Over 1 million people in the United States have the coronavirus, and nearly 70,000 of them have died in just two months. Sadly, both numbers are climbing.
Most of the country remains in self-isolation as testing is generally unavailable, and therapies and vaccines remain elusive for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the economy is headed into a steep recession, with gross domestic product down 5% percent in the first quarter, and over 30 million workers, almost a fifth of the labor force, out of a job.
Jared Kushner calls the Trump administration’s ham-fisted response “a great success story,” but most disagree. At 42% approval and sinking, Trump seems unlikely to win reelection this fall, and deservedly so. It is time for the Republican Party to consider what it wishes to be in a post-Trump era.
A tragedy of the Russia and Ukraine fiascoes is that a president, who was a big Democratic donor as recently as 2010 and not even a Republican until 2012, selfishly forced almost the entire congressional GOP to walk the plank in defense of his sloppy bad acts. A generation of senators and congressmen will now be unable to run for national office without the baggage of their defense of Trump plaguing their campaign.
More misconduct may come out. Indictments may be unsealed when Trump leaves office regarding conspiracies and frauds to pay hush money to women. Who knows what will be revealed in Trump’s financial and tax records, sought by the Manhattan district attorney and Congress respectively, which the Supreme Court may order released this summer, and a Democratic administration certainly will. Too, a defamation suit regarding alleged sexual assault by Trump is making its way through New York courts.
Enough is enough, and the last thing Republicans will want to do in 2024 is defend the coronavirus response of 2020 or the opera buffa of these last four years. To turn a page, the GOP should look for leadership to Republican governors now acquitting themselves well during the pandemic: Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Mike DeWine of Ohio.
Republicans should think more broadly in terms of policy, too. Ronald Reagan preached a principled conservatism in 1980. Since his retirement from public life in 1994, the GOP has engaged in an intramural race further and further to the Right, with a detour into populism’s dark corners over the past four years. But earlier in the 20th century, there was also a proud strain of progressive Republicanism. It deserves a fresh look.
Progressive Republicanism began with Theodore Roosevelt, was maintained by men such as Elihu Root, Henry Stimson, Thomas Dewey, and Nelson Rockefeller, and reached its heights under Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush. It had intellectual roots in the “internal improvements” tradition of Whigs such as Henry Clay and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, and the “One Nation” Toryism of Benjamin Disraeli in Britain.
This GOP protected consumers and invested in the environment, infrastructure, science, and healthcare. Its legacies include the inspection of food and drugs, the establishment of national parks, the interstate highway system, the space program, the Environmental Protection Agency, funding initiatives such as the war on cancer, and passing laws protecting the disabled.
GOP progressives also frequently balanced budgets. Meanwhile, they embraced a muscular role for America in the world, within multinational organizations which we built to serve our purposes, as well as humanitarian impulses, after winning World War II. These international organizations are now increasingly dominated by our adversary, communist China, in the absence of U.S. leadership.
This breed of Republicanism is suited to fight the coronavirus crisis and rebuild America’s shattered economy and damaged standing abroad. In contrast, those Republican governors who seek to lift quarantines to goose the economy in order to get Trump reelected regardless of the cost in lives resemble pagan Aztecs offering human sacrifice to Quetzalcoatl more than a pro-life party.
This heartless Ayn-Rand-ism will reflect poorly on its exponents even after the pandemic passes. To continue to win races at a national level, the Republican Party will need to offer affirmative solutions to voters clawing their way back from illness and unemployment. Progressive Republicanism may also appeal to an America changing demographically; indeed, more immigrants and minorities might vote Republican if the party stopped gratuitously insulting them as it did in 2016 and 2018.
Progressive Republicanism can serve as a loyal opposition to a President Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo. It can help moderate and pass needed bipartisan legislation on climate change, gun violence, healthcare, and immigration. It can add Republican concerns for fiscal responsibility, free markets and trade, individual liberties, and the right to life to any solutions. And this kind of GOP can then stand as a credible alternative to the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024.
Kevin Carroll was a senior counselor to the secretary of homeland security and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and a CIA and Army officer. He is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog.