Thoughts for the GOP in 2016
JC Sullivan | Tuesday, February 24, 2015
As the 2016 Presidential race begins to materialize, Republican advisors are in the midst of brainstorming campaign strategies to reclaim the White House. While the Democratic nomination seems to be all but a formality at this point, the Republican nomination remains wide open. For this reason, it is important to consider and reflect on how the Republican Party should approach the upcoming election season. While events, polls and even gaffes will undoubtedly require dynamic adjustments, it is important and exciting to start thinking about the upcoming election season. While I don’t anticipate a knock on my door from any Republican campaigns, below are three thoughts on how I think individual candidates as well as the Republican Party in general should approach the next 21 months. Some are derived from lessons learned in 2012 while others are unique to our present circumstances, but all three portray my hope for the GOP’s presidential campaign.
No to the Party of No
Republicans have spent the last eight years fighting President Obama’s policy agenda. As a result, the Republican stance of nearly every major policy battle during this time has been a negative or “anti” position (repeal Obamacare, no to Obama’s immigration reform, etc.). Now, this can’t necessarily be blamed on Republicans, as political power has allowed Democrats to frame the political narrative in their own terms. A negative and reactionary approach comes with the territory of a minority party and can even prove effective (see the 2014 midterms). However, any previous success does not justify an electoral strategy moving forward. Even if polls show that Americans do not believe President Obama’s policies are moving the US in the right direction, drawing attention to the current administration’s failures does not prove Republicans can provide a better alternative. As Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly attempt to distance herself from President Obama’s less popular policy decisions, it will be crucial for the Republican candidate to present a positive, action oriented policy platform. The GOP does not need prove that the last eight years of policy were ineffective, but rather needs to show that Republicans have a concrete governing vision for the next eight years.
Claim the Middle Class
While President Obama recently presented the notion of “middle-class economics” in his State of the Union address, an economic policy agenda that stresses the importance of the middle class and focuses on security and mobility for average American families has been brewing among conservative intellectuals and policy makers for the past few years. The renewed middle class focus of both parties is not surprising: more than 80 percent of Americans identify as middle class, 71 percent of Americans believe life for the middle class has gotten worse over the last 10 years and 76 percent of the middle class are living paycheck to paycheck. More average Americans than any time in the recent past fear for their economic stability and how the next President plans to address this fear will be a top point of discussion for the 2016 election. I would propose that the party that is able to best present its plan for improving the economic stability of the middle class will be the odds on favorite come November. Considering the point above as well, it is important that the Republican candidate present an action-based economic policy plan for the future, not just a damnation of the administration’s inability to secure mobility for the middle class.
Patient Party Unification
This section is alternatively titled: “dear major donors, please play hard to get.” While I have so far focused on the GOP’s strategy once a sole candidate emerges, it is important to discuss how Republicans should handle the time before this happens. This is especially true considering that this process has sometimes divided the party and hurt the eventual candidate. The traditional response to such a fear has been to establish an early consensus on a candidate so resources can be best focused on the campaign that will eventually contend for the presidency. I would argue Jeb Bush is currently pursuing such a strategy. However, I would advocate for a different approach, one that even calls for a wide field of diverse candidates. The Republican Party is home to a broad array of political interests and even ideological stances and, as a result, the potential 2016 candidates are made up of a diverse array of politicians. I think it would be wise for the party base, by which I mean major donors, to wait and see who is able to best connect their policy vision with the American electorate. I think the benefits of analyzing which candidate is able to best reach American voters, especially those candidates who wouldn’t be described as “Establishment” candidates, would outweigh the benefits of an early unification behind one candidate.