The Comeback Strategy
The GOP will broaden its base by promoting likable candidates and greater economic opportunity.


Mario Loyola

Here, Republicans have done nearly as much damage as Democrats. They have championed programs such as No Child Left Behind, which invade the regulatory autonomy of the states and subvert it through “conditional grants.” Because the residents of the states are already paying for the programs, state governments simply cannot refuse the assistance — it’s their billions to start with. And it was Republicans who created the Environmental Protection Agency and unwittingly empowered it to deputize state agencies in sweeping regulations of society that no Congress would ever pass. Congress must reassert control over the rule-making process in executive agencies such as the EPA. And states must fight back against the Trojan horse of “cooperative federalism” programs on the fiscal and regulatory front. Regulatory reform must be a top agenda-item for Republicans in Congress. The “separation of powers” between federal and state governments should become as cardinal a principle as the separation of church and state.

The conservative tidal wave of 2010 was motivated in large measure by an enormous groundswell of support for the Constitution and its limits on federal power. Alas, Romney hardly mentioned the document. Yet the greatest danger of a second Obama term is the continued erosion of our Constitution’s limits on federal power. Reclaiming the Constitution for state and local self-government goes hand in hand with the libertarian mindset that many new members of Congress will bring with them to Capitol Hill. The GOP’s basic position should be that moral and social issues are no business of the federal government’s and should be left to states and local communities. And, by the way, that is precisely the arrangement our Constitution was designed to ensure.

President Obama is what Walter Lippmann called a “gradual collectivist.” He stands for majority rule unbridled by any constitutional limits — in other words, for the tyranny of a transient national majority. Reviving the Constitution’s protections against the tyranny of the majority should be a matter of first priority, both in legislation and in federal-court appointments. In the new Senate, the Republican staff of the Judiciary Committee should spend the first three months of 2013 producing a “State of the Constitution” report, with recommendations for fixing some of the holes that nearly 80 years of big federal programs have blown in the Constitution. Such a report could be a standard for conservatives to unite behind.

Finally, a lot has been said about the need to enlarge the Republican coalition to include non-whites, particularly Hispanics. George W. Bush won in 2004 partly by capturing about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Romney, by contrast, barely got 27 percent. This poor showing (the worst in decades for a Republican candidate) means that the acrimonious immigration-reform debate that began alienating Hispanics in 2006 has had structural consequences.

The solution is not amnesty. We simply cannot reward law-breaking, and illegal immigration is law-breaking. The GOP must insist on the rule of law. The lasting solution here is to eliminate the vexing issue altogether, by dramatically reducing the economic incentive to immigrate illegally in the first place. People go where they think they can find jobs. Electronic employment verification (such as E-Verify) has led millions of illegal immigrants to self-deport from states such as Arizona and Mississippi to states (such as Texas) where they know they can find work. Adopting some kind of E-Verify nationwide could stop the flow of illegal immigrants, cause millions more to self-deport back to their countries of origin, and would benefit the tens of millions of lawful Hispanic immigrants who now have to compete with illegals for work. Visa reform can then make sure that American businesses have access to the immigrant labor they need.  

Conservatives share Hispanics’ desire for a society that offers upward mobility. That promise, and a culturally more inclusive party, can attract large numbers of Hispanics (many of whom are socially conservative and believe in economic freedom) back to the GOP. Those who say that Hispanics vote Democrat because they are poorer and depend more on the social safety net, and that they will vote that way regardless of the GOP’s stance on immigration, have a point. But Republicans have succeeded in creating the impression that they don’t care about the little guy, especially if he’s Hispanic. Republicans must change that, and they can — by offering solutions to the obstacles Hispanics face. That means making education and health care more accessible and affordable through innovative market-based solutions that Democrats habitually block. And it means promoting high-growth policies and the upward mobility they will bring.   

Ultimately, the only way that Republicans can enlarge their coalition and remain true to their principles is to offer greater opportunity than the Democrats can. They should give poor and middle-class people of all colors a stake in the future, by embracing pro-growth policies that can unleash the incredible potential of our private sector. To prove that they are not “radical individualists,” Republicans should empower states and local communities to do things their way. In the end, however, the vision of limited government, economic freedom, and self-reliance must prevail. The future of the Republic depends on it.

We have mostly lost sight of the free society that the Framers sought to enshrine and protect in our brilliant Constitution. It falls to the next generation of GOP leaders to make that vision persuasive to a broad majority of Americans. And there’s no time to waste. 

— Mario Loyola is director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.