With few primary season challengers and strong support from his base, President Donald Trump easily emerged as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. As delegates prepare for their convention, where Trump will be formally nominated, CNN Opinion asked 11 contributors from across the Republican spectrum to weigh in on their visions for the future of the party.
Douglas Heye: The GOP’s ‘touch the stove’ moment
If President Donald Trump wins again in November, the future of the party seems rather clear: Trumpism reigns supreme. His reelection, regardless of whether he receives a majority of the popular vote or not, will be hailed by the party as an affirmation of all things Trump.
Reluctant Republican members of Congress will either resign themselves to play along – or they’ll resign from office all together.
During the 2013 government shutdown, House Republican leadership referred to it as a “touch the stove” moment. If our members touch the stove, thus shutting down the government despite no strategic or principled imperative, we thought they would soon realize it’s too hot.
We were wrong. Many of them touched the stove, the government shut down – and there were limited electoral repercussions for the GOP.
For the past four years, Republicans have been leaning on that same stove. If they get burned this time, and the 2018 House midterm results combined with recent polling suggest they might, it’s hard to tell exactly what direction the party goes, because it’ll feel pressure from multiple factions.
Some Republicans, queasy but quiet over how Trump has governed, will want to return to pre-2009 – before the rise of the tea party and House Freedom Caucus, whom they blame for laying the foundation for Trump’s rise to power.
Others will seek that mantle of fiscal and social conservative purity that Trump never truly represented, hoping to return to a Ronald Reagan type of conservatism that valued low taxes and family values.
And the President’s most vocal supporters, for whom his personality was always more important than his principles, may well find reason in a Trump loss to claim the party was not quite Trumpy enough.
Each President puts his own stamp on a party, but perhaps none more so than Trump – and to a party that so willingly gave itself to him, despite his lack of conservative credentials or being, well, a lifelong Republican. But once the party crosses that threshold, it can never fully cross back.
Voters know this, which is why with a shrinking base and demographics increasingly against them, Republicans may be in for a long and painstaking journey back to relevancy.
Douglas Heye is the ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a GOP strategist and a CNN political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @dougheye.
Mia Love: Capitalize on the advantages that drew me into the fold
As Democrats have lurched left and President Donald Trump has embraced a more populist agenda, we are seeing a realignment in American politics, in which working-class voters are moving right while many wealthy elites and suburban professionals shift left.
In fact, following the 2018 midterms, 54 of the 66 wealthiest congressional districts in America were held by Democrats. As such, the Republican Party of the future may well be more economically and culturally diverse than ever before.
While the Democrats’ top-down, big government-led approach to public policy has had some appeal, in theory, it fails in practice. The contrast between heavily regulated and perpetually indebted Democrat-run states and their largely fiscally prudent red state counterparts is becoming more obvious with each passing day.
State fiscal rankings by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center since 2006 have consistently found blue states at the bottom for fiscal solvency, considering measures like cash-on-hand, ability to meet long-term commitments and unfunded liabilities like pension costs.
I would like to see the party capitalize on this advantage and others that drew me, a first generation Black American, into the fold. Republicans have answers to poverty that actually work. Their pro-work, pro-family, pro-business, low tax agenda creates jobs and expands opportunity.
Meanwhile, blue state policies incentivize government dependence, focusing on enlarging safety nets and thus disincentivizing work. As result, blue states take eight of the top ten highest rankings for welfare spending per capita, while traditionally red states consistently rank lowest.
Though many in the party, including me, may be upset and tired of the brashness and combative style of President Donald Trump, we benefit from many of the policies he has promoted, including tax cuts, regulatory reform, better trade deals and energy independence.
Additionally, instead of dictating from the top, Trump has in many cases allowed states to be the laboratory of ideas. My background in local government has taught me that, time after time, some of the best and most efficient solutions are found at the local and state level.
People want to work, not become government dependents. They want to serve others, not outsource their service to government. They want to live in states that can capably manage their budgets without raising taxes.
We can do more to elevate the diverse voices within our party – women, people of color, immigrants and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are here, and more are coming. We need them, and we should welcome them.
Mia Love, a Republican, is a former US representative from Utah’s 4th district and a current CNN political commentator. Before Congress, she served as a mayor and city council member in Utah.
Sarah Isgur: Rebuilding the three-legged stool
President Ronald Reagan used to describe the Republican Party as a three-legged stool, made up of social conservatives, foreign policy hawks and free market/limited government advocates.
But that stool began to wobble in 2009, as the tea party emerged on the political scene, offering a more populist alternative to traditional conservatism. And, in the intervening 10 years, the stool appears to have been sold off at a garage sale.
Just last month, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley may have written the final epitaph for the Reagan Republican coalition. “It turns out we haven’t been fighting for very much,” he wrote, referencing the “ruinous trade policies” and a party that “focuse[d] more on cutting taxes and handing out favors for corporations.”
But it’s not just the stool metaphor that is missing. The very idea of electoral coalitions is gone from the current Republican Party strategy as well. The GOP’s victory in 2016 was centered around the personality of its candidate. And now the 2020 election will be a referendum on that personality.
It’s obvious that voters aren’t weighing the competing policy platforms of two campaigns. As of last week, according to a CBS/YouGov poll, 96% of likely voters said their minds were made up about who to vote for this year. (By way of reference, the same poll in 2016 showed nearly three times as many voters were open to changing their minds even by October.)
And in what should be a humbling thought about the future of the Democratic Party, more than half of registered voters supporting Joe Biden chose “he is not Trump” as their primary reason.
So, what is the future of the Republican Party after November? Win or lose, it will be a party that will never have Donald Trump on the ballot again. And the 2024 nominee will be charting a new path for the Republican Party without the shibboleths of the conservative movement that used to comprise it.
But a loss in November will only add fuel to the recriminations from all corners of the previous iterations of the party who wants to claim the mantle of “rebuilding” it. Meanwhile voters may start to ask what the party stands for – and that is an increasingly difficult question to answer.
Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.
Rick Santorum: It’s not just about the economy
The Republican Party has experienced a titanic political realignment, a simmering tempest that exploded after years of trade and tax policy that left blue-collar families behind and a progressive cultural movement seeking to redefine our fundamental values.
The Wall Street bailouts simply lit the fuse, and these working-class voters became a force with the emergence of the Tea Party. My pro-American manufacturing, traditional values platform appealed to this group of disaffected voters in the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
But it was President Donald Trump who was able to do what no candidate had been able to do before – activating them to win the White House in 2016.
Trump identified the importance of work, specifically in the manufacturing and energy sectors, for those left behind by the tech economy and globalism. He understood that we must be a party that drives the kind of economic growth that lifts all workers, especially because nearly 90% of Americans are workers, not business owners. Policies that lift all Americans win, and so does America.
However, as we have been reminded during the Covid-19 pandemic, money isn’t everything. Americans are worried about their health and family. Everything the conservative movement advocates must also be seen through the lens of strengthening families, improving quality of life, and lowering the cost while ensuring the high-quality of health care.
A GOP agenda focused solely on growing the economy without guaranteeing those policies lift all Americans will be a failed agenda, a realization that current and future leaders like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have forcibly argued.
The Republican Party is now attracting blue-collar workers who love America for all it offers and represents – and that is with or without Trump in the White House.
We must be the party that fights for their economic well-being, supports the family as the basic building block of society and never waivers from advocating for our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of what makes us truly happy.
Rick Santorum is a CNN senior political commentator and a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and 2016.
Scott Jennings: The Republican Party ought to stand for common sense
I would like to see us get back to standing for and focusing on a platform instead of personalities. I’m not for rigidity that precludes the flexibility to deal with unusual circumstances (i.e. the coronavirus pandemic clearly called for more government spending than your average Republican would want in normal times), but to grow and thrive we have to clearly articulate what we stand for no matter who the president or presidential nominee happens to be.
That’s not to say we won’t love candidates who rise up and lead our party – it is clearly human nature to follow leadership – but it is to say that those leaders must be clear-eyed about why they are Republicans and that we must hold them to it.
Our politics has fallen into the trap that plagues most of American culture – the celebrification of everything. We chase personalities, rising and falling on their stars, which unfortunately makes us vulnerable to their personal foibles and deviations from our supposed principles and values.
Operating a party this way also gives the media too much control of a party’s image; individuals are much more easily destroyed and discredited than a rock solid set of ideals.
We have to recognize that policy fights aren’t always won by simply “owning” the other party’s people and plans, as easy as they sometimes make it (and as much fun as it sometimes is). There’s an old saying – you can’t beat something with nothing.
To beat Democrats and their embrace of certain socialist policies, we have to offer policy ideas that appeal to common sense and our conservative worldview.
I became a Republican, despite coming from a family of Democrats, for a handful of reasons. I am pro-life, because all life is precious and should be protected. I believe in lower taxes, because I don’t support punishing people who work hard and create opportunity for others.
And I think the United States ought to have the most fearsome and lethal military in the world, to serve as a deterrent most of the time and as a force to be reckoned with when bad actors choose to test us.
Beyond that, my platform is simple: The Constitution, and the rights enumerated therein, are not negotiable – especially the right to free speech. American exceptionalism should permeate all of decisions. People should determine their individual path to life, liberty and happiness – not the government.
Work is to be expected, valued and appreciated – not disincentivized. America welcomes those who are here to work, play by our rules and add value to our society. Our borders are sacred and strong, as is our compassion and goodwill.
No law or regulation need exist where common sense and the free market can dictate a good outcome. We should treat others as we expect to be treated – with respect and dignity.
And that’s it. Party platforms needn’t be lengthy, complicated documents. Setting up a series of maxims that guide policy thought and discussion is enough. Individual candidates can then use this kind of platform to develop their more specific policy proposals to achieve those maxims.
The Republican Party ought to stand for reason and resist conspiracy theories. Old wisdom rings true to me – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Being truthful and honorable is always the right answer. And it is never the wrong day to do the right thing.
Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.
SE Cupp: The Republican Party is Trump’s forever
As a longtime Republican, I have found the last four years ranging from disorienting to downright maddening. What happened to the conservative principles that used to undergird the party for decades? In one word, Trump.
The advent of President Donald Trump ushered in utter chaos inside the GOP. Conservative orthodoxy was unceremoniously discarded to accommodate whatever Trump impulsively and self-interestedly needed in the moment – adoration, self-preservation, even revenge.
Whether the party will ever wish to reclaim its core principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, upholding the Constitution and fair elections is anyone’s guess.
But the damage is done. The corruption of the Republican Party by Trump is complete. The idea that Republicans can – earnestly and with a straight face – just pretend like the last four years never happened and pick up the policies and principles that the party used to espouse strains credulity.
It’s not clear, in fact, that they would even want to.
The conservatives and moderate Republicans who’ve been left behind by the Trump takeover have found themselves without a home. And so they might consider forming a new party, or joining the legions of independents – a plurality in America – who feel that neither Democrats nor Republicans adequately represent them.
The GOP should permanently rebrand: the Republican Party is the Trump Party. Whether Trump is President another four years or leaves in November, the party is now his to do with what he wants. Given the fate of his multiple bankrupt businesses, that doesn’t bode very well.
SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of “SE Cupp Unfiltered.”
Lanhee J. Chen: We need a principled, next-generation conservatism
The future of the Republican Party must be rooted in a principled, next-generation conservatism. That’s the only way that the GOP can expand its appeal to those who do not traditionally think of themselves as conservatives.
Unless the Republican Party becomes more appealing to women, the young, those with immigrant backgrounds or minorities who feel marginalized by the current state of conservatism in America, it will have a difficult time growing its base and winning elections in the decades to come.
To accomplish this, the Republican Party doesn’t need to turn its back on the conservative principles that have been at the core of its philosophy over the last few decades.
Freedom, responsibility and a belief in American exceptionalism have defined conservatism in the United States for the last 50 years. The nature of conservative principles is that they are enduring—and they indeed remain appealing to many Americans.
But, to be successful, Republicans must adapt the way in which these conservative principles are applied, the policy ideas that emerge from them and how they describe their philosophy and what it means for peoples’ lives.
So, what would it look like for Republicans to embrace a next-generation conservatism?
It means realistically assessing the political challenges that the party currently faces and adapting its thinking to changing times, while accommodating more voices to secure a broader range of support. For example, people’s expectations of what the federal government can and should do for them have evolved over the last few decades.
The last 20 years, in particular, have featured massive fiscal expansion and policies that dramatically expanded Washington’s role in our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has only magnified Americans’ expectations.
Republicans can and should be for reducing the federal government’s influence in our lives, but this has to be tempered by the recognition that Washington already plays a substantial role in many issue areas people care about, like health care and education.
Republicans look out-of-touch when they ignore this reality and make policy pronouncements that are completely dissonant with it.
Not all who call themselves Republicans will agree with this approach. And the divisions within the conservative movement and challenges before it are many. But I believe that making the Republican Party broadly appealing again, through an adherence to principled, next-generation conservatism, is the key to success.
Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution. He served as policy director to the Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign and a senior adviser to Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid.
Oren Cass: Bigger tax cuts are not the answer to every question
The Republican Party has drifted toward a market fundamentalism in which freer markets and bigger tax cuts are the answer to every question. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey recently declared that “capitalism is nothing more than economic freedom.” And former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley tweeted that “as we are dealing with changes in our economy, tax cuts are always a good idea.”
This is not conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. Conservatives value economic freedom, absolutely, but a well-functioning economy is a means to the greater ends of strong families, stable communities and a flourishing nation under limited government.
Markets are wonderful, but they only solve some problems. And, sometimes, they are the problem.
Contrary to Toomey’s assertion, conservatives recognize that capitalism only works when legal rules and a moral culture channel the pursuit of profit toward advancing the common good. If the system fails to deliver on its promise, as has been the case in recent decades, public policy has a vital role to play.
More economic freedom is not enough.
A group of conservatives, led by Sens. Josh Hawley, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, have advanced this argument in recent years. Running for president in 2011, Romney broke with GOP orthodoxy on free trade by highlighting China’s destructive effects on our economy.
In 2012, then-Professor Hawley published an essay warning that “a rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats” and recommending “structural renovation” of the economy.
And Rubio, who proposed a wage subsidy in 2014 and has led the fight to expand the child tax credit, observed in a speech last November, “our nation does not exist to serve the interests of the market. The market exists to serve our nation and our people.”
Their efforts present a vital opportunity for the American right-of-center to develop a genuinely conservative economic platform that focuses on working families.
Against a progressive agenda of government programs to provide what people can no longer provide for themselves, conservatives should focus on economic rules and reforms that return supply chains to our shores, create non-college career pathways and give workers a seat at the table.
Steps like these can help Americans to achieve what they actually want: the chance to support their own families, contribute productively to their communities and raise children ready to do the same.
Oren Cass is the executive director of American Compass and author of “The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America.”
Tara Setmayer: The party is due for a course correction
Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.”
Here are some extremely unpleasant observations about the state of the GOP today. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan has been upended by a toxic mix of populism and cultural grievance that will ultimately lead to the party’s demise if it continues down its current path.
Since the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican Party has morphed into a personality cult no longer interested in civil discourse or rational conservative policy debates.
Instead, far right extremists and conspiracy theorists, worshiping at the altar of a dangerous leader who routinely tramples on constitutional norms, have now found their way into the Republican mainstream and have been amplified by the President himself.
Revered Republican thought leaders like the late William F. Buckley, William Safire and Charles Krauthammer have been replaced by intellectually dishonest pundits in right-wing media who enthusiastically defend the indefensible night after night.
Many Republican elected officials have demonstrated their willingness to sell out every political principle they once held and abdicate their constitutional oversight role to avoid the ire of an unfit President’s tweetstorm, which might threaten their political careers.
Gone are the politics of personal responsibility, limited government, uplifting messages of free market prosperity and the importance of honoring America’s strategic global alliances.
It’s been replaced with messages of fear, ethnic resentment and isolationism. Character no longer counts. Good governance is no longer a priority. Adherence to democratic ideals and the preservation of institutions no longer matter.
The party’s decision to rehash some of the racist fear mongering of Nixon’s “law and order” campaign messaging adds fuel to the fire of division. Turning a blind eye to the President’s defense of Confederate heritage – rather than embrace the condemnation of Confederate symbols during a time of a national reckoning on race – is shameful. Given the rapidly changing demographics in the US, it’s also unsustainable.
In order for the GOP to appeal to a broader coalition of voters in future elections, it must purge the party of Trump’s ilk and return to its Party of Lincoln foundation. Without a course correction, it will be relegated to the ash heap of history alongside the Whigs.
Tara Setmayer is a former GOP communications director, host of the “Honestly Speaking with Tara” podcast and a CNN political contributor. She is a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project.
Alice Stewart: We need to employ the “welcome mat” approach
The future of the Republican Party rests on a simple premise: There’s more that unites us than divides us. It’s imperative that we don’t fuel internal factions, but instead focus on creating substantive policy and space for inclusion.
I call this the “welcome mat” approach, as opposed to the “members only” club. Republicans need to continue to reach out to the electorate and communicate why our conservative policies better address their concerns, while avoiding chastising voters if they previously supported Democrats.
So, how do Republicans do this? By sticking to policy solutions.
With the visible tilt toward socialist policies by high profile members of the Democratic Party, Republicans need to be careful that this does not devolve into a battle of personalities. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” may be seen as victims if the GOP engages in personal attacks over substantive policy discussions.
Of course, this is challenging – even more so given the ideological divisions within the GOP, but a healthy dose of disagreement is not a bad thing. It’s also important to note these divisions represent a small fringe element of the GOP. President Donald Trump has strong support within the Republican Party.
According to the latest Gallup poll, 90% of Republicans approve of the job he is doing. The vocal minority is therefore just that – and should not be taken to be representative of the party at large.
The toughest challenge moving forward is that we must be careful not to let the different groups within our party become disenfranchised. This means satisfying the needs of the Freedom Caucus wing of the party, along with the more moderate voices.
I should note satisfying these different elements should not necessarily include the Never Trumpers. They have allowed their disdain of Trump to justify a potential vote for Joe Biden.
These so-called Republicans are now supporting the party of higher taxes, more regulation, weak defense and taxpayer-funded abortion. And anyone who supports that ideology, in my opinion, is not a true Republican.
The best school of thought is to “think strategically and act tactically.” Republicans would be wise to keep that in mind – and not allow internal fissures to derail party unity.
Strategically speaking, the GOP is in a position to win over disillusioned independents and moderate Democrats and hold them long term. We do that by embracing diversity, minorities and social issues with sensitivity – all the while holding fast to our fundamental conservative tenets.
That’s a tough balancing act, but it can be done.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, former resident fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
Charlie Dent: Becoming a more diverse party is essential for survival
A robust debate about the future of the Republican Party is looming – and a reckoning may be in the offing.
Should President Donald Trump win re-election, the GOP’s future will be clear. We’ll simply have more of Trumpism and all that it represents: protectionism, unilateralism, nativism, isolationism and a touch of nihilism.
America will become more inward looking and isolated – solidifying its new approach of “America Alone.”
Or, perhaps more likely and as recent polling suggests, Trump loses reelection, at which point the reckoning will commence. Will Trumpism survive Trump? Were party leaders too acquiescent to Trump? Why did Republicans abandon long held principles to accommodate Trump’s hostile takeover of the party?
These are all good questions that need to be addressed. But before answering these questions, there is a more immediate problem: How should the GOP respond to radical and intolerant elements within the party, like QAnon conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, if and when they get elected?
I have long argued that Republicans must embrace the nation’s demographic changes, rather than resist them. Becoming a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming party is absolutely essential for survival and electoral viability, but that’s an impossible objective to achieve when people like Greene, who make racist and bigoted remarks, ascend to positions of power under the Republican banner.
How the party manages these situations will have a real impact on the future. House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wisely moved to remove Iowa Rep. Steve King last year from his committee assignments after recurring, racially incendiary comments.
The “Steve King” treatment should be applied to Greene, if she wins her House seat in November. Of course, it doesn’t help matters when Trump calls Greene a “future Republican Star,” or his campaign criticizes Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who had the good sense to call out this craziness when he saw it.
Once the GOP gets a handle on this problem, then I would suggest dusting off the 2013 Republican “autopsy” report, published after Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful presidential bid, that made many good suggestions about how the party should engage more aggressively with Hispanic, African American and Asian American communities.
Furthermore, the Republican Party must resist ideological rigidity and allow for greater social tolerance. Permitting more diversity of opinion within the GOP on issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights, climate change, immigration and other policy matters where the party needs greater flexibility is necessary to remain a national governing coalition.
Finally, the party must return to its senses on the importance of maintaining an open market, global trading regime and a system of strategic alliances that have advanced America’s economic and security interests since the end of World War II.
This means replacing the protectionist, crony capitalist model, which is a core pillar of Trumpism. And it means rebuilding relationships among allies that have been badly damaged, rejecting nakedly self-serving overtures from autocrats and accepting that American interests can be advanced through multilateral organizations.
This debate is long overdue. Let’s have at it.
Charlie Dent is a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of the House Ethics Committee from 2015 until 2016 and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies from 2015 until 2018. He is a CNN political commentator.