Republicans have decided not to publish a party platform for 2020.
This omission has led some to conclude that the GOP lacks ideas, that it stands for nothing, that it has shriveled to little more than a Trump cult.
This conclusion is wrong. The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans.
Once you read the list, I think you’ll agree that these are authentic ideas with meaningful policy consequences, and that they are broadly shared. The question is not why Republicans lack a coherent platform; it’s why they’re so reluctant to publish the one on which they’re running.
1) The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens. Lower this level, as Republicans did in 2017, and prosperity will follow. The economy has had a temporary setback, but thanks to the tax cut of 2017, recovery is ready to follow strongly. No further policy change is required, except possibly lower taxes still.
2) The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out. States should reopen their economies as rapidly as possible, and accept the ensuing casualties as a cost worth paying—and certainly a better trade-off than saving every last life by shutting down state economies. Masking is useless and theatrical, if not outright counterproductive.
3) Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.
4) China has become an economic and geopolitical adversary of the United States. Military spending should be invested with an eye to defeating China on the seas, in space, and in the cyberrealm. U.S. economic policy should recognize that relations with China are zero-sum: When China wins, the U.S. loses, and vice versa.
5) The trade and alliance structures built after World War II are outdated. America still needs partners, of course, especially Israel and maybe Russia. But the days of NATO and the World Trade Organization are over. The European Union should be treated as a rival, the United Kingdom and Japan should be treated as subordinates, and Canada, Australia, and Mexico should be treated as dependencies. If America acts decisively, allies will have to follow whether they like it or not—as they will have to follow U.S. policy on Iran.
6) Health care is a purchase like any other. Individuals should make their own best deals in the insurance market with minimal government supervision. Those who pay more should get more. Those who cannot pay must rely on Medicaid, accept charity, or go without.
7) Voting is a privilege. States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege in such a way as to minimize voting fraud, which is rife among Black Americans and new immigrant communities. The federal role in voting oversight should be limited to preventing Democrats from abusing the U.S. Postal Service to enable fraud by their voters.
8) Anti-Black racism has ceased to be an important problem in American life. At this point, the people most likely to be targets of adverse discrimination are whites, Christians, and Asian university applicants. Federal civil-rights-enforcement resources should concentrate on protecting them.
9) The courts should move gradually and carefully toward eliminating the mistake made in 1965, when women’s sexual privacy was elevated into a constitutional right.
10) The post-Watergate ethics reforms overreached. We should welcome the trend toward unrestricted and secret campaign donations. Overly strict conflict-of-interest rules will only bar wealthy and successful businesspeople from public service. Without endorsing every particular action by the president and his family, the Trump administration has met all reasonable ethical standards.
11) Trump’s border wall is the right policy to slow illegal immigration; the task of enforcing immigration rules should not fall on business operators. Some deal on illegal immigration must be found. The most important Republican priority in any such deal is to delay as long as possible full citizenship, voting rights, and health-care benefits for people who entered the country illegally.
12) The country is gripped by a surge of crime and lawlessness as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and its criticism of police. Police misconduct, such as that in the George Floyd case, should be punished. But the priority now should be to stop crime by empowering police.
13) Civility and respect are cherished ideals. But in the face of the overwhelming and unfair onslaught against President Donald Trump by the media and the “deep state,” his occasional excesses on Twitter and at his rallies should be understood as pardonable reactions to much more severe misconduct by others.
So there’s the platform. Why not publish it?
There are two answers to that question, one simple, one more complicated.
The simple answer is that President Trump’s impulsive management style has cast his convention into chaos. The location, the speaking program, the arrangements—all were decided at the last minute. Managing the rollout of a platform as well was just one task too many.
The more complicated answer is that the platform I’ve just described, like so much of the Trump-Republican program, commands support among only a minority of the American people. The platform works (to the extent it does work) by exciting enthusiastic support among Trump supporters; but when stated too explicitly, it invites a backlash among the American majority. This is a platform for a party that talks to itself, not to the rest of the country. And for those purposes, the platform will succeed most to the extent that it is communicated only implicitly, to those receptive to its message.
The challenge for Republicans in the week ahead is to hope that President Trump can remember, night after night, to speak only the things he’s supposed to speak—not to blurt the things his party wants its supporters to absorb unspoken.