Today in Charleston, South Carolina, several high-profile players in the Republican Party gathered for the Expanding Opportunity Forum hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation. The goal was to discuss “ideas for fighting poverty and expanding opportunity in America” – a topic rarely mentioned, let alone proactively championed, by the GOP on a national stage.
The event, moderated by House Speaker Paul Ryan and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, touted a star-studded lineup of guests: Governor Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Caron, Governor Chris Christie, Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor John Kasich, Senator Marco Rubio, American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Nikki Hayley and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, among others. Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was also scheduled to attend, but missed the event due to transportation difficulties out of New Hampshire.
Noticeably absent from the discussion were Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Both Cruz and Trump’s Saturday schedules have them at events in Iowa; however, Trump attended a rally in South Carolina Friday evening. A source close to the event planning confirmed that Trump was, in fact, invited. Interesting to note that the candidate who claims to be the biggest opportunity maker for Americans decided, for whatever reason, not to attend. Perhaps it was for the better, though, because the five-hour-long event centered heavily on dissecting specific policy provisions and offering examples of both tested and proposed solutions.
Together, the group discussed everything from criminal justice reform, drug addiction, tax reform, federal funding systems, mental health, apprenticeship and skill-building programs, education reform, and the need to role back government regulations for small businesses – trying to tackle both the causes of and remedies for pervading poverty in America. General consensus among the group was to shift federal funds and programs directly to the states. Both Huckabee and Kasich made strong cases for empowering governors and local-level officials to administer and formulate anti-poverty initiatives.
Discussion throughout the event was substantive and policy-specific; and while there were a few disagreements on the catalysts for change – including the role of the Earned Income Tax Credit – all agreed on the moral and political importance of improving education, job opportunities, community involvement and government accountability in the context of effectively and proactively waging a war on poverty that produces more real results than Left’s failed policies of the past 50 years.
Rubio, despite several interruptions from immigration protestors, put it best when he said, “Look, we are a country that has a retirement system designed in the 30’s, higher education designed in the 50’s, poverty programs designed in the 60’s, energy policies from the 70’s, and nothing looks like it did five years ago. We have an outmoded, outdated government…and a big-government Left that is more interested in protecting the status quo than in modernizing our policies to address the challenges of the 21st Century.”
The day’s most important takeaway came from the group’s direct acknowledgement of the Right’s heretofore inability to be trusted arbiters in the fight for the disadvantaged. Speaker Ryan spoke multiple times about the need to be a “new Right” – a party that stood for options and solutions rather than against them, and Arthur Brooks actually quantified the political importance of leading the optics in genuine human interest: Independent voters can swing 10 percent to the right when a candidate is empathetic and compassionate. A successful conservative take-back of the issue could mean the difference between a Clinton and Republican-lead White House.
Hopefully today’s dialogue spurs further discussion among all members on the Right, not only because of its moral impetus, but also because it’s a winning ticket both for candidates and the party. Instead of looking fragmented and pitted against one another, the speakers at the Expanding Opportunity Forum showcased something amazing – an overall cohesive, collegial, and excited team of accomplished and caring individuals willing and able to provide viable alternatives, despite the political landscape. The format gave way for much more effective, informative and substantive discourse. Famous GOP faces transformed from candidates and figureheads into leaders unwilling to back down to preconceived notions. It really was a good day for the team.
Conservatives know the power of free enterprise and the incredible difference it can make in the lives of Americans if given the chance, so it’s time to jump in the driver’s seat. We need to keep talking about how our values are the right path for advancing the human experience, because – as Joe Scarborough alluded to in his closing remarks – isn’t it better to address 100 percent rather than the 47?