On Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggested that the Republican Party “rebrand” itself, keeping an “eye on the cash register” and not resorting to demagoguery. As the latest darling of the Republican lineup, Christie’s advice reflects the trend of possible 2012 candidates emphasizing the importance of fiscal issues.
Perhaps the nomination of John McCain is the best litmus for where the Repubican Party stood two or three years ago. During the 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney orated extensively about fiscal restraint, utilizing his business past to gain an heir of legitimacy – despite his affiliation with legislation like RomneyCare. At the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, however, Republicans voted “Dr. No,” Congressman Ron Paul, as their ideal candidate for 2012. (More on my theory behind that can be found here.) More realistic 2012 nominees have also come forward with a similar message of economic focus. For instance, Governor Mitch Daniels declared a “truce” on social issues earlier this month. Congressman Paul Ryan has achieved star status in the GOP for his public criticisms of the Obama administration and for offering alternative solutions to the spending problem. Even Sarah Palin made a comment suggesting that marijuana is a “minimal” problem. To me, this signals a trend in strengthening the GOP focus on government restraint in spending and taxation as a way of reclaiming the majority.
As a young member of the Republican Party, it has often been very hard for me to reconcile their past. In a generation of people who carry very liberal social opinions, the Party is often cast as the club of Jerry Falwell-style bigotry, rather than Milton Friedman pragmatism. The Bush era’s “compassionate conservatives,” borne out of religious understanding, have long atrophied the potential for making a case for limited government without a religious impetus. Thinkers like Friedman, however, long argued that the free market offers far more humanistic and moral solutions to societal issues than government collectivism. His arguments boil down to a freedom from coercion and a belief in the basic reasoning of people to do what is in their interest. A focus on this brand of capitalism, rather than religious dogmatism, could widen the appeal of the classical liberal values many on the right espouse by dropping the “social good” element.
Libertarian Republicans, such as myself, can finally rejoice as the policies of the Obama administration have become radically unpopular. The past two years in politics, filled with bailouts and Keynesian economics, have served as a magnificent foil to the free-market policies the GOP is capable of putting forth. The “independents,” who have played a critical role in American elections recently, will hopefully begin to see – with some clarity – the potential of the Republican Party. The phrase “Grand Ol’ Party” was popularized after the Civil War, where the Republicans stood on the right side of history. Let’s hope that Republicans can be touted as the voice of reason again during these times of fiscal irresponsibility and statism.