Finally, the United States has borrowed from the future by spending more than it receives from taxes and by releasing more climate-changing gases than it absorbs. Both of these binges must cease if this generation intends to keep faith with the Constitution’s promise to secure the blessings of liberty for posterity.
The Republican Party is losing its ability to prevail in democratic competition. One solution to that dilemma, the Trump solution, is to weaken democracy so that a minority can dominate a disunited majority. The 2018 midterm elections will offer a referendum on whether that method can work. If Republicans avoid too-severe losses, the party will likely continue on its present antidemocratic path. But if the losses are significant, the party might be forced to find its way to a more inclusive politics, one that is less plutocratic, less theocratic, less racially chauvinist. Such an evolution will not be easy, but it can be achieved, if moderate Republicans are willing to fight for it.
The liberal Republicans of the 1960s and ’70s faded into irrelevance because they would not go toe-to-toe for their principles. As Mark Schmitt of New America has written, “They were not ideologues, but the opposite. They put loyalty to party, right or wrong, over their other commitments.” His unfriendly valedictory points to a useful lesson: A political faction need not be huge to exert influence over a party, provided it leverages its power by threatening to leave when its core priorities are in jeopardy.
In a 2015 debate among Republican presidential hopefuls, Fox News’s Bret Baier asked each candidate whether he or she would pledge to support the ticket regardless of the winner. Only one refused: Donald Trump. After the debate, then–Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus scurried to gain Trump’s signature on a pledge form. Why did no organized group of Republicans serve Trump and his backers a taste of their own medicine? If Trump wins, we leave. In politics, it’s very often the people nearest the exits who claim the most attention.
A liberal Republicanism should demand reforms that forbid the corrupt practices of the Trump presidency. It should accept that expanded health coverage is here to stay—about time!—and then work to increase competition, incentives, and fair pricing within a universal system, so as to combat the wasteful American habit of spending more health dollars than any other developed country, for worse health outcomes. It should seek fiscal and environmental balance, by cutting spending, by taxing greenhouse-gas emissions, and by taxing consumption more and investment less.
As increasing numbers of Democrats shift leftward on economic issues, even to the point of identifying as socialists, their party is becoming more statist and more redistributive. Many Americans will reject this approach, and they will need a party to champion their beliefs. At a time when populists muse about nationalizing Google’s data and regulating Facebook as a public utility, liberal Republicans should harken to Theodore Roosevelt’s tradition of restraining monopoly abuse yet upholding free enterprise and private property.