After an embarrassing struggle to elect their Speaker, Republicans in the U.S. House must now turn their attention to governing. It’s clear they will need to regain the confidence of the American people and in the institution.
To do that, they should start by having a positive agenda, something they failed to do during the midterm elections, which caused them to have a such a dismal performance. I believe that Americans want their elected leaders to have positive ideas, principles and a forward-looking, optimistic agenda. Unfortunately, voters have been offered little of this from Republicans in recent years—and it shows.
Today’s Republican Party and its candidates are stuck in a trap of orthodoxy, a paralyzing fear of stepping out of line and doing or saying anything that might upset their noisy party mates who can’t see past Trumpian dogma. Unable to look at problems in a new way with constructive policies and solutions, they bring only anger, resentment and intolerance to the table. It’s a tiresome and ultimately losing platform based on being against anything the Democrats are for, mixed with intolerance of anyone different from themselves.
Solution-minded policies, once a staple of Republican leadership, grow out of time-honored principles. But today’s Trump-dominated party has no use for principle-based leadership, simply because it has no principles. Playing their zero-sum, win-at-all-costs game of situational ethics, the party has forgotten what it means to be a compassionate conservative or how to address issues by observing those underlying, faith-based values that once formed the core of what it means to be a Republican.
Think of the problems that cry out for solutions in today’s America, problems that a party freed from paralyzing orthodoxy would be able to find the principles, policies and energy to solve. A search for solutions is the perfect way for Republicans to flex problem-solving muscles they haven’t exercised in years.
It’s difficult to prioritize so many complex domestic and international issues demanding principled solutions, but for starters that list would have to include balancing the federal budget, rebuilding America’s faith in immigration, developing a stronger military, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, reducing community crime, investing in mental health and getting serious about climate change—each helping to build a more prosperous America.
Solutions to these and so many other difficult problems can only come from a party committed to a strong policy agenda, one that’s based on principles, compassion and human needs, not on anger and resentment. (Of course, this goes as well for Democrats, a party with problematic inflexibilities of its own.)
Whatever the issue, finding workable, cost-conscious and politically viable solutions in this new 50/50 Congress will require both parties to make daring breaks from their stubborn “my team vs. yours” mentality. Relearning how to talk together would unleash political skills not applied on Capitol Hill in years: bipartisan cooperation, negotiation, and compromise. Most important, it would give Republicans one last escape route from orthodoxy and a chance to jump off their party’s single-minded rush to oblivion.