Many are saying that the Republican Party must change if we want to remain a viable national party. The advice from some is to become less conservative. These critics believe that the GOP will somehow do better if we become more like the Democratic Party. But why would anyone vote for a lesser version of the Democrats when you can vote for the real thing? It doesn’t make sense and defeats the entire purpose of having two parties.
It is true that Republicans will continue to lose if changes are not made. But some of those changes will require us to become more conservative, especially when it comes to economics. Other changes might not neatly fit into what we currently think of as left or right.
January’s Gallup poll showed that for the first time, the national debt and “government dysfunction” were Americans’ primary concerns, even topping unemployment. When the Tea Party movement first exploded, polls indicated that a wide variety of Americans from across the political spectrum shared the movement’s concern over government spending and growth.
The GOP is supposed to be the party of limited government but it has not done a very good job of proving it. If Republicans can become the party of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility, we can appeal to millions from all walks of life who genuinely fear for the burden we’re placing on our children.
“Limited government” doesn’t mean no government. It means $2.6 trillion worth of government—the amount of revenue we currently bring in. Over the past number of years, Americans have had to learn to live within their means. Government must do the same and Republicans should be the party that shows how it can be done.
We need a strong national defense, but perhaps this does not mean having an overly aggressive foreign policy that puts American troops all over the globe, all the time. After nearly a decade in Iraq and well over a decade in Afghanistan, no one wants to now see a misguided intervention in Syria or Iran, as some from both parties have suggested. A foreign policy that does not try to police the world, does not try to dole out welfare to the world through foreign aid, and that recognizes fiscal limits will be better for our military, our national security and the Republican Party.
We need to recognize that the rising generation does not want people put in jail for unduly long sentences for non-violent offenses. No one supports the use of drugs or encourages that kind of behavior, but too many lives have been ruined due to our unfair and unjust mandatory minimum laws. It doesn’t make sense to put someone who has made one mistake in prison with rapists and murderers—sometimes for sentences longer than rapists and murderers. Under our current laws, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama could have been served jail time due to their youthful drug use, and once released from jail, these two men wouldn’t have been employable, much less capable of winning the presidency.
Mandatory minimum sentencing also disproportionately affects those lacking the means to fight back, particularly minorities. This needs to change and Republicans should lead the way.
The GOP needs to be the party that embraces immigration while also demanding strong border security. Nobody wants a party that is perceived as wanting to round-up people. We can move the ball forward by offering an immigration policy that humanely deals with the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, but puts the proper security measures in place so that we don’t have to keep revisiting this issue every few decades.
Fiscal conservatism, a more prudent foreign policy, ending mandatory minimums and immigration reform coupled with border security are but a few issues Republicans can lead on if we want to build the necessary coalitions that will allow us to remain a governing national party.
If we’re going to start winning on the West Coast and in New England, and if we’re going to attract the young, we must change. If we don’t evolve and adapt, the Republican Party will die.
The GOP of old, stale and moss-covered, is largely responsible for our party’s current quandary. Only a new breed of Republican—bold, innovative and dedicated to liberty—can get us out of it.
Sen. Rand Paul is a Kentucky Republican.