In a hotly contested presidential primary for the Republican nomination, some candidates have focused their campaign message on stoking the fears of the electorate to win support. But, as conservative columnist Kim Strassel writes in the Wall Street Journal, in order for the GOP to win the general election and regain the White House the party must reclaim the aspirational, solutions-oriented message of Jack Kemp. The perfect opportunity to focus on such a message, Strassel notes, is at the Expanding Opportunity presidential forum hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation and moderated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
For eight years, Barack Obama has imposed failing economic policies on the country, even as he has brilliantly exploited the results for political gain. Democrats produced stagnating wages, rising prices, economic insecurity and failed antipoverty programs—and then somehow blamed the resulting inequality and fear and destitution on conservatives. They’ve cast Republicans as the party that doesn’t care about that 47%, that slashes federal money and hurts the needy.
Among those speaking at the forum will be Jeb Bush, who—in a primary that has been all about personality—is having a rough go of it. Yet the former Florida governor shines on policy. He and his “Right to Rise” super PAC understood early on the particular political challenge of class warfare. In advance of his talk he’s rolling out his own empowerment and welfare-reform agenda, which represents some of the leading thinking on how to fix the $1-trillion-a-year federal poverty-industrial complex—and how to get some political credit for it.
Underlying the Bush reforms is a continued commitment to jacking up economic growth—which is still the fastest way known to man to alleviate poverty. Next up is demolishing a federal bureaucracy that is designed to keep the dependent dependent. Mr. Bush would sweep away an array of federal food-stamp and housing programs and give direct grants and flexibility to the states instead. States would be able to get dollars to the local and neighborhood organizations that actually revitalize struggling communities. These grants would have the added benefit of allowing for competition, entrepreneurship and accountability. …
The inspiring news is that Mr. Bush isn’t alone in seeing the challenge. Marco Rubio will be at this weekend’s forum, no doubt to talk about his own proposals for revamping federal welfare programs. Chris Christie will be there, and will probably reprise his compelling thoughts on drug dependency and crime. John Kasich will be there, and surely will walk through some of the innovative anti-poverty reforms in his state, including his effort to help former prisoners return to work. Also in attendance will beBen Carson, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee. The party has already moved a long way on this question.
More interesting are the names of those who are skipping the forum. That includes Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. The absence of Messrs. Trump and Cruz isn’t necessarily a surprise. Both have aimed their campaigns at stoking the plentiful outrage that exists in America over a dysfunctional federal government and Mr. Obama’s policies. As the polls testify, this has been a shrewd strategy, one that is working for them among the conservative primary electorate.
The Ryan forum deals more with the general election. The question for the GOP and conservative voters is whether they think a nominee can win by appealing primarily to outrage and anxiety, while writing off significant portions of the electorate. Mitt Romney certainly left the impression that he believed 47% of Americans was lost to him. Whether they were before he said it, they certainly were after. A big-tent party appeals to aspirations.
You can read Strassel’s full column at the Wall Street Journal.