The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP is dead. A new GOP must listen to working people.

People walk by the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21, 2018, in D.C. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Josh Hawley, a Republican, represents Missouri in the U.S. Senate.

The old Republican Party is dead. It has been wasting away for years now, and this month’s midterm results are the finishing blow. If Republicans learn nothing else from this election, they must learn that much.

As frustrating as the election outcomes are, the death of the old GOP is no reason to mourn. It just means that it’s time for Republicans to forge something new — a party that truly represents the cultural backbone of this nation: America’s working people.

Many Republicans are primed to learn all the wrong lessons from this cycle. Over the past week, we’ve heard this election is about nothing more than “candidate quality” or turnout operations.

Wrong. The problem isn’t principally the tactics; the problem is the substance. For the past two years, the Republican establishment in Washington has capitulated on issue after issue, caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment and on the left’s radical climate agenda (“infrastructure”). These Republican politicians sided with Big Pharma on insulin and advocated lowering tariffs on our competitors overseas.

Then they wonder why working-class independents have little enthusiasm about voting Republican.

For decades, Republican politicians have sung a familiar tune. On economics, they have cut taxes on the big corporations and talked about changing Social Security and Medicare — George W. Bush even tried to partially privatize Social Security back in 2005. In the name of “growth,” these same Republicans have supported ruinous trade policies — such as admitting China to the World Trade Organization — that have collapsed American industry and driven down American wages.

This tax-and-trade agenda has hollowed out too many American towns by shipping jobs overseas. It has made it almost impossible to raise a family on one income and to find a good-paying job that doesn’t require a college degree. Our trade deficit with China has cost this country 3.7 million good jobs, while a crisis of drug overdose deaths — particularly among working Americans — has ravaged many of the same communities that have suffered most from deindustrialization. It has all made it harder to stay rooted in your hometown or region. That’s not a record of success.

Republican politicians have frequently advocated higher immigration levels and four years ago went all in for soft-on-crime “sentencing reform.” They have done nothing on Big Tech. This record doesn’t appeal to working people. Just the opposite: It repels them. If Republicans want to be a majority party, now is the time to change course.

Republicans will secure the generational victories they crave only when they come to terms with this reality: They must convince a critical mass of working-class voters that the GOP truly represents their interests and protects their culture. The red wave didn’t land in part because voters who cast a ballot for Barack Obama and later supported Donald Trump — voters who likely disapprove of Joe Biden and the Democrats’ agenda — chose to stay home.

Republicans must win these voters. We will not be a majority without them. That means waking up to what they care about. Work, family and culture are the touchstones of meaning for working people across the country. They must form the bedrock of a new party agenda.

We can start by stopping the bleeding. No more talk of grand bargains that turbocharge illegal immigration. No more liberalizing the United States’ trade agenda, making us more dependent on foreign adversaries. No more fiddling with Social Security in the guise of “entitlement reform.” All that should be clear enough.

But beyond this, it’s time for proactive policymaking. No nation ever got strong by consuming stuff other people make. We need an economy that produces critical goods here, in this country, and creates good-paying jobs for working people. That means tariffs to foster American industry, local content requirements to reshore manufacturing and taking the shackles off U.S. energy producers. That means new antitrust laws for Big Tech that will bust up monopolies such as Google and restore competition to the marketplace. And while we’re at it, we should start relocating federal agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture to middle America. It’s long past time for cosseted policymakers to confront the real-world consequences of their decisions, economic or otherwise.

We need explicit support in our tax code for marriage and family, such as a parent tax credit for working families. We should adopt new protections for parents to ensure they control their children’s education and medical care, such as a Parents’ Bill of Rights. And families can’t thrive unless they are safe. That’s why we need 100,000 new police officers on the streets, spread across every state in America.

Right now, the Republican Party stands at a crossroads. Its leaders can, of course, attempt to resurrect the dead consensus of offshoring, amnesties and “free trade.” That’s the path to further losses.

A reborn Republican Party must look very different. It must offer good jobs and good lives, not just higher stock prices for Wall Street. And it must place working Americans at its heart and take them as they are, rather than treating them as resources to be exploited or engineered away.

That’s the way to victory. That’s the way to national renewal.

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