Now is when the real work begins. Now is the moment for conservatives and all the ideas they’ve been building for years to shine.
I remember when, despite everything thrown at him, George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, and Republicans reclaimed the Senate with 55 seats. So many of us felt a sense of euphoria that we had finally obtained a mandate and could rest easy. Well, within a few months, Bush became toxic, his entire presidency was marred in scandals, Big Government initiatives, and the endless Iraq War.
Republicans were decimated in the subsequent midterm elections, and the party was almost destroyed with the rise of Obama. In retrospect, it would have been better in the long run had Kerry won that election, and been saddled with Iraq and the financial collapse.
The enduring lesson is that we must finally work as a movement to get a Republican administration to govern on the issues that won us the presidency and not void out the entire benefit of winning within the first year of the administration. We need long-term and durable victories.
There is no denying that Republicans have a mandate. And that mandate is not for Trump to continue tweeting crazy things at three in the morning or for establishment Republicans to continue the status quo soggy wonder bread policies. The mandate is to completely undo Obama’s legacy. It’s not just that Trump won by a margin larger than anyone expected. Republicans will likely maintain 53 seats in the Senate despite being challenged with one of the worst Senate maps in years. Republicans maintained almost their entire House majority except for a few members that were swept away in deep blue states because of the polarization of this year’s presidential election.
Perhaps in the most stunning development, Republicans will have at least 33 governors, the most since 1922. Heading into this election, Republicans controlled 68 state legislative chambers to just 30 controlled by Democrats. It was thought impossible for Republicans to maintain such a high water-mark, especially during a presidential year. While it will take several days to sort out individual state legislative races, it appears that Republicans will maintain those majorities. They might lose some ground in a few state legislatures in blue states, but they finally succeeded in flipping the Kentucky House (defeating the sitting speaker in his own seat). Add this to the GOP governorship wins in New Hampshire and Missouri, and their win of the Iowa state senate — and Republicans have just added three more trifectas. By my count, that means Republicans control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature in a staggering 26 states. This is truly unprecedented.
What is amazing is that if Republicans can hold this level of state and federal support in a presidential year, what does that portend for 2018 when the Senate and governorship map is largely fought on favorable terrain with lower Democrat turnout?
And make no mistake, this is a mandate on the issues. Trump did not win because of his personal baggage and gratuitous comments. He won despite those flaws. The issues of immigration, national security, sovereignty, and Obamacare are clearly at the top of the list of his mandate for leadership. Because of his personal issues, Trump bled support from many white college-educated voters who would have otherwise voted Republican. Yet, most of those voters are clearly unhappy with the status quo on the issues. Trump astoundingly won this election even though he was viewed unfavorably by 60% of the electorate, more than the 54% who view Hillary unfavorably. Clearly, voters were choosing a political outcome, not a personality. Imagine a president who eschews some of the off-message comments and focuses on conservative policy? That can help build a durable majority.
But that can all change very quickly, if we continue the failed Republican modus operandi of the past. Given the polarized country and Hillary possibly winning the popular vote (or coming close to it, as of this writing), Democrats could easily unite a majority of the country against an off-message, unprincipled, and intellectually dishonest administration.
Now is the time for conservatives to shine. Many conservatives withheld their criticism of Trump during the campaign in the hope of beating Hillary and building upon a Trump win. Well, now is the time to call in those favors. Hillary is done. Obama is done. Now there are no excuses for changing our views on issues that did not help him win the election. It’s time to return to conservatism — not the brand promoted by the beltway intelligentsia — but the one rooted in our sovereignty, security, civil society, private property rights, the Constitution, and civil and religious liberty.
In order to avoid the mistakes of the past —abandoning our timeless principles in order to comport with the party leader (think of the Bush years) — conservatives should focus on the following priorities: [In the coming days, I hope to focus on each of these issues in greater depth]
Personnel is Policy: While every president has always awarded political allies with prominent positions in their administrations, and conservatives are not going to like every advisor, we must exert as much scrutiny as possible on Trump’s cabinet and advisor picks in the coming days. Trump is clearly a blank slate on many policy issues and it is more important than ever to make sure that the people who were a part of the problem within the party for so many years are not steering the ship. Trump has a penchant for rewarding his friends. While some of that is to be expected, it cannot come at the expense of the mandate he has won on issues important to conservatives.
Immigration: There is no denying the fact that this was a triumph for those who have been demanding a return to American sovereignty. Refugee resettlement can and must be immediately halted for this fiscal year, something that can be done with executive action. Sanctuary city and sanctuary nation policies must immediately come to a halt. And yes, Congress must immediately pass a bill implementing the border fence and biometric exit-entry visa tracking. I’ve been a skeptic of Trump and remain concerned about some aspects of his ideology and values, but since we started Conservative Review, we have been relentless in our coverage of the immigration crisis. By finally tackling this issue, Trump will put to rest any remaining concerns on the issue and cash in the capital he has clearly gotten from the voters.
Obamacare: There is no way around it, Obamacare has got to go — lock, stock, and barrel. This is the time to finally implement true market-based solutions that will break the government/pharma cartel on health care. Having key advisors and sane leaders in Congress who get this issue is critical.
Lame duck: Trump should immediately call on Congress to pass a budget bill funding government until next year, thereby precluding the need for a lame duck session. Why give Obama any chance to use pathetic Republicans as tools to cement his legacy?
Criminal Justice Deform: That must end. Law and order won last night. Period.
It’s Time to Stand for Religious Liberty and Social Conservatives: One thing Trump will never forget: Evangelicals stuck with him and single handedly delivered him the primary and general election. Trump won 81% of white evangelical Christians, compared to Romney’s already strong showing of 73%. While a Trump victory doesn’t make his past lifestyle acceptable, and there will continue to be debate over the state of the church in America, it is clear that social conservatives need a seat at the table. They have been ignored by this party for years and must be recognized, especially in the sphere of religious liberty.
End Obama’s executive actions on day one: Trump should pick up the mantle from Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas (A, 97%) on pledging to end Obama’s illegal executive actions on day one. While I believe that the key to his success is showing a respect for Congress and the states and not overstepping his boundaries, nobody could dispute the principle of “garbage in, garbage out” as it relates to undoing executive orders.
Change congressional leadership: If there was ever an election demanding change, it’s this one. It makes no sense to have the same failed leaders in charge of the House and Senate. Conservatives should demand a change at the top of leadership in both houses.
Make state legislatures great again: By embracing a 10th Amendment agenda to devolve power and responsibility on key issues back to the states, Trump could accomplish several things at the same time: 1) he could heal a divided and polarized nation by returning a degree of self-governance to the states. Trump would also win a lot of points by working to return land in the West to individual states.
If blue states want a progressive heaven, let them have the money and responsibility. Just don’t come asking for a bailout. 2) it will dispel the perception that Trump is a power-hungry strongman and allows him to co-opt the mantle of liberty and 3) it will ensure that we are never one election away from a 50-state Sodom and Gomorrah in which we lose the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Due to the demographic polarization, conservatives could establish a permanent majority in at least half the states. By utilizing this era of GOP federal control to devolve power permanently back to states, Republicans can create a firewall for the future. Remember, despite Hillary being the worst candidate in modern history, she came very close to winning. Democrats will rise again in presidential elections, given the early voting and the demographic time bomb.
The Courts and Judicial Reform: I wrote my book, Stolen Sovereignty, for precisely this moment — for the scenario of Republicans winning all three branches of government. Republicans need this control not just to “appoint better judges,” but to finally reform the courts wholesale. I hope to delve deeper into this in the coming days, but between reforming the court’s jurisdiction, empowering state courts (which are elected in most states), and requiring super-majorities for judicial review at least on the lower courts, conservatives can finally ensure that the federal judiciary is put in its proper place. If judicial reform is not enacted, Democrats will use the courts — their last beacon of tyranny — to overturn every critical reform passed by Congress and the states in the realm of religious liberty, immigration, and so many other issues. It would take years of lower court appointments and at least one other vacancy on the Supreme Court to shift the balance of the courts. Even then, I’m doubtful we can change the legal profession. By that point, the courts will enshrine so many new foreign concepts into the Constitution.
Let’s be clear: it’s not that the flaccid Republicans up and down the ballot have suddenly changed who they are. It’s not that the concerns with Trump have evaporated. We cannot, indeed we must not, merely hope for change. We must ensure it. This is one final chance to reset and rebrand the party in a constructive way. There is a mandate for the taking — if Trump and Republicans are willing to properly identify it and keep it.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.