Millennials grew up hearing about American exceptionalism, mostly in the context of its decline. Unfortunately, the past several months and years have only added to the pessimistic narrative. Shutting down the government of the world’s greatest democracy cuts against the idea that we as a nation are anything special. Discussions of default are worthy of far-flung, third-world countries that are rife with corruption and short on prosperity. A superpower does not lurch from one crisis to the next. Leaders in Washington approach short-term deals like triage for their slew of self-inflicted wounds.
The government shutdown was a national embarrassment. It arose from an incoherent political strategy concocted by the Republican Party’s extreme faction. The adults in the room warned the Tea Party that their tactics would fail. Yet Senator Ted Cruz and his followers persisted in sewing dysfunction. Instead of negotiating to keep the government open in the days before the shutdown, Cruz bloviated on the Senate floor. The result? The Republican Party’s popularity sunk to a new low, and the Affordable Care Act remained fully funded.
Senator Cruz and other irresponsible Republicans falsely divided the party on the Affordable Care Act. It is one issue on which all conservatives agree. Suddenly, if you did not want to risk the country’s full faith and credit, you were a member of the “surrender caucus.” That’s exactly the problem with Senator Cruz and the Tea Party. It’s obvious what they’re against, but it’s difficult to pinpoint specifically what they’re for. In Senator Cruz’s first year in office, I have not heard him introduce an originally conservative idea. That is, Cruz has not offered actual alternatives to the bills that he has opposed.
Responsible Republicans earned the nickname RINOs, which stands for “Republican in name only,” for opposing the shutdown. It’s a pithy, anti-intellectual label that conservatives fling at one another to avoid substantively discussing their differences. That’s the level to which the party has sunk. Ad hominem skirmishes have replaced clashes of ideas. Few republicans in Washington, it seems, are interested in fighting for the bold proposals needed to rehabilitate the party’s brand.
Republicans should have rebutted every item on Obama’s first term agenda with a coherent alternative. A tort reform bill that also liberated insurance companies to compete across state lines should have countered Obamacare. Republicans could have answered the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill by teaming with Democrats to impose capital requirements on big banks and reestablish the separation between commercial and investment banks. The future of the GOP does not depend on everyone in the party agreeing with these ideas. What matters is that people who feel differently respond with policy proposals of their own, not just opposition.
William F. Buckley, the father of the modern conservative movement, famously advocated running the most conservative candidates who could win. Well, as it turns out, the Todd Akin, Sarah Palin blend of ignorance and extremity is not a formula for success. But one electoral humiliation after another has only hardened some Republicans’ resolve. There are those who believe Mitt Romney lost because he was not far-right enough. He advocated “self-deportation” and sneered at 47 percent of the country, but apparently that didn’t suffice. This is a toxic mentality. It will cause the party to purify itself into oblivion, alienating one voting group after another.
Thankfully, the leadership vacuum that plagues Washington has not metastasized to the rest of the country. There are 30 Republican governors, several of whom, I believe, could be the next president of the United States. The most successful among them just coasted to reelection right here in deep-blue New Jersey. He’s no squishy moderate, either. Governor Christie is ardently pro-life and against gun control. More importantly, he’s worked with Democrats to take on the public-sector unions and balance the budget without raising taxes.
Christie is a case study of the party’s potential for a bright future, one centered on ideas and a pragmatic approach to governing. The party can only benefit from adding Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Susana Martinez of New Mexico to the potential 2016 presidential field. The good news for Republicans is that the party does not face a deficit of innovative solutions for the country’s problems, only a shortage of people in Washington to advocate for them. That’s why, ahead of 2016, I’ll be looking far outside the nation’s capital for the GOP’s next class of dynamic leaders.
David Will is a religion major from Chevy Chase, Md. He is the president of the College Republicans. He can be reached at email@example.com.