Alan Charles Raul served as associate White House counsel in the Reagan administration, general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget and of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the George H.W. Bush administration, and vice chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the George W. Bush administration.
On the one hand, Tuesday’s election results offer Republicans no silver lining. In addition to Mitt Romney’s loss, Republicans were creamed in too many gimme Senate elections. GOP candidates came up short because the party turned itself into a reflection of its most extreme elements, which oppose — to the death — any compromise.
Yet four Republican governors — including one net gain — were elected Tuesday, bringing to 30 the number of Republican-led states. Why? Because executives can’t afford ideological purity. They don’t look at “reasonable compromise,” “common ground,” “win-win” or “big tent” as anathema. They stand on principle when they ought to — as Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin — but usually understand the need to achieve reality-based results.
For the Republican Party faithful, turning things around will require exorcising our tendency over the past several years to divide the electorate and narrow party membership. Remember when there were Reagan Republicans and Reagan Democrats? Perhaps we could try out a new tag line: The new Republican Party — putting the best of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan to work for America.
Republican reformers will earn crossover appeal by developing ideas for fiscal discipline, right-sized government, entitlement reform and business friendliness. They should also show support for such values as personal accountability, meritocracy, equality of opportunity and national pride. Social policies will remain relevant, but party leaders must avoid prioritizing highly divisive issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception. Instead, Republicans should stress more mainstream policies that promote and preserve intact families, in-wedlock births and school choice. These are conservative sentiments, to be sure, but ones with rock-solid support across different demographic groups.
And while new Republicans will oppose unelected judges making social policy, the party must acknowledge the body politic’s right to choose whether it wants to consider marriage as a union of only one man and one woman, or otherwise. Public opinion is obviously evolving, and Republicans are just going to have to get comfortable with evolution.
Economics, of course, was the dominant issue cited by voters. New Republicans will not let government grow out of control. Only reluctantly — and much more reluctantly than Democrats — would we take people’s money away from them. While the no-new-taxes pledge must be dropped as a litmus test, the GOP should make clear that it will not allow spending, taxing or regulating that fails the stringent cost-benefit analysis Ronald Reagan brought to Washington.
Despite maintaining a strong presumption against expanding the federal government, new Republicans should stop demonizing government per se and, rather, draw on the legacies of Lincoln and Eisenhower to support a new “American System” of investment in national infrastructure. Inhibiting unreasonable growth of government and insisting on efficient government will be the Republican bulwarks.