Inclusive Conservatism: The Last Best Hope
In elections held nationwide this past November, Republicans suffered an unabated defeat. They were trounced. Proven wrong.
In the words of one recent political philosopher, you might even say they lost “big league”.
As farcical as the political lexicon has become in the past few years however, the results from this past November present no joking matter for conservatives. On the most serious level imaginable, they rather represent the institutional failure of the Republican party to face the paradigm of winning elections in the modern United States.
The Republicans’ annihilation in the 2017 midterms served their long-awaited comeuppance. Their defeated was retribution for growingly-entrenched ignorance towards the demographic realities of their constituencies and a complete moral failure on their part to embrace the respectable values which define true conservatism. If conservatives hope to change the damning direction of this path, they must act now.
Today’s Republicans suffer a clearly losing message, a growingly Democratic general populace, and extraordinarily unfavorable shifts in demographics. To overcome these challenges, Republicans must return to the inclusive foundation which fomented the historical success of American conservatism. For if adopted today, a more inclusive conservative message will bring those principles forward to the next great American generation.
American Conservatism is unique among the traditionalist philosophies of human history. It proposes a seemingly paradoxical juxtaposition of classical liberalism maintained under a tightly-wound and stable social order. Unlike nearly any other political philosophy, it uniquely appeals to both the property-rights of the haves and the aspirations of have-nots. Ranging from a belief in free discourse to the preservation of communal institutions such as the church, the ideological strains of this movement are often hard to trace. On a fundamental level, American conservatism rests on a community of people - united as one in their “small-R” republican principles and dedicated to uplifting their united polity through the institutions they share.
Yet in today’s America, there is the immovable fact of increasingly divergent demographic and cultural elements with whom conservatives must share such institutions. As such, any conservatism that will last through the diverse culture taking shape in the 21st century must take that earlier definition one step further. A certain leap forward from the rhetoric of the Trump administration, and even beyond the paternalistic “compassionate conservatism” of the second Bush administration. Instead, it is time for Republicans to arrive at a platform which empowers more Americans - particularly the ones who voted them out of office last year - to achieve the vision they set out for themselves.
Especially now, while they retain a semblance of the political power needed to recoup their recent losses, Republicans need to expand the extent of the “American Dream” which they purvey. They must reach out to the disenfranchised, minority voters of this nation. Perhaps they will achieve it through policies that rebuild the infrastructure of America’s most destitute minority centers, or maybe they’ll change the racially-titled practices of our criminal justice systems. Regardless, the GOP must consider all of its policy decisions with the challenges, the voices, and (ultimately) the votes of American minorities in mind. By appealing to these groups in a way that broadens the party umbrella, Republicans must advocate for an “Inclusive Conservatism.”
Many on the right of the aisle will ask, “Why should we make any changes? Why alter a platform that, only a year ago, gave us a widespread majority in every branch of government?” A fair question indeed. And one whose answer begins with Republican electoral failures during the entire year since.
Democrats in historically blood-red states like Georgia and Montana put up incredible fights in the Trump Era special elections, and Roy Moore’s creeping past sent an Alabama senate seat safely into Democratic hands. The contemporary “Old Dominion” also shows little stomach for the Grand Old Party, with Democrats sweeping the statewide elections and nearly ousting a previously sizeable G.O.P. majority in the state legislature.
Conservatism, in its Trump-era portrayal, is on the evident fringe of a crisis. And if the elections keep going this way for Republicans, it will soon be on the fringe of extinction.
The RNC itself realized this fact as early as 2013, when they published their famous “autopsy” of Mitt Romney’s upset loss the year prior. “The GOP today… is increasingly marginalizing itself,” the report says, “and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” Trump was able to ignore these projections by attracting some of the unlikeliest voters from America’s most stagnant demographic groups. But his success will likely be short-lived, for the demographic direction of the United States is going the opposite direction.
The Pew Research Center projects that by 2050, the United States will be a majority-minority country. Indeed, by 2050 ours will be a nation in which white Americans, while maintaining a plurality, will no longer outnumber the combined minority groups of the country. If you know anything about the profile of a contemporary Republican voter, you understand why this scenario presents such a problem.
While 2050 is the effective death date for current Republican strategy, the preliminary effects approach far sooner. Already, minorities are showing up to the polls at historic highs. In Virginia this November for example, outreach to the black community starred as a major point of Democratic victory analysts. Out west in states like California, Nevada, and Colorado, Hispanics display similar impacts at the polls. Even if Republicans retain their disproportionate majorities among white voters, the growing effect of minority votes will likely be enough to keep them out of office.
Largely due to perceptions of Republican racism and indifference, minorities currently have no incentive to change their mind about conservatism either. As the RNC’s 2013 autopsy reported, “many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” The electoral dangers of being viewed in this light already manifested this November when Virginia’s black and Hispanic populations went respectively 87 and 67% for Northam. That happened in a state where those groups comprised less than one-fifth of the electorate. Imagine the accruing losses in places like Alabama (where historic black turnout accounted for 30% of the vote) if such racial trends continue.
Conservative principles themselves are also at the stake in the Republican effort to reach minorities. While espoused by a party associated with hatred, violence, and ignorance, why would any disenfranchised or new-coming citizen even think to entertain ideas of free market capitalism or religious piety? Conservatives in the current environment largely ignore the moral imperatives of helping the fellow members of their American community. With large gaps between their idealistic views, and a damaging quiet on the plight of African-American or Latino citizens, conservatives lose the popular rapport needed to carry their beliefs into new generations. Those truths which we hold to be self-evident, will be held by minority groups in nothing but contempt.
Minority voters will thus turn almost-exclusively to the Democratic Party, whose new and overwhelming majority will be free from needing to compete with serious conservative alternatives. Unrestrained electorally, the Democratic Party already moves further left on a myriad of issues including business regulation, income distribution, and healthcare. Thus, the outlook for an electorally weak conservative messenger to protect their values appears worrisome at best.
Yet perhaps Republicans could shift these demographics to their advantage. Perhaps they could parlay their stranglehold on federal positions into a forward-thinking platform. Thinking back a short time in our country’s history, it was the Democrats who successfully challenged racist overtures with their own 1960s power play at the black vote. Lyndon Johnson was well known for his opportunistic motives behind adding Civil Rights components to the Great Society platform. Despite his racist views, he correctly predicted that such legislation would key generations worth of black support for the Democratic Party.
If the moral imperative of supporting their fellow Americans is not enough, perhaps the political leverage of making the move towards inclusive conservatism will sway more pragmatic Republicans. The Democratic Party, for all its rhetoric, has failed to deliver on many contemporary issues afflicting African- and Hispanic-Americans. Namely with infrastructure issues such as crumbling highways in Los Angeles, as well as criminal justice reform, Democrats leave a wide window of opportunity for Republican policy. And luckily for the GOP, their current leader is the quintessential opportunist for a moment such as this.
As poorly articulated as his ideology appears, the pragmatic proposals of “inclusive conservatism” align with Trump’s hard-boiled worldview. For example, the President could still make good on his promise for a higher standard of American citizenship, while still allowing for a more expedient and objective procedure. On the one hand making that path clearer and fairer for the Latino migrants with whom we share this continent, effective immigration reform would still be a sharp feather in his legislative cap. His willingness to compromise on parts of DACA already exemplify these tendencies.
A more inclusively conservative Trump would also hold true to his agenda on infrastructure. Wall or not, America’s minority-based inner cities and developing areas are themselves a critical starting point for any great construction projects. Consider the African-American population of Flint, Michigan, who has spent three years literally dying for relief, and whose own Democratic leaders continue losing political traction amidst failing cleanup initiatives. The president regards himself as “a builder,” and as the Republican party seeks to reach out to minorities in America’s derelict cities, now would be time to build some of his greatest works yet.
Of course, much of the inclusive message runs anathema to the campaign of President Trump. Primarily regarding criminal justice reform, his party can no longer take a “law and order” hardline that plays into the accusative rhetoric of their opponents’ anti-racism. Based on the fact that blacks and Latinos are imprisoned for drug offenses at over twice their proportional population rate, it is clear the justice system needs a systematic reevaluation. Criminal justice issues furthermore make a pragmatic nightmare Republicans trying to capture the votes of those expanding populations. On this oppressive front among others, the Trump administration must be more more sympathetic.
Finally, the Republican Party needs to step aside from the moral hypocrisies within their “values” based party. There is simply no justification for failing to denounce characterless men in the mold of Roy Moore, while marginalizing unifying figures like Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, and Ben Sasse. If the party hopes to set a moral example that holds up to the scrutiny of newcomers to the conservative movement, they cannot afford to have their image fettered by such hypocrisies. Instead, they need a respectable foundation of relatable, honest leaders.
Republicans are increasingly known as the party that jailed people’s fathers, left their mothers without clean water, and ignored their communities’ plight as equal American citizens. If the GOP maintains such an appearance, a minority-majority America will have no interest in even hearing out their conservative perspective. However, if America’s conservatives seizes their remaining opportunity to unify these groups under a banner of inclusive conservatism, perhaps they stand a chance in the 21st century.
Republican pundit William Bennett once referred to America as the “last best hope” for democracy in the world. Bennett was best known as the “Drug Czar” for George H.W. Bush, often noted for exacerbating the racial trends of imprisonment for drug use. Yet his rhetorical description rings even truer in relation to the crisis facing the current Republican Party.
As seen in our most recent elections, a more inclusive message is the “last best hope” for conservatism in America today.