Since Trump’s loss last November, there have been many debates over whether “Trumpism” has prevailed in the GOP or how “Trumpian” the party should be. On the one hand, Donald Trump was one of few presidential incumbents in recent memory to lose re-election. On the other, the Trump-aligned GOP gained seats in the House and in state legislatures last November, in defiance of the predictions of almost all pollsters.
Such debates pose serious problems for a party attempting to build a successful political coalition. Republicans need an enthusiastic base, which Mitt Romney failed to generate. But they also need to avoid losing independents by 13 percentage points like Trump did, despite voters believing by a 2-to-1 margin that their financial situation improved during his term. The shocking events of January 6, inspired by Trump’s false assertions about the election, have led some prominent conservative commentators to fear that accomplishing these two goals simultaneously is now impossible.
I am not a lifelong conservative but have rather been a political centrist most of my life. I came of age at a time when Bill Clinton and others were pulling the Democrats dramatically closer to the center, and most closely identified with the Blue Dog Coalition, the right-most faction in the Democratic Party. I believe that this vantage gives me valuable perspective on how the Republican Party can appeal to moderates without alienating its conservative base.
Fortunately for the GOP, the Democrats’ sharp left turn has offered the party an opportunity once again to assemble a strong coalition of conservatives and moderates. Clearly, the Democratic Party of 2021 is not what it was in the recent past. Clinton passed welfare reform and NAFTA and declared that the “era of big government is over.” His archenemy, Newt Gingrich, even admitted that he and Clinton discussed assembling a coalition of Republicans and centrist Democrats to reform Social Security.
In today’s Democratic Party, by contrast, most believe that socialism is a better economic system than capitalism; the majority of its House delegation has endorsed banning private health insurance; more than 40 percent of its House delegation has endorsed the economically destructive, multitrillion-dollar Green New Deal; and state legislatures under Democratic control have passed bills reducing the penalties for assaulting police officers.
As the left-wing Vox notes, on issue after issue the Democratic Party’s agenda is dramatically farther to the left than that of Barack Obama in 2008, who was himself to Bill Clinton’s left. In addition to the increased popularity of left-wing economic policies, the party’s radicalism on social issues—thanks to the mainstreaming of illiberal fringe ideas deriving from critical theory—calls into question the Democrats’ commitment to the constitutional principles of free speech, due process, and equal protection.
I believe there is a way, firmly rooted in liberal and constitutional values, to oppose this radicalism. (“Liberal” in this context refers not to progressivism but to classical liberalism, the political philosophy imbued with Enlightenment values that forms the basis of the American experiment.) The path articulated in this essay eschews the illiberalism and conspiracism that have lately overtaken the American Right, while simultaneously appealing to voters who believed that Trump was the only candidate on offer capable of representing their interests by fearlessly opposing the illiberal Left.
It advocates opposing racial preferences, strongly defending due process on college campuses and elsewhere, and reforming our broken immigration system—all of which establishment Republicans shied away from prior to Trump for fear of being called “racist” or “sexist” by the media. Yet it also encourages the condemnation of White identitarianism, climate change denialism, and generalized hostility to immigrants—all of which drive swing voters and educated individuals of all ideological persuasions away from the GOP. This essay focuses less on current contentious policy debates among conservative intellectuals and instead examines how to take advantage of Democratic radicalization to reframe debates to voters. It provides a broad vision but concentrates especially on areas in which the GOP has clear but currently underutilized advantages, based on extensive polling data.
Race, perhaps more than any other issue, encapsulates the crux of my argument. Democratic views on this issue are wildly out of touch with American society and have gone only further to the left as the party has been captured by far-left activists. The GOP’s views on race are more in line with those of the majority of voters, but the party has managed to turn what should be a strength into a major liability.
Americans are strongly opposed to racial preferences and quotas. According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, 73 percent of Americans believe that race should not be a factor in college admissions, 19 percent that it should be only a “minor factor,” and 7 percent that it should be a “major factor.” Almost everywhere that there has been a referendum on racial preferences, voters have rejected them, even in in strongly left-wing states like California and Washington.
This should come as no surprise. The right not to be discriminated against based on one’s skin color is one of the most fundamental precepts of a liberal and democratic society. Moreover, such preferences demean the very people they are attempting to help by sending the message that they cannot compete. For example, a chilling study by a Yale University professor showed that White liberals use less sophisticated vocabulary in exchanges with racial minorities, while conservatives do not.
The Democrats have traditionally been in the “race as a minor factor” camp, at least in their rhetoric. In this view, race-based-remedies are not ideal but are necessary to ensure “diversity” or as temporary measures to rectify historical injustices. Clinton said that we should “mend” but not “end” affirmative action, and Al Gore spoke of “constitutional affirmative action” while opposing quotas. Proponents of racial preferences argued that race should only be a tiebreaker between otherwise equally qualified applicants. Of course, this was always a bit of a noble lie, given the magnitude of discrimination faced by Asian Americans in college applications, but there was at least some effort to remain true to liberal Constitutional principles.
The assorted left-wing ideologies that today arguably fall under the broad rubric of critical race theory (CRT) are distinctly to the left of the old “minor factor” view. As center-left commentator Jonathan Chait notes, its proponents believe that “racism is not a problem white people need to overcome in order to see people who look different as fully human—it is totalizing and inescapable.” Ibram X. Kendi, perhaps America’s most influential advocate of these views, argues that “the most threatening racist movement is not the alt-right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate, but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one” and states that “if discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” (“Equity” is defined as the racial composition of an organization mirroring the country’s racial composition.)
While the traditional center-Left viewed affirmative action as a temporarily necessary modification to race neutrality, CRT proponents view every instance of “inequity” as proof of discrimination and believe that all organizations in America should implement racial quotas, to which many are now committing. There have even been calls to ban blind orchestra auditions, which were instrumental in increasing female representation in classical music, because there are currently too few Black musicians being selected. President Joe Biden recently signed executive orders enforcing racial equity across the entire federal government and hired high-profile former National Security Advisor Susan Rice to implement this policy. The Washington Post notes that this is a “whole-of-government enterprise that goes well beyond the regular confines of diversity rhetoric about staffing and contracting, and into every program of every federal agency.”
As the poll above showed, most voters do not share these views on race. Yet most voters also do not trust the GOP on race (notwithstanding Trump’s gains among minority voters in 2020). For example, a June 2020 poll showed that voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of race by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin. Another survey, in August 2020, showed that the Democrats hold a 12-point advantage on issues of race and ethnicity. It is not hard to see why. Trump refused to condemn former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke a few days before Super Tuesday in 2016, claiming that he didn’t know who he was (he had condemned him unequivocally before entering politics). Worse, Laura Loomer, who celebrated the drowning of 2,000 Muslims, won a congressional primary in Florida, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon supporter who claimed that the election of two Muslim Congresswomen was “an Islamic invasion” of America, was elected to Congress. As long as the GOP has such representatives in its ranks, mainstream voters will not trust the party on race.
Progressive commentators and some “Never Trump” former Republican strategists argue that this is the true face of the party. They say that Republican voters are racists who fear diversity and that Trump succeeded in 2016 mainly because of this. Yet polls continue to show that most Republicans believe that Black Americans and other minorities face racism in America. Meanwhile, voters in conservative states with a history of segregation have elected non-White Republican politicians like Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, and Bobby Jindal. Likewise, if racism were the key to Republican success, far-right candidates such as Roy Moore and Kris Kobach should have fared better against Democrats than less extreme Republicans in deep-red states; in fact, they fared much worse.
To be sure, the far Right is stronger than it was five years ago, a fact for which establishment Republicans share much of the blame. Republican presidential candidates have shied away from strongly advocating race and gender neutrality. George W. Bush spoke of “affirmative access,” and Romney spoke of “binders full of women” instead of forcefully advocating the elimination of preferences based on race and gender. Such timidity increased the power of far-right demagogues.
Politicians like Haley and Scott have shown Republicans the path forward. As South Carolina governor, Haley lowered the Confederate flag over the State House after a White supremacist massacred African Americans attending church. In her speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC), she also rejected the view that present-day America is no better than the White supremacist South of the 1950s. Likewise, Scott in his RNC speech spoke about the indignities suffered by his ancestors but also how his family went from “cotton to Congress in one lifetime.” Recently, Democrats have sought to repeal anti-discrimination laws in California and abolish admissions tests to selective public schools in order to establish de facto quotas on Asian Americans. The GOP must ensure that voters of all races are aware of this fact.
But the GOP cannot merely attack Democrats for their unjust policies; they need to articulate a positive agenda to uplift underprivileged groups. Fortunately, Republicans also enjoy natural advantages on education issues, to which racial disparities are closely tied. For instance, voters strongly support the GOP’s school-choice agenda. Recent surveys have indicated that 81 percent of Democratic primary voters and 89 percent of Black Democratic primary voters support “access to more choices and options within the public school system, including magnet schools, career academies, and public charter schools.” Meaningful majorities across political persuasions also favor education savings accounts and school vouchers. Republicans such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have a track record of expanding access to school vouchers.
Teachers unions are understandably among the most reviled organizations in conservative circles, and there is certainly evidence to support that antipathy. For instance, a study in a leading economics journal showed that “duty to bargain” laws implemented for the benefit of teachers unions decrease the annual earnings of male students over the long term by $2,134, or nearly 4 percent, and reduce employment and labor force participation, leading to an aggregate annual earnings reduction of $213.8 billion.
However, sometimes conservatives’ rhetoric goes overboard. The average voter doesn’t work for a free-market think tank. He or she has positive memories of at least some teachers, which makes the “Republicans hate teachers” line of attack quite effective, especially when GOP politicians such as former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin accuse teachers unions of leaving children vulnerable to sexual assault and blame them for the shooting of a seven year old. Republicans should leave off demonizing teachers unions and stress concepts such as “parental control,” “increasing choice,” and “alternatives to the public-school monopoly” instead.
The rise of critical race theory has also given Republicans another opening against Democrats on education. CRT opposes traditional forms of gauging academic merit and views notions such as “rugged individualism,” “justice,” and “emphasis on the scientific method” as White supremacist notions designed to oppress non-Whites. Progressives have repeatedly demanded the elimination of gifted and talented programs because Black students are underrepresented and Asian students overrepresented in them. For example, California’s Department of Education is considering a new math framework that will eliminate accelerated classes for talented students and discourage them from studying advanced topics like calculus. Virginia’s Department of Education may follow suit.
More alarmingly, Democratic politicians have been trying to eliminate entrance exams at elite, science-focused magnet schools like New York’s Stuyvesant High School and Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology simply because Asians are overrepresented at them. These schools are not bastions of privilege: half the students at Stuyvesant qualify for reduced-price or free lunch, and Asians constitute more than 90 percent of these students, despite being only 75 percent of the student body. Furthermore, the primary beneficiaries of Thomas Jefferson’s new admissions policies are Whites, not members of underrepresented groups.
GOP-controlled legislatures have passed bills banning teaching CRT in schools, and conservative commentators have highlighted the lunatic ethnic-studies curriculum passed by the California legislature last year, which “attaches moral opprobrium to success by instructing teachers and students that the Jews and Irish in America have secured white ‘racial privilege’” and “portrays capitalism as oppressive.”
Republicans, however, have not grasped the shift that has occurred among Democrats on the concept of educational merit itself. Both Clinton and Obama reached the heights of American politics despite their humble beginnings by gaining entrance to and achieving success at elite universities. During their administrations, the Democrats cast themselves as a post-ideological technocratic party led by highly educated individuals. Obama himself gave a speech at Thomas Jefferson High School that stressed the importance of technological innovation, competition, and entrepreneurial opportunity. Today, his party views educational excellence as a form of White supremacy. The GOP should be grateful for this madness and cast itself as the party of academic excellence, potentially helping it reverse its current disadvantage among educated voters. Nothing matters more to these voters than providing their children with the most rigorous education possible.
Exit polls showed that 11 percent of voters viewed “crime and safety” as the most important issue in the 2020 election. Not surprisingly, 71 percent of these voters backed Trump.
Meanwhile, Democratic city councils have heeded radical calls to defund the police. Party leaders have pretended that the far-left militant group Antifa does not exist. The Virginia state senate passed a law reducing the penalty for assaulting a police officer. The mayor of Seattle let armed leftist groups declare an independent country in the middle of the city and likened it to the 1967 “summer of love.” Prominent Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said that the riots will not end until the “unrest in our lives” ends. And Biden staffers contributed to a fund to bail out rioters and protesters in Minnesota. Alongside this radicalism, there has been an explosion of crime. In 2020 murder increased 37 percent in a sample of 57 large- and medium-sized cities. At least two thousand more Americans, most of them Black, were killed last year as compared to 2019, according to preliminary estimates.
Yet prior to the summer 2020 riots the GOP failed to draw attention to the fact that many cities were returning to the failed left-wing policies of the past that were responsible, for example, for the doubling of the homicide rate from 1960 to 1980. For example, as a result of a 2014 California referendum that turned property theft valued at less than $950 into a misdemeanor, “police stopped apprehending shoplifters because it wasn’t worth their time as thieves were released.” Predictably, “larceny exploded.” A Sacramento County assistant chief deputy district attorney noted that some criminals would enter stores with calculators to ensure that what they stole was worth less than $950. I personally witnessed a shoplifter in action at the pharmacy next to my apartment in New York City. The store manager told me that, since the state legislature eliminated bail for certain offenses in early 2020, shoplifting had increased by about 300 percent at her store. There is no point calling the police because shoplifters cannot be held, and they immediately return to shoplift again.
The election of “progressive prosecutors,” thanks to the backing of wealthy political donors, is also playing a role in the crime spike. Since left-wing District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in Philadelphia in 2018, violent crime has soared. In a particularly egregious case, Krasner took no action against career felon Hassan Elliot when he violated parole for a gun charge and possession of cocaine. Elliott ended up killing two people, including a police officer. In another horrific case, a career criminal who smothered his infant son for crying too much and subsequently laughed about it received only a three-and-a-half to seven-year prison sentence, thanks to Krasner’s generosity.
The rationale for such leniency is rooted in critical race theory, which views all racially disparate outcomes, including in regard to incarceration, as evidence of systemic racism. Critical-race theorists view the police as enforcers of White supremacy rather than as defenders of public safety and talk incessantly about how the American police originated out of slave patrols.
Police reform is needed. Senator Scott and fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul have laudably taken the lead in such efforts. Likewise, Trump received rare praise from across the political spectrum for his efforts at criminal justice reform. Perhaps the biggest winner on Election Day 2020 was marijuana, which was legalized or decriminalized in many states—supported by 68 percent of all voters and about half of all Republicans, including 71 percent of young Republicans. Conservatives should recognize that the criminal justice system has treated nonviolent drug offenders too harshly, but should simultaneously emphasize that only 15 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes, while over half are in prison for violent crimes. The Left’s newfound leniency toward the latter group disproportionately puts communities of color at risk.
The GOP’s “War on Women”
Democrats incessantly accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women.” Yet the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was the first time Republican politicians verbalized what many others have long been saying: they fear that their sons would be vulnerable to unjust and unfair campus tribunals, thanks to the sexual-assault-policy promulgations of the Obama administration. The same people who complain about “mass incarceration” and the harshness of the American criminal justice system have pressured colleges to lower the burden of proof for accusations of sexual assault and to deny the accused due process.
The Obama administration’s actions led to travesties of justice in which men were punished based on false accusations, as well as many successful lawsuits and settlements between accused students and universities. The rules have drawn opprobrium across the political spectrum. The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe described in detail how the rights of the accused were trampled upon and how men of color in particular may have been disproportionately affected. In some cases, male students were punished despite their alleged “victims” insisting to campus authorities that everything was consensual and no wrongdoing occurred. As Yoffe notes, “A troubling paradox within the activist community, and increasingly among administrators, is the belief that while women who make a complaint should be given the strong benefit of the doubt, women who deny they were assaulted should not necessarily be believed.”
Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos “issued new rules on sexual assault in schools and colleges, handing more protections to those accused of assault” and “requir[ing] colleges to hold live hearings, where victims and the accused can be cross-examined.” Yet despite the well-publicized excesses resulting from the Obama administration’s policies, Biden has begun reversing DeVos’ reforms. Interestingly, Yoffe notes elsewhere that, prior to Trump, the GOP was completely silent on the issue and even joined Democrats in passing illiberal laws. Republicans must ignore media rhetoric that standing up for due process is “sexist.”
The ideology surrounding gender on the American Left resembles critical race theory in its opposition to liberal and constitutional values and in the belief that the rights of the oppressor, in this case men, must be ignored to uplift the oppressed. For example, even a mainstream and thoughtful progressive such as Vox founder Ezra Klein has argued that “men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.”
On abortion, voters’ views are more in line with those of Democrats than Republicans: 61 percent of voters (versus 33 percent of Republicans) want “to protect women’s access to abortion” while 38 percent (versus 66 percent of Republicans) want to reduce it. Democrats hold a 15 percent edge in an August 2020 poll on the issue.
However, without changing their actual stance, Republicans can defuse the importance of abortion in the eyes of voters who are pro-choice but attracted to the GOP on other issues. Clinton did something similar when he stated that he wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare” without changing Democratic policies on abortion. Framing the debate as “pro-choice vs. pro-life” is not ideal when the country is more pro-choice than pro-life. The GOP’s official position is that abortion is not a constitutional issue and should be left to the states to be decided through democratic debate, while Democrats believe that the Constitution mandates its legality throughout the country. Even the pro-life justices on the Supreme Court do not argue that the Constitution prohibits the right to an abortion, simply that it does not mandate a right to it.
Republicans should emphasize that, in a country as large and as diverse as the United States, it is natural for people to differ on such a controversial issue. Overturning Roe would not ban abortion nationwide. Women in New York, California, and other progressive states would not see their access curtailed. Meanwhile, conservative states, whose voters are more likely to oppose abortion, will be able to restrict abortion access. However, women in these states will still be able to travel to states with legalized abortion.
The Democrats may counter that it is unfair to inhibit access to abortion for those who have neither the means nor ability to travel, but this is not an issue that animates most voters. For example, voters oppose taxpayer-funded abortions by a margin of 19 percentage points; even 40 percent of pro-choice voters oppose them as well. Opposition to taxpayer funding for abortion is a good stance for Republicans because it can help attract fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters, such as many suburban women. It converts abortion from a contentious social issue into one that concerns paying taxes for other people’s benefit.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2020 election was Trump’s doubling his share of support among the LGBT community to 28 percent. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality, as are 67 percent of Americans and 49 percent of Republicans, but I recognize that many Republicans are strongly committed to traditional marriage.
Nevertheless, Republicans must affirm the dignity of LGBT Americans. Trump’s openly gay acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell led an effort to decriminalize homosexuality in seventy-one countries where it is still illegal, and Trump spoke about how important this initiative was to him. However, he didn’t highlight it on the campaign trial. A party dedicated to limited government must continue to strongly oppose the repugnant act of throwing people in jail for their sexuality.
Many conservatives were aghast at the Supreme Court’s judgment in Bostock v. Clayton County last June, which held that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from discrimination, even though the act made no mention of sexual orientation. While one can argue that the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds, nearly 90 percent of Americans and close to 80 percent of Republicans oppose allowing employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The party should accept this, barring exceptions for certain religious institutions.
However, there are legitimate concerns about the extremism of parts of the transgender rights movement. Even some on the Left have voiced concerns. For example, Lisa Littman of Brown University published a paper in 2018 studying whether social contagion might play a role in some cases of gender dysphoria among young people. After activists called for the paper to be retracted, the journal that published it conducted a post-publication review and Brown withdrew its press release highlighting the study.
Likewise, conservative writer Rod Dreher notes that “there is a movement in progressive legal circles to expand the doctrine of parental neglect to include refusal to consent to hormones and surgeries” for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria. It is important to respect the dignity and individual choices of the LGBT community, but it is also important to ensure that ideology does not come before the well-being of young children. Many—even some in the LGBT community—do not believe that this is happening.
Unsurprisingly, climate change was the issue on which Democrats had the biggest advantage over Republicans in a 2020 poll of thirteen issues. Sixty-seven percent of Americans, including 39 percent of Republicans, believe that the United States is not doing enough to combat it. It is time for Republicans to accept that climate change is occurring and is manmade.
However, there is ample scope for Republicans to propose a market-friendly climate agenda because voters do not wish to bear the costs of Democratic environmental proposals. For example, 75 percent of voters are not willing to pay more than $50 a month to reduce the impact of climate change, but the Green New Deal would cost about $600,000 per household.
Defending and advancing nuclear power is the most critical component of a conservative climate agenda. The Democratic politicians and environmental activists who shout the loudest about climate change also advocate shutting nuclear plants, despite their being the lowest-cost source of emission-free power. Moreover, nuclear, unlike renewables, does not require fossil-fuel backup or massive amounts of land, and it is already estimated to have prevented between 420,000 and seven million pollution-related deaths.
California, which has been shutting nuclear plants while imposing extreme renewables mandates, shows the perils of left-wing environmental ideology. These mandates have caused the state’s electricity prices to rise six times faster than the national average from 2011 to 2019. They have also led utilities to impose rolling blackouts to prevent forest fires, because utility providers and California leaders have “over the previous decade diverted billions meant for grid maintenance to renewables.” Californians could see blackouts double over the next fifteen years and quadruple over the next thirty as renewables mandates go from 33 percent today to 100 percent in 2045. Likewise, federal incentives that encouraged increased investment in renewables in lieu of high-reliability baseload generating capacity contributed to Texas’ recent cold-weather blackouts.
Intriguingly, two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker and George Shultz, last year proposed a “carbon dividend”—an economy-wide and revenue-neutral carbon fee that would escalate annually and supplant all existing federal carbon regulations. The revenue generated would be returned to Americans in the form of quarterly checks, averaging $2,000 annually for a family of four. This proposal would cut carbon emissions by half in 2035 from 2005 levels and is wildly popular with voters. Changing the debate from “is climate change real or a myth” to “carbon dividends vs. the Green New Deal” can convert the climate issue from a liability to an asset for Republicans.
Taxes and Spending
Like most Republican policymakers, I believe that Biden’s tax plan would be a drag on the economy. Particularly, its goal of doubling capital gains taxes on those earning more than $1 million annually is economically destructive, because it discourages those with excess capital from investing it and reduces the proportion of projects that have a positive net present value on an after-tax basis (this is Economics 101).
Unfortunately, what is bad policy is often good politics. Democrats point out that 99 percent of Americans will not be affected by Biden’s tax proposals, which only kick in for those with an annual income above $400,000. The GOP usually responds with the Economics 101 arguments about encouraging investment, but in poll after poll strong majorities of American voters (and even slight majorities of Republicans) support raising taxes on the wealthy. Republicans have done a poor job of framing the debate.
Over the past thirty years, Democratic politicians have campaigned on maintaining or even cutting taxes for 95 percent of Americans while raising them sharply on the richest, realizing that people don’t want to see their taxes increase, just those of individuals richer than themselves. However, the Democrats now want to push the U.S. economic model toward that of a European-style welfare state, and they are trying to sell voters on the impossible notion that we can have European-size benefits by simply soaking the rich.
It is true that West European governments have higher tax takes and provide more generous government benefits. But they also have dramatically higher taxes on the middle class, and tax rates that are less progressive than those of the United States. While top statutory personal income tax rates are somewhat higher in Europe than in the United States, these rates kick in at much lower income levels than they do in the United States. In Scandinavia, the top rates kick in somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 times the average income. In the United States, the top rates kick in at 9.3 times the average income.
American progressives tend to oppose high sales taxes because they are regressive and disproportionately hit the poor, yet sales tax rates in the five Scandinavian countries hover around 26 percent, as compared to the American average of 6.6 percent. The lowest sales tax rate among EU member states is 17 percent, and the average for the bloc is 21 percent. By contrast, progressives support higher capital gains and corporate taxes because they primarily hit the rich, but European capital gains and corporate tax rates are similar to those of the United States.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, “Germany’s second-highest marginal income-tax rate of 42 percent kicks in for married households earning around €112,000 ($124,000). An American couple with that income pays a marginal rate of only 22 percent,” and “Sweden’s top marginal income-tax rate of about 55 percent applies to earnings as low as $47,000, and in the U.K. the second-highest rate of 40 percent hits taxpayers earning £50,000 ($64,000).” Internet tax calculators show that someone making $80,000 a year would pay a 36 percent effective tax rate in Denmark and a 40 percent rate in Germany, as compared to 21 percent to 26 percent in most American states. Such calculators understate the difference between European and American after-tax income because the EU’s average sales-tax rate is over three times higher than America’s, as noted above.
The GOP needs to shout from the rooftops that you cannot have a welfare state without European-level tax rates on the middle class. Focusing on middle-class tax levels would be much more effective than arguing that higher taxes on the rich harm “job creators.” Furthermore, Republicans must point out that the United States has the highest GDP per capita of any country with a population over ten million, demonstrating the success of our economic model relative to our peers.
In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss to Obama in 2012, the RNC published a report stating that the party should embrace comprehensive immigration reform to boost its flagging popularity with Hispanics. Though Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants often crossed the line, his victory in 2016—and his strong performance with Hispanics in 2020—disproved such arguments. Opposing illegal immigration will continue to be a key component of the GOP platform.
The Democrats have moved significantly to the left on immigration. In his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama focused on funding additional infrastructure and technology to “secure our borders” and called for increased penalties on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. By contrast, in 2021 President Biden has proposed offering an amnesty to eleven million undocumented immigrants. Vice President Harris has compared the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to the Ku Klux Klan and advocated decriminalizing border-crossing and providing illegal immigrants with taxpayer-funded health care and university tuition at in-state rates. Unsurprisingly, this is strongly opposed by voters.
Thirty-five percent of voters support current immigration levels, 31 percent want them decreased, and 33 percent want them increased. While 75 percent think immigration is good for the country and only 21 percent think it is bad, 81 percent of voters believe that illegal immigration is either an “important” or “critical problem.” Only 19 percent think it is not a concern at all. Moreover, voters also strongly favor moving toward the more merit-based immigration system advocated by Republicans and fiercely opposed by Democrats. For example, 84 percent favor a merit-based immigration system that chooses individuals based on “a person’s ability to contribute to America” over a family-based system that gives preference to those who already have relatives in the United States. Yet currently about two-thirds of immigration is based on family ties, and only 15 percent on jobs and skills. Detailed surveys on American attitudes to immigration show that voters believe that immigrants positively impact the economy and the arts but worry about the side effects of unchecked low-skill immigration, such as increased crime and taxes and lower job availability.
The Republicans’ path to reframing this debate is clear: dispense with harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, which makes voters think that Republicans hate immigrants; oppose the unpopular 2021 Democratic cocktail of decriminalizing border crossing, amnesty, and taxpayer-funded benefits for undocumented immigrants; and draw sharp distinctions between legal versus illegal immigration and merit-based versus family-based migration. Such an approach would reassure moderates while simultaneously assuaging the White working-class voters who worry that low-skill immigration will reduce their wages and employment opportunities.
Democrats often counter arguments for merit-based immigration with the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Republicans should respond that the United States has a duty to its current citizens to prioritize immigrants who can contribute the most to the economy. After all, 55 percent of America’s billion-dollar startups have immigrant founders, and the United States has skills shortages in key economic sectors. In Latin America, in particular, the professional classes who would benefit from a merit-based immigration policy almost always vote against the Left in their home countries, given the damage done by both authoritarian and democratically elected leftist governments, while unskilled laborers, who benefit from the current immigration regime, are more supportive of the Left.
As the 2020 election results indicate, voters who have lived through such disastrous policies can become the bulwark of a multiracial center-right coalition in defense of free markets and individual liberty, which are under greater assault then they have ever been in our lifetimes.
While Bill Clinton had to jettison key components of the McGovern/Mondale/Dukakis agenda to remake his party after three consecutive presidential election defeats, this essay does not call for a wholesale revision of Republican beliefs, but rather for adjustments in rhetoric and how issues are framed. The stances advocated here have already been supported by Republicans in one way or another and are approved by voters across the political spectrum. After all, race neutrality, due process, free markets, scientifically sound energy policy, rigorous education, and keeping communities safe are all necessary for individuals to thrive in a liberal democracy. All these beliefs, with the exception of race neutrality, used to be supported by both parties.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case thanks to the Democrats’ newfound illiberalism, which, in turn, dramatically raises the stakes for both the Republican Party and America as a whole. Republicans have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new coalition of conservatives, centrists, and disaffected Democrats. But should Republicans instead self-destruct by getting caught up in conspiracism, the consequences for the America experiment may be dire.
Arvin Bahl is author of From Jinnah to Jihad: Pakistan’s Kashmir Quest and the Limits of Realism (2007). He has contributed to a variety of publications and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
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