What lessons should Republicans learn from the 2020 elections?
On one hand, Republicans gained seats in the U.S. House and potentially held control of the U.S. Senate, pending runoff elections in Georgia in January. Republicans strengthened their grip on power in states such as Iowa, expanding their majorities in the state Legislature and picking up at least one U.S. House seat.
On the other hand, the party’s most popular national figure is set to lose an anxious but ultimately decisive electoral college contest. While President Donald Trump is losing the election, he significantly improved over his 2016 performance in terms of raw votes.
It’s a peculiar position in American politics: Republicans find themselves with no standard-bearer, but also without the kind of electoral shellacking that would necessitate soul searching or an abrupt change of course. Where do we go from here?
If the GOP majority holds in the Senate, it will be an ideal outcome for never-Trump Republicans such as myself. We got rid of the phony conservative, and a divided government would provide a check to Democrats’ worst impulses.
President-elect Joe Biden, the most conservative candidate in a big Democratic primary field this year, has signaled he’s ready to work with Republican lawmakers to serve the American people.
“They want us to cooperate in their interest. And that’s the choice I’ll make. And I’ll call on Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to make that choice with me,” Biden said a week ago as he claimed victory in the presidential election.
If Republicans are willing to answer the call, there are plenty of meaningful bipartisan compromises to be made at all levels of government. The GOP could once again be a party of ideas, instead of an identity cult. Here are a few ideas.
For starters, Republican elected officials should acknowledge that Biden is likely to win the electoral college, while still allowing vote counting and legal challenges to proceed. As of Friday afternoon, U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and most of their GOP colleagues in Congress had not publicly recognized Biden’s presumed victory.
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States can enact policies to reduce uncertainty the next Election Day. This year, a surge in mail voting mixed with unnecessary state restrictions on ballot counting is dragging out the process, giving rise to unfounded fraud allegations.
Poor election administration is a bipartisan affair, but Republicans in particular have made a habit of wrapping red tape around early and absentee votes. State legislatures can pass laws to strengthen early voting and allow early ballots to be counted before Election Day.
For a few decades before Trump came along, the major political parties had similar stances on immigration. Both were rhetorically pro-immigration while steadily ramping up enforcement and removals during the Bush and Obama administrations.
Under Trump, Republicans have become more reliably anti-immigration and Democrats are firmly pro-immigration. It’s a dangerous shift for the GOP’s political future, but most of all for the country’s future. Immigrants are vital to our culture and our economy, especially in slow-growth states such as Iowa.
As president, Biden will act unilaterally to reverse many of Trump’s immigration enforcement measures. Republicans should greet that with legislative solutions to bolster legal immigration. State policymakers should follow with programs to attract immigrants and refugees.
Slashing government regulations was one of the few bright spots in the Trump era. Without control of the executive branch, Republicans will have to work with Democrats to continue the deregulation campaign.
It’s easy to identify overlap between the left and right on overregulation — as a few examples, occupational licensing requirements keep poor people from high-quality jobs, small businesses in the cannabis industry are stifled by exorbitant compliance costs, and extreme housing regulations at all levels of government impose heavy burdens on renters and homeowners alike.
During the presidential campaign, Republicans were right to criticize Biden over his terrible record on crime and punishment. But most Republicans stopped short of endorsing a comprehensive agenda that would undo the damage Biden inflicted as a lawmaker.
Republicans should take up policies to decriminalize drugs and divert non-violent people from jails and prisons. It would save precious public safety resources in government budgets. Paired with re-entry support for former inmates, it also would be a boon for struggling workforces like Iowa’s.
In a postelection analysis, local elected official Rod Sullivan warned his fellow Democrats to stop stalling on marijuana legalization. He wrote, “Don’t let the GOP beat us on this issue because we are too timid. We have 2 to 4 years before we lose our opportunity on this issue.”
I say we beat them to it.
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