Even Conservatives Admit That the GOP Lacks an Agenda

Things aren’t looking good for the Republican Party when Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action for America, writes this.

As the Democratic presidential candidates gather to debate in Detroit this week, they have reason to be confident: At this moment in time, essentially any of them could beat President Donald Trump come November 2020.

Democrats are ahead in essentially every national poll. Trump trails all five of the Democrats’ leading White House contenders, and his numbers are even worse in some critical swing states like Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the generic congressional ballot tilts even further to the left than it did on the eve of the 2018 midterms. If the 2020 elections were held today, voters—including many who have voted Republican often in the past—would likely hand Democrats the White House.

That makes Chapman significantly more bullish on the chances of a Democratic win in 2020 than most liberals. You might think he is trying to simply motivate the troops by casting Republicans as the underdog. But he points to the reason for his pessimism: “2020 is shaping up to be a referendum on the president’s personality—which is bad news for conservatives.” I’d say he nailed it.

Republicans have gone all-in on Trump and his xenophobia. The president attacks anyone he views as a threat, while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is content to stack the courts with extremists and allow them to legislate from the bench. There is no Republican agenda. That sets the stage for 2020 to be a referendum on the president, which fits right into Trump’s need to make himself the focus of everything.

But Chapman runs the lobbying wing of a conservative think tank. He knows that the Republican Party needs more than that, especially when it comes to down-ticket races. So Heritage Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the Heritage Foundation, has done some polling to find out how the GOP can hang on to Republican voters, while reaching out to independents, moderate Democrats, suburbanites, and working-class swing voters.

Here’s how Chapman described the problem they face: “on some of these issues, the GOP has a long road ahead to both develop workable policies and differentiate itself from Democrats.” I’d love the chance to ask him to identify the issues where that assessment doesn’t apply. Even on the Republicans’ standard issues, Chapman admits that they’re not cutting it anymore.

Here’s where the need for a bold new Republican policy agenda becomes clear. On economics, Republicans must turn the page in their playbook. There’s no consensus within the GOP, much less beyond the party, for an economic platform centered solely on tax cuts and deregulation.

From the polling conducted by Heritage Action, here’s the agenda they came up with:

  1. Criticize immigrants for their “overuse of social services,” not for being criminals.
  2. Complain about “political correctness.”
  3. Attack Democrats for blocking “a proposal requiring doctors to provide medical care to infants who survive abortion.”
  4. Support apprenticeships, vocational training and workforce development.
  5. Support infrastructure spending tailored exclusively to roads and bridges.
  6. Come up with something to promote economic fairness.

The first three are just more of the same non-issues that we’ve been hearing about for decades. But the last three demonstrate the problem Chapman noted when he suggested that the challenge the GOP faces is with differentiating itself from Democrats. Note that even Heritage Action can’t come up with any conservative policies to address income inequality. The only real agenda items they suggest are things that Democrats have been supporting for decades: job training and infrastructure.

Cut through all of the nonsense and what Chapman is suggesting is that Republicans ignore Trump and run like Democrats. Does that sound like a winning platform to you?

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.