on who the nominee is, and on his or her message. Defining and justifying conservatism by using real world examples of where it is already working would be wise.
An essential part of conservatism is that it reveres the principles of the founding documents and their permanent relevance to the continued success of the American Idea. These principles addressed two inherent human traits, the desire for power, and the desire to be free. The concept of limited government was reinforced in the Federalist papers, which recognized that ‘man is not infallible and thus subject to fault’. As such, one individual should not have too much power in governing, and should in fact have his/her power checked and balanced by other individuals or institutions while being accountable to the constituents. Individual property rights made possible by the founding documents addressed the human trait of the desire to be free. This in conjunction with the limits of government control of individuals’ property and capital, has enabled the liberty to prosper for millions and has set the exceptional conditions that has attracted so many to America for centuries.
The combined virtues of limited government and property rights are represented in a key pillar of conservatism, economic freedom - the free movement of capital (including human capital) to where they are most productive. Economic freedom has barely been mentioned or explained in the GOP debates or campaign, so candidates need to reacquaint Americans to this as being a conservative concept that works. Low taxes, practical and less intrusive regulations attract investment to create jobs while lowering the cost of living and facilitates business start-ups. Limited government spending and bureaucratic bloat also lessens the tax burdens of residents and barriers for growth. All these are benefits that appeal to the pursuits of anyone who seek upward mobility and prosperity no matter the race, class or demographic identities.
When Forbes magazine routinely publishes articles on the best cities and states in terms of ability to prosper for jobs and different groups, such as the middle class, Millennials, Hispanics, and for blacks, certain trends are consistent. The states with conservative policies of economic freedom and are pro-growth with low taxes and regulations dominate the list for these opportunities.
Americans have also been voting with their feet and moving to states with more economic freedom, which are often red or GOP led states. So too are many companies and job providers who are moving from high tax and regulated blue states such as California to red states like Texas. According to census data over 1000 Americans move from blue states to red states daily. Annually, Democrat led states lose over 226,000 residents who leave and $15 billion in tax revenue while GOP led states gain over 220,000 new residents and over $14 billion in tax revenues from this migration. Many are attracted to conservative policies without associating it as such, and end up voting like they did in the states they left leading to some states that were once reliably red to being purple such as Florida and Colorado. In the report called Rich States, Poor States published by the American Legislative Council and authored by Stephen Moore, Arthur Laffer and Jonathan Williams, liberal blue states that have been implementing income redistribution policies being advocating by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have failed to shrink the gap between rich and poor and has thus increased inequality.
Five of the highest tax blue states with very generous welfare benefits, and high minimum wages - California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois lost 4 million more U.S residents than entered those same states over the last decade. Meanwhile, large low tax states that lean or are solid red and practice pro growth conservative policies - Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia gained almost 4 million residents. States without income taxes have twice the job growth of states with high tax rates and also have lower cost of living for the poor and middle class. Contrary to the talking points of the Left, states with a high minimum wage such as CT, CA, NY and VT have significantly wider gaps between the rich and poor than states without a high minimum wage.
School choice also encompasses both aspects of limited government and economic freedom. In most settings, a child’s educational success depends on their zip code and how politicians will spend allocated educational funds. School choice gives the parent of that child the ability to choose from a variety of schools to send their child by using the funds allocated for his/her education in the form of a voucher. In other words, school choice limits the role of government in determining the educational potential for a child, while liberating resources to empower an individual’s freedom to choose a better quality and accountable educational path for their children. As such, school choice has played a major role in promoting the upward mobility of mostly poor and minority children by allowing them new opportunities for quality education. While conservatives have mainly advocated school choice, liberals who purport to help the poor, and reduce income inequality have been the main opponents to protect their major political donors such as teachers unions who often oppose school choice.
Currently over $2 trillion dollars of earnings by American companies either sit or is being invested overseas because the U.S has the highest corporate tax rate in the world among industrialized nations. Also, if those earnings were to be brought back into the U.S, it would be taxed again after being taxed in the countries they were originally earned in. Most industrialized countries do not have this double taxation. To remain competitive, a growing number of U.S based companies are merging or allowing themselves to be acquired by foreign companies to lower their tax expenditures in this process that is called inversion.
President Obama, the Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and fellow progressives like Bernie Sanders would like to punish and prevent American companies from moving their headquarters over seas through inversions by imposing higher taxes and regulations. While this fits the populist liberal rhetoric of bashing corporations, this would further restrict the free movement of capital where they can be productive. Conversely the best way to increase the free movement of capital such as the investment of the revenue earned by these companies to where they would be most productive for the U.S economy, would be tax reform that ends the double taxation and lower the corporate rate. This act of economic freedom would incentivize trillions of dollars of corporate earnings currently held overseas to be reinvested here in the U.S. to provide jobs and would also increase tax revenue to the governments coffers. The same way high tax liberal states lose out on tax revenue because their high rates repel tax-paying and job producing companies to re-locate to lower taxed conservative states, the U.S tax code is repelling potential tax revenue from companies who move to countries with more favorable tax codes while taking jobs with them.
Despite the proven beneficial virtues of economic freedom, Hillary Clinton and unabashed socialist Bernie Sanders have garnering support for more massive redistribution via high taxes, regulations and more government control of resources to abate the economic anxieties stoked by the current slow growth economy. The rise of the anger establishment embodied by Donald Trump within the GOP, devoid of inspiring optimism, growing the base and practical solutions, has led to governing structure vacuum that makes socialism more palatable to the average American voter and changing demographics. The seeds of socialism never seem harmful as what it matures to become. It is not that the arguments for socialism are so strong in America why its appeal is growing. It is because too often the efforts to properly define and justify conservative solutions have been too weak.