The 2016 elections left many optimistic conservatives jubilant, the real America had spoken, and conservative goals were ascendant. They were and are wrong. GOP presidential candidates have failed to earn 48% of the votes cast in six of the last seven presidential elections. In 2016 this political drought threated records: Donald Trump’s victory was the first time since 1876 that a candidate won the White House while simultaneously losing the the popular vote by more than 2%. The political horizon is similarly bleak.
By 2040 Latinos will account for almost a quarter of all US inhabitants; Texas is already 39% Latino. With roughly 60-70% of Latino voters regularly backing Democrat presidential candidates, the coming demographic wave could be a disaster for the presidential aspirations of conservative Republicans. When this trend is combined with depressing levels of support from younger Americans, single women, and African Americans, it is reasonable to believe that the presidency might soon lie beyond the electoral reach of conservatives candidates.
Optimistic conservatives want to focus on Regan-era principles and talking points, but the truth is that ideological surplus from the 1980’s doesn’t sell well in 2017. Expectations have changed. Today more than 50 million Americans are in enrolled in Medicare, and millions more receive Medicaid benefits; health care is now considered a de-facto right. Likewise, new familial and sexual norms have upended more traditional ideas, and the very act of questioning progressive orthodoxy in these areas can catapult a individual into social and political darkness.
Conservative ideas must keep pace with the rapid evolution of society, otherwise a loss of political relevance is inevitable. Here are a few specific recommendations that will help conservative politicians connect with open-minded voters.
- Embrace a complete overhaul of US immigration law. The essential elements are as follows: an inexpensive and intuitive visa and citizenship process, an extensive guest worker program, an offer of citizenship to peaceable migrants who entered the US as children, an exceptional increase in the number of customs and border patrol personnel, additional monitoring technology at all US borders, and a physical barrier along geographically expedient areas of the US borders.
- Replace the legal notion of government-recognized marriages with registered personal relationships. Encourage and recognize creative state-level efforts to create a modern relationship-oriented system that empowers individuals to file a simple form that assigns benefits and/or responsibilities to one or more significant adults in their life.
- Cast off the outdated notion that a pro-life constitutional amendment is possible. Instead, attack the problem of unplanned pregnancies through state-level policies such as: low-cost contraception, inexpensive prenatal care for indigent women, day care vouchers for low-income women who are seeking a college degree or working a full-time job, and a legal system that encourages adoption.
- Bury the federal war on drugs. Small-government acolytes need to back efforts to decriminalize the cultivation and use of marijuana, treat drug addiction as a disease, provide judges with the authority to implement creative punishments for first-time drug traffickers, and advocate the elimination of legal barriers designed to keep state leaders from enacting innovative drug policies (including drug legalization).
- Enhance federal ethical standards by banning elected and appointed officials and their partners from official involvement with any charitable and/or educational entities (e.g. foundations) during their tenure in office. Require the aforementioned individuals to divest themselves of all investment assets except: stocks that represent a substantial ownership stake in a company, whole-market index funds, federal 401k plans, government securities, real estate holdings, and new real estate acquisitions that have been vetted by an independent ethics board.
- Demonstrate a real commitment to old-fashioned thrift: spend less time devising tax cuts and more time revising bloated budgets, and slimming systemic deficits. Craft a bipartisan budgetary bargain that makes prudent cuts to national defense in exchange for lower levels of spending on expensive social programs.
- Abandon the dangerous idealism that has frequently led the US to use taxpayer money to fund nation-building, meddle in distant geopolitical disputes, pursue misguided international intrigues, and give away national sovereignty in the name of global progress. Instead, US policy makers should advance a foreign policy predicated on nation-state sovereignty, shrewd diplomacy, and active international trade.
Inveterate optimists are poor seers, the future always has a positive glow, and they are the last to understand the seriousness of a self-evident challenge. The optimists must be ignored, and conservative policy preferences must evolve. Conservatives can either offer the voters a modernized political product, or they can obstruct the evolution of small-government policies in the vain hope of successfully marketing their outdated political wares. The tide of political sentiment is strong, and the ideological marketplace is shifting. Hopefully conservatives recognize the situation and adapt accordingly.