Politics & Policy

Reformocon Group Bids to Shape GOP Agenda in 2016

(Orhan Çam/Dreamstime)

A group of conservative writers and policy experts unveiled a new suite of reforms Tuesday that they hope could set the tone for the 2016 presidential election and shape the GOP agenda if Republicans retake the White House.

The Conservative Reform Network — which grew out of the “Young Guns” movement spearheaded by Representatives Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan — aims to bring innovative new ideas to the GOP policy platform, and their proposals have circulated among tea-party and establishment Republican lawmakers alike over the last year. Now, with the 2016 election cycle in full swing, they’ve also attracted the attention of GOP presidential hopefuls, who may draw on their ideas to craft a winning message — and an agenda that could deliver conservative policy victories if Republicans retake the White House.

“The problems that our nation faces — that families and entrepreneurs and even established businesses and our communities face today aren’t the same problems that we faced when Reagan was elected,” Neil Bradley, CRN’s chief strategy officer, said Tuesday. “Because the problems aren’t the same, the solutions can’t be the same either.”

To that end, the group unveiled three new policy papers at Google headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, pertaining to higher education, startups and entrepreneurship, and the environment. They are the first tranche in a series of proposals called Room to Grow, which CRN hopes will build on a reform-conservative manifesto of the same name that it released last year. That book attracted the attention of Republican lawmakers ranging from tea-party senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). Lee and Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) later proposed a tax-reform plan that bears the hallmarks of some of CRN’s ideas; Lee also wrote legislation reforming the college-accreditation process that CRN touted in the new white paper on higher education.

Congressional Republicans seem to think the new policies, as tested in various states and outlined by the so-called “reformocons,” could help improve the GOP’s standing among some of the voters who propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.

With the 2016 elections on the horizon, the reform-conservative movement has gone presidential.

“You know the old rap on conservatives, that the conservatives don’t care,” Senate majority whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) said during the CRN event at Google. “I think we can demonstrate that our policies actually are the ones that help with the wage growth, help with job creation and the flexibility and the freedom that we believe in in our bones is the right recipe for people to pursue their dreams no matter how modest their station in life or the circumstances of their birth.”

With the 2016 elections on the horizon, the reform-conservative movement has gone presidential – Cornyn, for instance, praised former governor Rick Perry for creating a strong economic environment in Texas. April Ponnuru, CRN’s senior adviser — and the wife of NR senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru — also serves as an adviser on former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s campaign. Rubio, of course, has emerged as another reform-minded contender for the Republican nomination. “At least 16 contributors to Conservative Reform Network’s Room to Grow projects have advised or are advising several presidential campaigns,” CRN spokesman Travis Hall says.

The conservative-reform movement’s emphasis on innovation could be especially appealing to the Millennial voters who have spurned Republicans in recent elections, according to Echelon Insights founder Kristen Soltis Anderson.

Anderson pointed to President Obama’s decision to take credit, during an MTV interview, for a Republican-led repeal of regulations banning crowd-funding as a testament to the power of a conservative innovation message. “This was a masterful answer, it’s a conservative answer, it’s a conservative answer about repealing onerous regulation, and it’s actually based on a bill that came out of the House with Republican support, the JOBS Act,” Anderson said during Tuesday’s event.

#related#More than appealing to particular voting groups, the conservative-reform agenda may clarify the usual left–right debate in 2016, providing an effective counter to the liberal tendency to have federal-government experts set policies for the whole nation, one panelist suggested.

“If you look at these proposals, one of the things that unites them is certainly a sense that where Americans thrive and where American society draws its strength from is those institutions that exist between the individual and the state,” said Yuval Levin, an NR contributor who edits National Affairs and the Room to Grow series.

“Let people make choices that matter,” Levin said, “not because we have some kind of fetish for choice but because we think that is ultimately more likely to arrive at solutions to genuinely serious and difficult problems than thinking that if we just get the right people in a room in Washington, that they’ll come at it.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter at National Review.

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