American Conservatism is in a Crisis

by

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


The botched AHCA legislative process could be the final nail in the coffin for Republicans looking to enact a truly conservative agenda and they only have themselves to blame.

 

President Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the race for the presidency on June 16, 2015. Prior to his announcement, the Republican field looked to potentially be the strongest in the modern era of both parties, headlining multiple factions of the party and aiming to offer voters an ambitious agenda of conservative reforms. The party was instead taken over by a deceptive and dangerous reality television star named Donald Trump.

As Mr. Trump appealed to an obvious disenfranchisement with big institutions among the Republican-leaning electorate, he was often seen as a “joke candidate” to many Republican figures who dismissed his potential rise, ignoring poll numbers that said otherwise. But, as his poll numbers matured, cable news covered his growing rallies more.

Previous front-runners, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and rising stars, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, continued to rarely acknowledge him. Instead of generating constructive debate around conservative reforms, the largely robust field of candidates provided Donald Trump the perfect opportunity to hijack the party of Ronald Reagan and to co-opt American conservatism as a whole by artificially inciting a frustrated plurality.

Little did anyone know that two years later Donald Trump— controversial TV star, three-time husband, and receiver of the worst Stone Cold Stunner ever seen on WWE— would become the face of the Republican Party and the President of the United States.

Principled conservatives, irrespective of the faction of the Republican Party they align with, must do everything in their power to recognize, acknowledge, and fix the damage Donald Trump’s influence is doing to our country, ideology and party before it is too lateespecially because it is obvious our elected leaders in Washington D.C. won’t on their own.

I understand the obituary for the Republican Party has been written before countless times over the past few years, yet Republicans continue to win. Flawed, opaque health care reform by the Democratic Party in 2009 (plus a tepid economic recovery) allowed Republicans to benefit by simply being the opposing party.Now that the party is governing, it is clear that Republicans did not learn from the mistakes of their Democratic counterparts on healthcare reform and now may pay the ultimate political price.

The Republican majority could be a temporary one, and Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and the 217 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted yes for the American Health Care Act only have themselves to blame.

Though the bill has some promising reforms for consumers looking to purchase affordable health care and will relieve small business owners from crushing ACA regulations, it is far from the perfect fix for the complicated American healthcare system. Loopholes riddle the legislation, putting those with pre-existing conditions at risk. Also, healthcare experts on both sides of the aisle agree that America’s elderly will be particularly impacted by large increases in insurance costs. To make matters worse, Democrats and the left have been able to control the narrative regarding this legislation, and Republicans have made little headway in reframing the discussion.

The American Health Care Act was passed after three hours of deliberation. No amendments and no Congressional Budget Office analysis were allowed. As Senator Lindsey Graham hints at in a tweet, this is not an acceptable way for any legislation to pass through the House of Representatives, never mind consequential legislation that will impact 1/6th of the American economy.

Speaker Ryan and House Republicans are giving the impression that they were not ready to govern. It’s clear to me that once-outspoken critics of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan have become hollow puppets in order to score cheap political victories for the President rather than effectively drafting sound legislation aimed at genuinely improving the American healthcare industry. This is an obvious problem for conservatives and for Americans who care about real results from our representatives rather than superficial, semi-effective legislative strategies.

If our elected officials in Washington D.C. don’t have the backbone to stand up to the President, we must.

I will not mince my words. This is an extremely flawed administration that has been caught up in scandals involving Russian meddling, dangerous statements, petty lies, “alternative facts,” and sheer incompetence. Although many Republicans are being fed a reassuring “everything is fine” pro-Trump narrative by Fox (as opposed to the one-tone anti-Trump “everything is on fire” narrative on the Huffington Post), everything is not fine. Unfortunately, Republicans in Washington D.C., particularly in the House of Representatives, have largely watched on the sidelines as the President and Steve Bannon take over the party. As a result, American liberalism has been rejuvenated with the outrage of college-educated suburbanites, once a crucial Republican voting bloc. And young Americans, a group conservatives have not been able to effectively reach since the departure of Ronald Reagan, are leading the resistance against anything with an “R” stamped to it. The result? Liberals currently control the narrative in American politics.

Special elections in once heavily Republican districts are beginning to show obvious damage to the Republican brand. Georgia’s 6th congressional district, a heavily suburban and affluent district that gave George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney dominating victories, could now very well flip blue for the foreseeable future in a harbinger for the rest of the country. Perhaps even more dangerous than losing elections is that the Democratic Party is showing no sign of becoming pragmatic either. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and company are effectively taking charge of a party that is moving further to the left, and conservatives will be left out to dry in the process. As our public discourse becomes increasingly convoluted and unproductive, our party is being overtaken by more radical factions.

As an undergraduate student at a public university in rural Massachusetts, I do not fit the mold of a typical Republican voter. I also likely hold different opinions on some issues compared to a Republican voter from a more traditionally conservative state. Putting ideological differences aside, we must come together to save our party from destruction at the hands of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and the radical yet increasingly normalized alt-right.

Pressuring self-proclaimed conservatives in Congress to be more skeptical of the President is a start, but explaining our stories is vital to allow our message to reach new voters and allow our ideas to gain prevalence. Looking at the success of Republican governance in states all across the country, even in my home state of Massachusetts, it would be a shame if Republicans in Washington D.C. continue to put these successful governors at risk of a political beat-down in 2018 by an emboldened Democratic Party.

Conservative voters must realize that Donald Trump is no friend of conservatism, and is in it for Donald Trump alone. He campaigned on health care reforms which resembled nothing in the AHCA; he made empty promises to coal miners and struggling manufacturing cities which will not or cannot be fulfilled; he has destabilized our foreign policy with incompetence and has projected an image of America that the rest of the world laughs at; he denies allegations of Russian interference and personal corruption but doesn’t take the simple steps that would be necessary to exonerate himself if he is innocent; he consistently contradicts his own past Twitter criticisms of Obama’s presidency in his own; he has yet to fulfill hardly any of his “100 Day Action Plan”; and although he campaigned on draining the swamp, he immediately brought the “swamp” into office with him, filling many staff positions with members of corporate interests who have lobbied the federal government before, friends who helped finance his campaign, and no less than six (6) Goldman Sachs executives.

I am not saying that I’m against everything Trump has done— in fact, I’m personally a fan of so-called “swamp.” Rather, I am saying that he purposely misled the people who voted for him and has hung out to dry those who most needed and believed in him now that he’s in office. This betrayal is deeply painful to me because I have seen firsthand some of the struggles of these people who saw Trump as the answer to their problems. These people deserve real, compassionate and conservative solutions, not to be used as a political prop on a narcissist’s path to personal glory.

Steve Bannon’s forcible entry into Republican politics is a curious one. Once the leader of Breitbart, a provocative online “news” publication that boasts a strong nationalist-slant, he has been quoted as calling himself a “Leninist,” urged his followers to give the Republican Party a “bitch-slapping,” and an article published under his tenure referred to prominent conservative intellectual Bill Kristol as “a renegade Jew.” He has rejected long-standing conservative beliefs of American exceptionalism, free trade, and Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush’s embrace of reasonable reforms to our immigration policies.

The rise of Bannon has emboldened online alt-right trolls and their ilk, an extremely dangerous vocal minority, to hijack conservative media and debate with hate, bigotry, ignorance, and close-mindedness that one would not expect in a modern Western civilization. This has legitimized them and their views to the point where their ignorance is now sought as “another side” to issues and given toxic airtime—and this isn’t just an American problem. Some conservatives supported Marine Le Pen, the bigoted Presidential candidate in France, probably not realizing that she railed against fundamental conservative ideas like free markets, economic freedom, and personal liberty.

These false prophets have successfully taken over the Republican Party, and it is in the country’s best interest for these polluting voices to no longer feel empowered to spew ignorance in the name of conservatism.

An important step would be for the President to rid his administration of figures like Steve Bannon, but if it doesn’t happen, conservatives and Americans must hold Trump and our elected officials accountable ourselves.

As a reluctant voter for our President, a choice I made amidst a political identity crisis which impacted millions of Americans when presented with the terrible choice offered to us in 2016, can see that it is in President Trump’s best interest for people like me to become frustrated and disengaged from the process. For love of country, I refuse to let that happen.

In order to bring our political discourse back to a respectful level, the center-left and center-right must come together and attempt to make legislative accomplishments during this congressional sessionwith or without the President. I think that he’s smart enough that, if pressured, he will quickly choose “with.”

Pragmatic leaders, potentially a bipartisan coalition of governors, state legislators and Congressmen from both parties should team up to push a positive legislative agenda that both sides can work together on. The center-left and the center-right have together birthed great legislative accomplishments, ranging from George H.W. Bush’s budget deal that laid the groundwork for the balanced budget of the late 90s to the more recent “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill. There are promising areas of compromise just over the horizon: criminal justice reform, infrastructure, and helping alleviate poverty immediately come to mind. Despite differences in opinion on execution, these issues and more can unite our representatives around shared goals.

Furthermore, we need to convince the general public to care about bipartisanism and moderate solutions. To quote a liberal friend of mine who questioned Governor John Kasich at a forum hosted by Harvard University, we need to “make the center sexy again.” This will go a long way towards increasing Americans’ willingness to embrace important institutions that keep Western civilization churning and improving. I believe that conservatives can participate in responsible governance again, but this will require extensive soul searching and rebuilding from the destruction that Donald Trump has wrought.

What can conservatives do to improve the Republican Party?

The Republican Party in 2017 holds more offices than any political party has since World War I. Republican Party operatives, voters, leaders, and elected officials should not take this development for granted and let themselves be bullied by the pulpit. It does indeed seem like Republicans in Washington D.C. have taken this reality for granted, as there has been little successful movement on important matters during this short term of leadership. After the predictable destruction of Donald Trump, it will be up to us to rebuild the damages done by his presidency to the brand of the once-great party of Reagan. Conservatives must translate reforms already being made at the state level into national strategy. Elect nominees to represent the Republican Party that we are proud of, who legitimately share our values, and who love this country. Explain intelligently to vulnerable Americans across the nation, from Appalachia to inner-cities and everywhere in between, how our economic obsession with the power of free markets can help their personal situations. Tell the success stories of charter school programs across the country, and how this development could be a game-changer for the problems faced by kids in overpopulated schools. Discuss the importance of individualism, and craft a modernized version of the once-great Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

Conservatism must become the movement of ideas again. This can be done by embracing 21st century progress towards the growth of new industries and technologies while ensuring that we alleviate the suffering of those among us temporarily set back by this growth.

Probably the most important thing that conservatives must do is reject provocative talking heads that long have tainted the outreach efforts of Republicans to new voters. People like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the executives of Fox News have no care nor interest in seeing our country “become great again,” but would rather profit off the fears and divisions in our political climate.

Conservatives must realize that Fox News is no better than their counterparts at CNN or MSNBC.. Exposing ourselves to opposing intellectual views on various mainstream and legitimate sources will better prepare conservatives to make our presence known on traditionally left-leaning editorial boards and academic institutions across the country. It will also lead to a true understanding of the left’s arguments and appreciation for the concerns voiced by the other side. This will not only allow you to more effectively argue with their positions, but will also likely convince you of some of their views and moderate your own. No one is always right, not even the right (although I think we are more often than not!)

Republicans, ditch Sean Hannity for Arthur Brooks and Rush Limbaugh for George Will. You will become a more informed citizen as a result.

Bold? Sure. The Republican Party needs to drop the image of the “old-white man’s party” and become the party of optimism and pragmatic hope.

According to Pew Research, a majority of Americans have consistently viewed the Republican Party unfavorably over the last decade. Bold ideas are needed to modernize our party, and that will start with demanding more of our elected officials. I wrote this piece as a concerned American citizen first, conservative second, and Republican third. I’ve weathered many a sleepless night as I watch our country become more and more divided by the day. It’s time for Republicans to step up to the plate, get in touch with the concerns of those struggling the most in society, and offer a positive vision for America that they can legislate on.

If this Congress continues to sit meekly behind while Mr. Trump destroys their party, they have only themselves to blame.


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About Branden Cordeiro

UMass Dartmouth

Branden Cordeiro is an undergraduate student at UMass Dartmouth studying Finance and Economics. He is the Founder and Vice Chairman of the College Republicans at UMass Dartmouth, and the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans. He is also involved with conservative groups across Massachusetts and will participate in an internship for the Massachusetts State Senate Minority Leader in the fall of 2017.

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