A Season of Goodwill and Good Governance
For the past several years, conservatism has battled an identity crisis. Fundamental questions surround the Republican Party’s commitment to its own principles. Now, in the wake of a presidential electoral loss and a final defeat at the hands of the conservative-majority Supreme Court, we hear unserious and reckless calls for secession, rather than a gracious admission of defeat or a willingness to learn from it.
Conservatives need not wallow in an existential crisis or lose hope after the presidential loss. Widespread Republican successes in down ballot races — contrasted with President Trump’s loss — might suggest an end to a years’ long deviation from conservative political orthodoxy. As an aside, the mixed 2020 electoral results certainly serves a blow to the "dead consensus" trope pushed by nationalist “conservatives” who seem to want to run off free market capitalists and small “l” libertarians from the conservative coalition.
Rather than driving out traditional members of the coalition, conservatives should be expanding the movement on the tails of the 2020 election. To do so, conservatives should return to their roots while applying their core principles to public policy in innovative ways.
Conservative gains down ballot revealed that the Right is winning several important battles, arguably thanks to a more coherent, appealing message than those on the Left. Their focus on economic opportunity and rule of law appealed to a broad range of constituents, including a record number of socialism-averse Hispanic immigrants, pro-school choice minority moms, and working-class white Americans.
The challenge will be retaining and expanding this growth through a suite of dynamic, but principled, policy prescriptions that resonate with emerging voting blocs.
If we hope to capitalize on this new growth and protect against the divisiveness that preoccupied too much of our time over the past several years, we must move past the infighting and “govern by tweet” approach that has shaped so much of our discourse as of late.
Conservatism, properly understood, is a commitment to upholding the constitutional order. A conservatism of goodwill looks like a society where individuals, families, and communities are strong. It implies a multi-tier, federal system where the government is held accountable at every level.
What tidings of comfort and joy will conservatism offer Americans in 2021?
The social conservative-classical liberal alliance that developed over the 20th century was both a marriage of necessity and compatibility, as George Nash chronicles in his History of the Conservative Intellectual Movement. The commitment to ordered liberty — a belief that the state should be limited and that individuals and their communities are capable of self-government–has long been a unifying principle for conservatives.
We have seen millions of historically marginalized Americans suffer at the hands of progressive politicians who have repeatedly disrespected their dignity and ignored their plight by forcing more government regulation and meddling into their communities. What does a conservatism of goodwill look like in their context?
Here are three policy platforms that Right-leaning politicians and policymakers should champion over the next several years if they hope to retain, expand, and strengthen their fragile consensus:
Education reform: Many conservatives have argued that school choice is the civil rights issue of our time. For all of the Left’s alleged commitment to equality, their militant resistance to allowing parents to have a say over their children’s education exposes their words as hollow platitudes. Rank and file Democrats continue to parrot the highly politicized platforms and curriculums peddled by teachers unions, while conservatives across the country have repeatedly led the way in ensuring education funding follows the student.
School choice rightfully ends the practice of children being locked out of good schools because of their zip code. It makes the American Dream within reach for scores of children by giving those that are economically disadvantaged access to a better education.
Affordable housing: An increasing number of Americans will have access to affordable housing if our nation’s cities reform their archaic, unjust zoning restrictions. By respecting the rights of landlords and property owners to rent and sell their property as they see fit, rethinking land use regulations, and getting rid of minimum parking restrictions, cities can drive down the cost of housing in a non-invasive way.
Zoning restrictions in costly metropolitan cities created a market that shut out many of society’s neediest. “By liberalizing existing restrictions on construction, development, and use, more housing will become available,” we argued earlier this year. Furthermore, removing onerous housing restrictions neutralizes the role identity politics plays in the housing debate and allows for a greater supply of affordable homes.
Opposing the Regulatory Slow Boil: In a recent WSJ interview, Elon Musk spoke about regulation as “slow boil of the frog,” noting how easy it is, even at the state level, for regulations to lock emerging entrepreneurs out of the market. Now, Tesla, along with Oracle and HP have announced moves to Texas. They join a growing number of Californians and California companies voting with their feet against high taxes, high regulations, and high cost of living by moving to more economically free states. The flight from California has become a regular punchline: Comedienne Bridget Phetasy recently quipped “Beginning to think Gavin Newsom is getting commission on Texas real estate.”
The departures from California and New York, indicate conservatives are winning the argument about economic freedom. Conservatives should look to the economic policies that are working in places like Texas and champion them in blue states to bring opportunities to more Americans.
Conservatism, properly understood, is about resilience and sustaining a good society. Instead of pinning our hopes on a charismatic leader running for the presidency in 2024, conservatives should build on their successes in the courts, Congress, statehouses, and with mobility to economically free Red States. This can be done by building a platform of policies designed to improve people’s quality of life, ranging from healthcare, the economy, immigration, trade, and education.
In a year riddled with loneliness and pain, conservatives are equipped to speak to the beauty and benefits of strong families and communities. In cities that have seen more than their fair share of unrest and unemployment, conservatism has solutions that focus on justice and human flourishing.
As the nation recovers from the pandemic and economic hardship, conservatism needs its own recovery. We cannot offer hope to others if we have lost hope ourselves. That hope and resilience will only come by returning to first principles, a commitment to good governance, and goodwill for our fellow Americans.
Doug McCullough is Director of the Lone Star Policy Institute and partner at McCullough Sudan PLLC law firm in Houston Texas.
Brooke Medina is Director of Communications at Civitas Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina.