(The following is a guest editorial by Christopher R. Barron, President of Right Turn Strategies and the former organizer of LGBT for Trump.)
In the wake of the political tsunami that devastated Republicans up and down the ballot all across the Commonwealth of Virginia this week, there is a lot of justifiable soul searching going on as the GOP in the era of Trump tries to find a way forward.
To figure out how the Republican Party can move forward, it is first important to recognize how the Republican Party managed to defeat Hillary Clinton and capture the White House to begin with.
Donald Trump was not a conventional candidate and nothing about his campaign was conventional.
President Trump didn’t take the traditional Republican path to the White House. Instead of winning purple states like Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado (as the unsuccessful campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney had tried to do), Trump flipped the script completely and won three so-called “blue wall” states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) by maximizing turnout by working class voters – particularly in rural areas.
Not only did candidate Trump eschew the traditional path to the White House geographically, when it came to ideology he also rejected many tenets of conservative orthodoxy en route to building the coalition that allowed him to win last November. From immigration to trade to foreign policy to public lands and entitlements, Trump was willing to break with the Republican establishment.
Trump used a new, populist America First ideology to build a new Republican coalition that relied on maximizing working class voters in rural areas to win. Nothing about it was conventional.
If Republicans want to avoid seeing the disastrous results of this week’s elections in Virginia played out all across the country in the 2018 mid-terms, then it is time for President Trump to get back to what worked in the first place: it is time for him to fire up his populist base.
Democrats won last week because they turned out their voters and Republicans lost because they didn’t.
Only by reassembling and reenergizing the Trump coalition from 2016 can Republicans hope to hold the House and the Senate, as well as state legislatures and Governors’ mansions, in the face of a motivated Democratic base.
Most importantly, only President Trump can reassemble and reenergize that coalition. There is no “Trumpism” without Trump.
First, the President should make sure that the federal agencies and the folks his administration has appointed to man these agencies are committed to carrying out President Trump’s America First agenda – not their own personal agenda. It is absolutely appalling that men and women who vocally opposed Trump in the general election now occupy critical agency appointments.
Second, President Trump should absolutely refuse to do the bidding of the very same establishment Republicans who opposed his election. For example, a cabal of inside the beltway, think tank conservatives and establishment Republicans have been pushing President Trump to turn his back on the commitment he made to protect federal public lands. This is happening despite the fact that polling in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin shows that Trump voters in those states that were so key to his election overwhelmingly oppose such an effort.
Third, President Trump needs to stop farming out policy-making to the Republicans in Congress. After the disaster of the failed repeal of Obamacare, it is clear that Republicans in Congress are either unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to implement the President’s agenda. The White House should be where policy is born and it should be on Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell to find the votes necessary to turn those policy proposals into law.
Fourth, President Trump should start prioritizing those issues that got him elected in the first place. Trump didn’t win Michigan because he promised to change the tax code – he won places like Michigan and Pennsylvania by promising to create jobs, invest in America, get tough on crime, end illegal immigration and yes, build a wall.
Yes, tax reform is important, but so is infrastructure and almost a year into his Presidency we have seen absolutely nothing on the infrastructure front. President Trump knows infrastructure. He has made a career out of building things, it is something he is passionate about and it’s something that can deliver jobs to working class Americans across the country.
Even better, there are ways for us to use free market approaches to raise hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure improvement without raising taxes or spending a single extra federal dollar. For instance, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has a proposal in the House that would remove the federal imposed cap on the passenger facility charge (PFC), thereby allowing airports to raise the revenue necessary to meet more than $100 billion in infrastructure needs and creating tens of thousands of new jobs.
Finally, pick a fight with Congress over something your base cares deeply about. Earlier this year, President Trump threatened a government shut down unless we got funding for the wall. This would be a fight the President needs and the base wants.
Nothing about candidate Trump was conventional – and that’s exactly how he won. If President Trump wants to avoid dealing with a Democratic Congress after the mid-terms then it’s time he stops listening to the establishment folks who want to make him a conventional President. It is time for President Trump to reassemble and reenergize the coalition he put together.