President Joe Biden’s inauguration marks not only a new administration’s beginning but also a new chapter for the loyal opposition.
The Grand Old Party lost the White House while picking up U.S. House seats, holding half the Senate, and adding to its numbers in state legislative chambers. These conflicting outcomes leave Republicans facing the difficult task of cementing blue-collar Trump voters into their ranks while regaining strength in the suburbs and making inroads with an increasingly diverse electorate.
To rebuild, Republicans must decide what their party stands for. The way forward begins with clarifying what the GOP’s answers should be to the nation’s challenges, with an eye to the 2022 elections.
This won’t be easy. Tensions between the party’s various elements are difficult to navigate, but it’s important to remember that President Donald Trump’s most popular achievements were conservative: originalist judges, a pro-growth tax cut, regulatory relief, strong national defense, recognition of the global threat posed by China, secure borders, and respect for life and religious liberty.
GOP officeholders, candidates and party leaders should offer ideas that apply timeless conservative principles to America’s changing circumstances. As Republicans oppose the Biden administration’s agenda, they should contrast their new initiatives with the Democrats’ approach. The key is to remember that what they’re for is as important as what they’re against. The values underlying Republican initiatives are crucial, too. There are more conservatives in America who believe in traditional values, family, faith, personal responsibility, patriotism and law and order than there are liberals who don’t.
This will require forbearance, which is in short supply in some quarters of the party. Republicans should be guided by President Ronald Reagan’s rule: “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20% traitor.”
The party should also increase efforts to recruit candidates who are female, Hispanic, Asian-American, black and younger. More diverse candidates were key to the GOP’s surprise gains in the House and the states.
The GOP must also disavow QAnon, the Proud Boys and militia elements that have infiltrated its ranks. The first is a cult organized around bizarre conspiracy theories and directed by unknown cranks, the second is a gang of violent thugs, and the third is a group of secessionists and extremists. Nothing good will come from tolerating such kooks and fanatics.
Republicans should also encourage GOP secretaries of state and state lawmakers to develop a model election code. The job of proposing electoral reforms shouldn’t be based on the unsupported claims of widespread fraud peddled by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. Instead, the goal should be to suggest measures that restore public confidence in our democracy. How do states with extensive mail-in and early voting like Florida and Texas get it right?
Looming over any effort to rebuild is Mr. Trump, who was backed by 74 million voters but angered 81 million others, driving many to the polls to vote for Mr. Biden. Some were independents, and others were Republicans who could no longer stomach the president.
Mr. Trump leaves Washington with historically low approval ratings, but he’ll be formidable if he decides to be a one-man wrecking crew in 2022, supporting primary challenges to Republican candidates he feels have crossed him. And if he seeks the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, he could win.
But if Mr. Trump couldn’t prevail in November with all the advantages of incumbency, a strong pre-Covid economy and a lackluster opponent, he’s unlikely to do so in 2024, when he’d be 78—especially after hundreds of those charged for participating in the assault on the Capitol are heard in court saying how they came to Washington and did what they did because they thought Mr. Trump told them to.
Mr. Trump has already done damage to the GOP by convincing some followers that our democratic system is so rigged that it isn’t worth voting. Look at the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoffs: Turnout in the most-Trump friendly congressional districts dropped more from the general election than the statewide average.
If Republicans are to win in 2022, new prospects for the 2024 presidential nomination must have space to road-test messages and show who does better at bringing together traditional Republicans and working-class Trump supporters. That’s a very tall order.
Fortunately for Republicans, the Democratic Party is also fractured. Its traditional liberal wing is intellectually exhausted; the ideas and energy are all coming from the party’s hard left. Still, Republicans can’t count on Democratic overreach and mistakes alone to hand them back Congress and the White House. The GOP needs a strong message and effective messengers to deliver it. Today they have neither.