When I’m asked what does the Republican party have to do to be a governing majority, my answer is quite simple. If it is to be the party of our future, we have to give voice to the anger, frustration and anxiety created by the tumultuous climate of economic uncertainty in the United States today. And we must do so by demonstrating the capacity to lead through the power and merit of our ideas, not by the volume of our rhetoric. That is the only way we will earn the American people’s trust and broaden our party’s appeal.
The fact is, we are at a tipping point in the life of this country, which will determine if we will become the nation Americans want us to be, or the kind of country that will inevitably result from a failure to forge a different path. Most disturbingly, we are in the third year of the worst post-recession recovery in our history, which continues to be defined by a persistently paltry pace of job creation and anaemic growth.
Given these perilous circumstances, if the party is to succeed, it is vital we focus like a laser on policies that foster job security, fiscal security and personal security. What it will require, to borrow from Ronald Reagan, is adhering to those core tenets that have always united our party: “restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defence, and maximum individual liberty.”
These principles form the foundation of what has been the traditional Republican brand of conservatism, which falls in the centre-right segment of the political spectrum and aligns with our inherently centre-right nation. Today’s new conservatism, however, has moved ideologically to the right, forsaking the party’s historical belief that, even within our philosophy of limited government, there is a legitimate role for government to help maximise individual initiative and potential. That shift is alienating constituencies that should be our natural allies and are crucial to making us a majority party.
So, our message to Americans must not be “you’re on your own” – but that government should foster an environment in which personal opportunity can flourish. Moreover, that is a credo that resonates with three key constituencies that will help decide this November’s elections: women, the majority of all voters; Hispanics, America’s largest minority group; and independents, who outnumber Republicans or Democrats nationwide, according to a January Gallup poll.
In 1984 Mr Reagan won the vote of 58 per cent of women and 64 per cent of independents, while as recently as 2004, George W. Bush won 44 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Yet recent polls show President Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney 66 per cent to 26 per cent among Hispanics, and 52 per cent to 39 per cent among women. We must better articulate to these voters how we will expand private sector growth to create jobs. Women list jobs and the economy as their top priorities in selecting an elected official and women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of our economy. What is more, Latinos own nearly 3m businesses nationwide. Republicans have always fiercely advocated for an entrepreneurial environment where small, private-sector businesses can prosper, and as ranking member and former chair of the Senate small business committee, I have helped lead that charge.
As an example of how we could have provided affordable healthcare to individuals and small businesses, in 2003 I authored legislation allowing small companies to band together to purchase health plans across state lines, and insure millions of Americans. Passage of this legislation probably would have averted today’s huge governmental healthcare intrusion. Yet, regrettably, the measure fell short of the necessary support even among Republicans, for whom it would seem a natural fit.
If we are to be relevant to women, Hispanics and independents we have to develop practical, common sense solutions. So it is essential we grapple with the US’s monumental problems not with scorched earth policies that raise the spectre of dismantling government, but with strategies designed to unleash the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. As we tackle huge issues such as reducing the deficit, overhauling our tax code, or reforming regulations, we must communicate a vision that inspires opportunity, not one that instils fear about the future. We should once again take our cues from Mr Reagan, whose leadership underscored the value of a government that’s more efficient and effective rather than one that’s simply eviscerated.
Ultimately, when our platform suggests intolerance and ideological purity, we lose. But when we advance an aspirational, centre-right agenda that makes a difference in people’s daily lives we win. By producing results and reflecting the greatest hopes for the nation we know we can be, our party can recapture the White House, increase representation in Congress, and begin to deliver meaningful results for those we are elected to serve at this vital moment in our history.
The writer is the senior senator for Maine. She will retire in January