A Conservative’s Guide to Making the Most of the Majority

Every day, Republicans must fight a three-front war: with Democrats, with the media and within their own ranks. Meanwhile, the Democrats have just one adversary: the GOP.

While media bias against Republicans (and in the age of Twitter, contempt and aggression) is an unfortunate reality, and the Left is a natural ideological opponent, the Right wastes an unhealthy amount of time and resources preventing its own troops from shooting each other. This delights the media, which rejoice in their millionth “Republicans are in disarray!” headline. Democrats gleefully join the chorus, ever eager to paint the Right as incapable of governing or uninterested in the welfare of the country.

Republicans really should stop giving them the opportunity. It’s been more than a decade since the GOP led both chambers of Congress and controlled the White House. Republicans have a significant mandate, not only in Washington, but also around the country where Republicans control wide majorities of state executive seats and legislative chambers.

Even as Democrats deny the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, there is simply no denying that nationwide, Republicans have earned the trust of the American people. And for a party without a strong bench of political aspirants, Democrats have scarce hope on the horizon for a comeback any time soon.

the GOP enjoys a once-in-a-generation spread of power across the United States.

Fact is, the GOP enjoys a once-in-a-generation spread of power across the United States. Even though the media and the Democrats have done a pretty good job of convincing Americans that conservatives are terrible people.

Now, it’s time, as the old Southern adage goes, for conservatives to make hay while the sun still shines. Republicans cannot squander this chance to accomplish what we’ve always promised. To do so, we can’t stand in our own way, and that means changing a lot of how we’ve done things in the past.

Here are some important lessons we ought to learn.

Embrace Incrementalism

The Left has a built-in political advantage: they can demand patience of their delicately arranged coalition of the perpetually aggrieved because they promise they’ll be rewarded for waiting their turn. Thus, there are loyal liberal constituencies who, despite being ignored by Democratic leadership or enduring setbacks in public opinion or politics, remain ever faithful to the Left. They still hold hope that one day, it will be their chance to reap the benefits of their fidelity.

On the other side, the Right is really — as Grover Norquist puts it — the “Leave Us Alone” coalition. Republican constituents want virtually nothing from the government. They just want to be able to send their kids to school, enjoy time with their families, keep good jobs and save for retirement. They like their country the way it is (or maybe, the way it was), and they resent the constant barrage of accusations that they’re close-minded because of it.

The government can offer them virtually nothing. So Republicans have no effective way to demand patience from them, as the Left does with their coalition. Conservative voters see little reason for waiting for the things they want, in part because the principal thing they desire from the government is less of it. Thus, they approach most Republican lawmakers’ efforts, no matter how worthy or well intentioned, with inherent skepticism.

Conservative voters see little reason for waiting for the things they want, in part because the principal thing they desire from the government is less of it. Thus, they approach most Republican lawmakers’ efforts, no matter how worthy or well intentioned, with inherent skepticism.

These circumstances present an ongoing political problem for the Republican Party. Many challenges the GOP has promised to solve actually require adapting the Left’s method of incrementalism to achieve our goal of limiting the size and scope of government.

But, center-right voters often view Republican attempts at employing incrementalism as a refusal to acknowledge the severity of the crises at hand. They feel as though they’re dangling from a cliff and that the GOP simply ignores the Left taking a jackhammer to the boulder to which they’re clinging.

In reality, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose recent depiction as a liberal villain is surprising to anyone who has followed his career, is arguably the most conservative congressional Republican leader in decades. He’s been a lone voice on our nation’s looming entitlement crisis, and consequently, the fiscal nightmare America faces.

Ryan’s plans, previously as House Budget Committee chairman and now as Speaker, are ambitious and, quite frankly, courageous. He has put “pen to paper” on the tough choices politicians must make to restore fiscal sanity in Washington and safeguard our future. He has suffered gracefully the character assassinations of the Left and the intellectual apathy of far too many of the Right. Still, no serious person could truthfully claim that Ryan fails to grasp the depth of the problems we face.

The opposition from some of his fellow Republicans to the three-part Obamacare repeal-and-replace strategy is just one recent example. This top priority for Republican lawmakers actually requires legislative incrementalism, a fact that some members of the GOP simply refuse to accept.

This $887 billion tax cut is also critical to providing a fiscal baseline necessary for another high priority task for Republicans: comprehensive tax reform.

Budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes in the U.S. Senate, can only pertain to funding and spending bills. Therefore, the first GOP bill in the overall repeal-and-replace package begins with overturning the taxes and mandates contained in Obamacare. This $887 billion tax cut is also critical to providing a fiscal baseline necessary for another high priority task for Republicans: comprehensive tax reform.

The next step is the regulatory reversal of the thousands of components of Obamacare directed by the HHS secretary, per the law’s parameters. Here, Secretary Tom Price, M.D., can end a lot of the harmful regulations and change unhelpful guidance issued during the Obama Administration, thereby freeing the health care system — and the American public — from a lot of what made Obamacare so punitive, restrictive and destructive.

Finally, many of the industry reforms Republicans crave — interstate purchase of insurance, malpractice reforms, association-based health care — must pass through the U.S. Senate through regular order, which requires at least 60 votes. This means the GOP must make the case for the merits of these ideas to enough Democrats that they will pass. It’s doable, but as Confucius said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” and in the case of the repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, that step is the fiscal bill so many conservatives refuse to support.

Incrementalism is how the Left has caused the damage it has, and it is incrementalism that will help Republicans accomplish what they’ve promised.

Being Part of the Team Means Cheering for It, Too.

I’ve written at length about the failure of the Right to rally behind our own causes. The most unflattering example is the resistance of most teammates — talk radio, nonprofit organizations, center-right media, activist groups — to promote the good things we do, such as Paul Ryan’s 2016 “A Better Way” rollout in D.C. The event, which took place at House of Help, City of Hope in the district’s economically depressed Anacostia neighborhood, received virtually no cheerful advocacy from our own side, despite the special opportunity to showcase our principles and our ideas to new audiences who perhaps hadn’t considered our party before.

Worse still, many people never even heard about this unique gathering because those with audiences continue to refuse to promote conservatism at its best.

They’ll say they’re on the side of conservatism, but they’re not doing what it takes to advance it legislatively or politically.

Instead, they criticize the GOP when it’s at its worst (or, what they perceive to be its worst). They pile on Republican leadership with such vitriol that it’s often unclear whose team they’re on. They’ll say they’re on the side of conservatism, but they’re not doing what it takes to advance it legislatively or politically.

Would you want to be on a team where everyone seemed unhappy all the time? Where people hated their leaders? Where teammates did not work cooperatively to win? Where, even in victory, they dwelled on their past disagreements?

That’s the current state of the Right. Our loudest voices find little reason to be cheerful about the movement they claim they represent. And that’s sending a terrible signal to the public.

Would you want to be on a team where everyone seemed unhappy all the time? Where people hated their leaders? Where teammates did not work cooperatively to win? Where, even in victory, they dwelled on their past disagreements?

It’s time for these influencers to start helping instead of hurting. If they don’t understand, they should ask someone who knows. If they’re upset, they should express it with those who could fix it for them. And if they still aren’t happy, then they should speak up publicly.

In the meantime, they should find reasons to be positive about our side. There are plenty of reasons to share the great things we’re doing as a party and as a movement, on issues ranging from health care to tax reform to eradicating poverty to bolstering national security to rolling back senseless regulations and so on.

Find something you like. Champion it.

Choose Your Experts Wisely

There are many smart people on the Right, especially among our voters and activists. We are fortunate that our side welcomes rigorous debate and ideological diversity. We are a richer movement because of it.

But intellectual honesty requires we acknowledge that no one knows everything, even those we elect to lead us. Some Republicans are especially strong on tax and budget policy, while others are experts on foreign policy and immigration. Many activists are especially skilled with social media, while others choose to give generously to causes that matter to them.

St. Francis of Assisi prayed that he would understand before being understood. Listening to those who know, rather than presuming we do, is utterly essential to success in the policy sphere. Lawmakers have an obligation to seek counsel from those they represent and from those with cultivated expertise in the fields they govern.

Listening to those who know, rather than presuming we do, is utterly essential to success in the policy sphere.

So, too, must policy thinkers, GOP activists and political operatives. There is true value in considering the wisdom of those who study and understand things we might not, and it requires the humility to trust those with the character and track record to merit our trust.

Everyone, whether a county GOP volunteer or a powerful governor, has the obligation to seek the expertise of those who know better than we do. And we also must be honest about the limitations of our own knowledge. Feigning expertise and sharing that information as though it is expert, no matter who is the audience, is irresponsible. It actually undermines our efforts as a movement, too.

These three rules will help Republicans navigate this newfound majority better than we have before. They will nurture a genuine sense of teamwork to accomplish the goals we all share. Most importantly, it will foster public trust in conservatism, giving us the opportunity to implement the ideas we believe will help restore the American Dream.

Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.