Jim Webb, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential nominating contest Tuesday, is right that the Democratic Party is not friendly ground for a pro-gun, pro-national-security, anti-racial-quotas American. But Republicans shouldn't gloat.
They're busy alienating their own group of natural constituents - the good-government, security Republicans. Those are the soccer moms and dads, the people who don't hate government but are disgusted with its dysfunction and ineptitude. They should be Republicans, but if the GOP is the party of the shutdown, of high-decibel hollering, of calls to disregard the Supreme Court, of the Confederate flag and of neo-isolationism, then these Republicans have no home in the GOP. Maybe they stay home or maybe they float on a case-by-case basis over to the Democrats. If they think Hillary Clinton is somehow more responsible and resolute than President Obama on foreign policy, they might just vote for her.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson are non-starters for them, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) probably is, for that matter. These sober Republicans don't want metaphorical bomb-throwers; they want government to keep us safe from real bombers, keep the government open but improve it and not project intolerance toward immigrants, gays, African Americans, Hispanics, etc. They cannot relate to a party in which John Boehner or Eric Cantor, for goodness sake, are supposed to be the enemy and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is somehow not a conservative.
The key to collecting the Jim Webbs and retaining the sober Republicans is fourfold.
First, to paraphrase the president, don't do crazy stuff. Americans obey the Supreme Court. They don't cheer a default. They want the government open for business. Russia is our adversary, and we shouldn't be celebrating its partnership with Iran. Don't insult groups of Americans. The radical positions and incendiary language need to stop. The radicals build a radio talk-show audience and sell books (or caps, as the case may be), but they do not sustain a national party.
Second, a little economic populism is not a bad thing. The top marginal tax rate does not need to have a "2" in front of it to be pro-growth. It's a fine idea to break up the big banks. The safety net is not the place for pinching pennies (although its programs are ineffective and need reform). But Republicans can also treat Americans like grownups. Free trade is good for the economy, and we want high-skilled immigrants to come here. Neither is going to kill jobs; both are essential to prosperity. (And stop using "growth," since voters aren't even sure what that means. "Rising prosperity" or "expanded opportunity" have a chance of being understood.)
Third, set out an attainable agenda that values work, promotes job creation, uses America's natural resources, addresses the long-term debt (e.g. entitlements) by limiting benefits or raising the cap for rich retirees, and measures every program for effectiveness. If something is counterproductive or useless, end it. If it could work at least as well if not better at the state level, send it there with adequate resources. Subsidies for "green jobs" (which are not economically sustainable and become bastions of cronyism) would fall into the former, anti-poverty programs into the latter.
Finally, put forth a modulated foreign policy that does not entail "boots on the ground" at every turn but does aim to project U.S. power and advocate for our values. The John Hay Initiative's "Choosing to Lead" does that.
If the Republicans nominate for president someone who takes these items to heart, he or she will have an excellent chance of winning back the White House. If they don't, they will, as in 2008, lose both the populist Democrats and the sober, moderate Republicans.
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