The Ripon Forum

Volume 0, No. 0

Winter 2009 Issue

Republicans Need to Prepare for the Future, not Rewrite Past

By on December 1, 2015

by LOU ZICKAR

As Republicans begin debating the future of the party, it is worth noting that some in the party are already trying to rewrite the past.

In recent weeks, several members of the more conservative wing of the GOP have stated that the reason the party failed so miserably this election is because it turned its back on fiscal discipline by turning toward the political center. Perhaps conservative stalwart L. Brent Bozell put it most succinctly when he said, “The liberal wing of the GOP has caused the collapse of the Republican Party.”

Make no mistake — Republicans did fail to rein in spending over the past eight years. But the GOP did not lose this election because it abandoned its small government philosophy. Rather, the party lost the election because its small government philosophy was incomplete.

If this election has proven anything, it is that it’s no longer enough to simply say you’re going to cut people’s taxes and leave it at that.

For years, Republicans have extolled the virtues of getting government off our backs and out of our lives. In doing so, they were echoing the words of Ronald Reagan, who famously stated in his first inaugural address that, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

But even President Reagan knew that government has a role in our society. He understood that in addition to promising to make government smaller, Republicans also had an obligation to make sure government operated efficiently and effectively. “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding,” Reagan declared in this same inaugural address, “it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work.”

For years, Republicans have had selective retention with regard to what Reagan espoused. They have embraced the small government aspect of his philosophy at the expense of the smart government part of it. And for years, they have been able to get by with a message that promised tax relief and little else. But after the mismanagement of Iraq, the ineptitude of Katrina, and the failure of Walter Reed, the chickens have come home to roost.

If this election has proven anything, it is that it’s no longer enough to simply say you’re going to cut people’s taxes and leave it at that. People also want to know they’re getting something of value for the money they send to Washington. It is a basic business principle: you can lower prices all you want, but if you don’t back up the low prices with quality goods and services, people are eventually going to take their business elsewhere. To take this analogy a step further, it’s like K-Mart and Wal-Mart. Both offer low prices, but only one has a higher market share because only one is perceived as offering a better buy.

In this election, both Republicans and Democrats ran on a platform of lower taxes for a majority of the American people. But when it came time for people to decide which party offered better value, eight years of incompetence left Republicans with a much harder sell. As a result, a majority of voters took their business somewhere else. Put another way, voters decided to shop at Wal-Mart instead of K-Mart. And in this election, Wal-Mart equaled the Democratic brand.

The challenge now facing the GOP is that smart government is not in the party’s rhetorical toolbox. It also runs counter to everything that conservatives such as Brent Bozell represent. Yet it is going to be one of the defining issues of the next few years as taxpayers begin to demand greater accountability and transparency in how their federal tax dollars are being spent.

People also want to know they’re getting something of value for the money they send to Washington.

So how should Republicans proceed? A good start is by acknowledging that government does have a role to play, and it is the responsibility of all elected lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats alike – to get it right. Beyond this, the GOP can also play a constructive role by holding President Obama at his word to go “line by line, page by page” through the federal budget.

With the deficit nearing $1 trillion, part of the Republican message has to be that priorities in America today must be measured not only by what one proposes, but by what one cuts. By embracing programs that work and calling attention to programs that don’t, Republicans will not only be bowing to this new political reality, they will also be forcing the new President’s hand.

In the process, they will begin the journey back from political oblivion — a journey where success is defined by the party’s ability to bring about smaller, smarter government, and where failure doesn’t result in some in the party trying to rewrite the past.

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Lou Zickar is the editor of the Ripon Forum.

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