September 7, 2021

Limited GovernmentPolicy

Is the Republican Party Shifting Toward Socialism?

By: Cooper Conway

They don’t make Republicans like they used to. 

Like their Gen-Z peers, the youth of the GOP are increasingly socially conscious and deeply troubled by the inequities they see in the world. And they’re starting to blame capitalism. If the GOP doesn’t reinvigorate the nearly dead conversation about the benefits of free enterprise, it could end up becoming the party of conservative socialism. 

According to a recent Axios/Momentive poll, 56 percent of Young Republicans stated that the government should promote policies that reduce the wealth gap — a 16 point change from the 40 percent of young Republicans who wanted these policies in 2019. The same poll found only 66 percent of Republicans aged 18-34 hold favorable views of capitalism. Granted, that’s still a majority, but you’d think the party of Ronald Reagan — that colossal advocate for laissez-faire economics — would be of one accord on this. It wasn’t long ago that all young Republicans would have cringed at the thought of government intervention as the answer to fixing issues like the wealth gap.

So, what happened?

It’s no secret creating a principled defense of free-market institutions is no longer the main focus of the Republican party. Today the GOP — is a shell of its former self. Its previous emphasis on preserving liberty and promoting a hands-off approach to government has been replaced by an obsession with culture wars. For example, look no further than Joe Biden’s presidency, which thus far has been punctuated by Republican assent to multiple overwhelmingly large and wasteful proposals, like the American Rescue Plan, which passed with resistance from the GOP that was too little too late. While Biden is busy checking off the items of the progressives wish list, Republicans are occupied fighting Mr.Potato Head’s gender neutrality and condemning Dr. Seuss’s family for discontinuing a few of his more racially inappropriate books.

To be sure, culture is important. But fixating on culture wars as the Republican party continues to do leaves young Republicans susceptible to anti-free market sentiment. Especially when corporations are trumpeting the same woke sentiments these young Republicans have learned to oppose.

It’s not just young voters who’ve lost sight of free enterprise. Even young Republican candidates running for office no longer view the free market in the same light as many once did. For example, Joe Kent, a Republican candidate making a solid run against incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington’s third district, recently tweeted out that populists on the left like Bernie Sanders and populists like himself on the right have much common ground on economic policy. Certainly, a statement that should leave free market-centric Republicans cringe.

So why is the Republican party’s youth shying away from capitalism? It’s simple: free-market advocates of all types, whether it’s the politicians or the common Reagan Republican voter, have dropped the ball by allowing culture warriors to monopolize young Republicans’ attention. That needs to change. Free-market advocates need to engage young Republicans with a discussion about the  liberating power of free enterprise. 

The obvious place to start would be explaining to young Republicans how capitalism can address the social issues they’ve come to prioritize.

For instance, extreme world poverty has decreased by over 80 percent since 1970 because of the spread of free-market institutions. Harvard Professor Arthur Brooks said it best when he noted, “It is the greatest achievement in human history, and you never hear about it.” Why aren’t Republicans telling this story? 

Free-marketeers need to speak up about the good of the free enterprise system and tell the kinds of personal stories that get young people excited — stories about immigrants and lower-income families who were able to change their life prospects in a single generation.

If free-market advocates can revive the conversation on the benefits of the free market, the future of the GOP could be a very bright one. But if Republicans continue to let their youth slide toward socialism without a fight, the traditional party may be gone for good.