A view shows newspapers with Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidential election on their frontpages, at a news stand in Times Square, New York November 7, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Chip East
Pondering this question, I went back to look at my favorite speech of 2012, that being Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels' response to the State of the Union Address in January. At the time, the speech was heralded by conservatives and moderates alike as offering a clear alternative vision for the future. So I asked myself, what makes Daniels' remarks so different than the message purported by Governor Romney? In many cases, they used the same phrases such as "trickle down government" and a focus on creating jobs. However, there was one difference that was notable; Daniels spoke directly to disadvantaged, and out of work Americans. He spoke about how in the eyes of Republicans, there are "no haves and have not's, but haves and soon to haves." He wanted people in business to make money, not only to create more jobs as Romney intended, but also to be more charitable. In essence, he expressed a core aspect of conservatism that is often forgotten in today's politics, that being compassionate is an inherent part of that philosophy.
As conservatives, we believe in the equality of opportunity, and that everyone can strive to achieve their dreams through hard work and dedication. Moreover, we believe in community, family and charity and doing our part to help those who are disadvantaged.
Unfortunately, many of these traditional conservative values are not translated into a clear vision by the Republican leadership. They tend to explain the policy measure taken, and the expected outcome, but do not explain what the implications are of that outcome, or what it can really mean for Americans in tough circumstances. For example, conservatives often make the mistake of lamenting the spending costs of welfare, as if the overall goal is to reduce spending and handouts. But that is not the goal, it is the measure taken. The goal of welfare reform should, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, be about having people leave welfare and climb the ladder of success.
Furthermore, demonizing people who receive government assistance is an extremely divisive practice. The politics of division are played by the Democrats, not the GOP. President Obama spoke openly about wanting to "build a majority coalition" of "the working poor" in order to pass progressive reform. Republicans cannot play the game on those terms or they will lose.
This morning, I noticed an article suggesting that Paul Ryan wanted to go into inner cities during the election and make the case for individual empowerment, and how conservative reforms can help win the war on poverty. However, he was rebuffed by Romney campaign staff who said that that issue "didn't test well" in their research. While it is certainly true that focusing your campaign efforts in areas where you don't do well electorally is a no-no during election season, you also cannot look like you are ignoring an entire section of American society, especially when you have had 4 years to make clear your vision. Those actions or non-actions reverberate across the entire nation.
The GOP must not only embrace the core principles of the conservative movement, but also articulate its vision. I predict that we will see a more divided America than ever in 2016, and it will be up to Republicans to offer a new path for everyone, including the disadvantaged.