If there is one message underlying all the recommendations from the recently released Republican National Committee strategy guide, it is that the Grand Old Party should heed the advice of libertarians: Focus on free-market economics, become more socially inclusive, and work to reform, rather than immediately abolish, the welfare state.
"We need to remain America's conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel,” declares the report prepared by a team of GOP strategists. “We are the party of private-sector economic growth because that is the best way to create jobs and opportunity.”
But the party clearly lacks a compelling vision for voters. In the strategists’ meetings with voters, the party was repeatedly called “narrow minded” and “out of touch.” Freedom in both social and economic spheres, the report details, is the only solution. As one local Republican leader told the group, “the key problem is that the Republican Party's message offends too many people unnecessarily. We win the economic message, which is the most important to voters, but we then lose them when we discuss other issues.”
The numbers of people being driven away by GOP’s narrow and inconsistent messaging are astounding. "The minority groups that President Obama carried with 80 percent of the vote in 2012 are on track to become a majority of the nation's population by 2050,” the report notes. The GOP also has a huge problem with younger voters. “Mitt Romney won individuals older than 30 by 1.8 million votes; he lost voters younger than 30 by 5 million votes,” it laments.
Although the authors repeatedly state “we are not a policy committee,” they also hint sweeping libertarian reforms are needed to save the party. On economic policy, it boldly declares "we have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare…. When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.”
The authors recommend looking to state politics for some of the answers, where “Republicans are thriving.” They cite Mitch Daniels, who once called for a GOP “truce on social issues,” as an example. Daniels told the authors that focusing on how big government hurts young people should be the paramount concern for Republicans. "They're getting the shaft," he said in describing how young voters will spend far more to bail out the national debt than to pay off student loans, "There's an opening, and a need, for someone to be their voice."
At the same time, it notes that to secure the votes of younger voters the GOP must change course on gay rights. “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays -- and, for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” the authors write.
For minority voters as well, outreach should maintain a libertarian bent. The report endorses immigration reform, saying that “Hispanic voters tell us our Party's position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.” But the authors note the shift need not simply be political pandering. “Comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
Outreach to inner-city blacks again should emphasize inclusivity and economic opportunity. "We should be driven by reform, eliminating, and fixing what is broken, while making sure the government's safety net is a trampoline, not a trap,” the report states. "Perhaps no policy demonstrates the depth of our Party's commitment to all Americans as strongly as school choice—our promise of 'equal opportunity in education' to all children regardless of color, class, or origin."
Focusing on a message of economic freedom and social inclusion has been the message that libertarians have taken to conservatives for the last four decades, and as shown by this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which featured a CEI panel on gay rights (read CEI President Lawson Bader's explanation for the event here and watch the video here) and a vigorous defense of gay marriage by libertarian Charles Murray, are still taking to them. Even conservative columnist George Will noticed, saying, "What I did see at CPAC was the rise of the libertarian strand of Republicanism."
The fact that conservatives finally seem to be embracing the libertarian message before their party disappears is encouraging. Big government social policies have weakened the GOP, and liberty is the only antidote.