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Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

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Virginia is a blue state now. Not only do Democrats occupy all statewide elected positions — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — with yesterday’s election, they control both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans got their booties kicked. And the butt-stomping is not likely to subside. The Dems will control the next redistricting, which will cement their dominance of the legislature. Auguring well for the blue team in the future, the fastest-growing region of the state, Northern Virginia, now is pure blue with bits of purple on the exurban fringe. By contrast, Republican strongholds in rural Virginia have shrinking or stagnant populations. Also favoring Democrats in the long run is the increasing percentage of racial/ethnic minorities in the state and the declining percentage of whites.

Republicans need to re-define who they are and what they stand for, or they will become a permanent minority. News reports say that dislike of Donald Trump drove Democratic voter turnout, but the Blue Tide is much broader and deeper than voter animus of one man. Take Trump out of the equation after the 2020 election, and Virginia Republicans still have a huge problem.

Can the Republicans re-calibrate? I certainly hope so, because I’m terrified of the Democratic Party agenda of $15 minimum wage, spiking the right-to-work law, a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead rush to a 100% renewable electric grid, spending and taxing, taxing and spending, and injecting its grievance-and-victimhood agenda into the consideration of every issue. But Republican priorities on culture war issues — guns, abortion, transgenders — are not winning issues statewide. As long as Republicans remain captive to its rural/small-town base, I don’t see how it can reinvent itself.

What does a rejuvenated Republican Party look like? (Or, if the GOP is incapable of reinventing itself, what does a successor party look like?)

First, it would take the culture-war issues off the table. Recognizing that reality is complex and messy and that sound-bite solutions usually have unintended consequences, it would stake out the middle ground against the extremists of both sides. No more trans-vaginal ultrasounds. But no aborting babies who have reached the birth canal. No right to carry semi-automatic weapons in public restaurants. But no free sex-change surgery for seven-year-olds confused about their gender identity. In other words, don’t do crazy.
Then the rejuvenated GOP (or its successor) should position itself as the Opportunity Party, creating economic opportunity for all Virginians of whatever racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic stripe.

In the economic sphere, that means identifying with and promoting job creation, entrepreneurship and small business. It means fighting the credentialism in which an increasing share of all jobs require a four-year college degree. It means improving the effectiveness of our public schools where we can, and creating alternatives (charter schools, vouchers, home schooling) where we can’t. It means shaking up the ossified structure of public colleges and universities to make them more affordable and accessible.

A rejuvenated GOP would articulate win-win approaches to health care, housing, transportation, and the environment.

Health care — Instead of expanding tax-and-spend entitlements, focus on boosting the productivity and quality of Virginia’s health care system. A more productive and efficient system brings down costs for everyone. Better medical outcomes benefits everyone.
Housing — The root cause of the affordability crisis and the eviction crisis is the failure of the home building sector to increase the supply of housing to meet rising demand. Bring supply and demand back into balance by reforming local zoning codes and comprehensive plans.
Transportation — Scrap the idea of free, convenient transportation as an entitlement. Restructure the transportation system along user-pays principles. Acknowledge the intimate link between transportation and land use. And figure out how to take advantage of the Mobility-as-a-Service revolution.
Environment — Move toward a 100% renewable electric grid as expeditiously as possible while balancing the goals of sustainability, cost, and reliability. The globe won’t heat up any faster if, by waiting for new technologies to emerge, we take five or ten years longer to reach our goal.
Size and scope of government — Contest the idea that government is the solution to every perceived societal ill. Embrace the idea that government should focus on a few core responsibilities and do them really well. Keep taxes low. Well, they’re not low — keep them moderate. Don’t become New Jersey. Celebrate new for-profit and non-profit business models for helping the poor.

Obviously, those are high-level themes. Republicans (or their successors) need to do the hard work of filling in the details. It won’t be easy. But do it they must, or Virginia will become New Jersey.

A version of this commentary originally appeared in the November 6 edition of the online Bacon’s Rebellion blog.

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