Don’t Abandon the GOP — Change It
How Andrew Yang can serve as a model for tomorrow’s Republican Party
Following Donald Trump’s dramatic departure from the White House, a group of concerned Republicans met on a Zoom call, cohosted by Evan McMullin, to discuss forming a center-right party to work against the quasi-authoritarian fringes that have hijacked the GOP. Thus far, every attempt to claw back control of the Republican party from the MAGA-faithful has been strangled in its crib, so the smart money is betting that McMullin and his band of misfits never get this movement off the ground. On the other hand, it’s possible that the January 6th insurrection jolted enough support away from the former president within his own party to give moderates a chance to launch a legitimate counteroffensive in 2022.
Some have suggested that this crusade to carve out a moderate wing of the Republican party is quixotic. Republican critics of McMullin’s plan assert that for the sake of our Democracy, principled conservatives should just vote for Democrats until this mutated version of the GOP is sufficiently weakened that it creates “space for the reemergence of reasoned Republicanism.” Not only is this approach misguided, but it also plays into the hands of Trump and his lackeys. Removing all intra-party resistance to Trumpism will only lend support to their charges that traditional conservatives never possessed the fortitude to do what was right for the country, further emboldening these dime-store hucksters.
You cannot save Republicanism — or our democracy — by ceasing to be Republicans. Our system of government is adversarial by design. In practice, it’s most effective when the left and the right are forced to confront one another’s ideas in the public fora. A consensus reached through one group’s self-censorship is, by definition, not consensus.
Moreover, to vote against one’s own beliefs isn’t “principled” anything — quite the opposite. Conservatives who distance themselves from the GOP now will never have the credibility to lead the party after advocating for its defeat. In order to beat back the Trump insurgency, the principled conservatives and moderates that remain in the party need to rebrand and retool for a new era.
The inconvenient truth is that this ideological battle must be fought on two fronts: McMullin and company must regain control of the Republican party while remaining a constructive counterweight to the Democrats. The center-right party of tomorrow will need to stand for conservative, free market principles while projecting renewed vitality with a bold new vision for America’s future. They’ll need to maintain an anti-establishment image to earn the trust of the Republican base that has become disillusioned with American democracy, while accepting the legitimacy of liberals and their concerns as well. Finally, in order to have a viable future, they must craft a message that expands the party by appealing to younger voters, women, minorities and independents (for example, by adopting a more tolerant posture on certain social issues).
At first, this may seem like a tough needle to thread politically. Fortunately, to accomplish all of this, they need not reinvent the wheel. What they need looks a lot like Andrew Yang.
Over the course of the 2020 election cycle, Yang’s campaign demonstrated that a sizable bloc of support already exists for a candidate with center-right views (though polls have long indicated this was the case). Since the Democrats rejected Yang’s brand in favor of what they perceived to be a more electable candidate in Joe Biden, Republicans now have the opportunity to pick and choose elements of Yang’s populist platform a la carte and use it to build a coalition of voters broad enough to take back the party. As certain distressed liberals have already pointed out, Yang’s platform wouldn’t require much tweaking in order to appeal to conservatives.
In fact, Universal Basic Income, Yang’s signature policy proposal, already has a history of GOP support. Alaska, a state dominated by Republicans, has had a form of UBI since 1982. Milton Friedman believed it could be used to reform the welfare system. Now even Republicans like Mitt Romney are proposing that the federal government pay a child allowance to families with children to address child poverty in America.
Targeted cash relief isn’t the only page a center-right party could take out of the Yang Gang playbook. His policy stances and rhetoric are a political tightrope-walk that nets him broad appeal among moderates across the ideological spectrum.
He’s pro-choice, but criticizes language that “celebrates abortion.”
He resisted calls to “defund the police.”
He’s in favor of charter schools — sorry, “good” schools — saying that Democrats who want to limit charter schools are “just jumping into bed with teachers’ unions and doing kids a disservice.”
When Bernie Sanders demanded free college, Yang insisted that wouldn’t solve the problem.
In a party being overrun at the grassroots level with democratic-socialists fed up with the shortcomings of a capitalist system, Yang regularly praises free markets. Indeed, one of his main selling points is his experience as a successful entrepreneur.
He wants to subsidize utility companies who upgrade our infrastructure with tax cuts, shrink the federal government and modernize the military.
In the most polarized political atmosphere in recent memory, where many candidates try to succeed by appealing to radicals within their party, Andrew Yang has succeeded in becoming a household name by instead building a coalition of moderates. The success of this movement is evidenced by the fact that, despite holding many center-right views, Andrew Yang is the front runner to become mayor of one of the most liberal cities in the country. Such is the power of coalition-building.
If moderate Republicans emulated that posture in their messaging strategy, along with firm language on immigration and trade to bolster their credentials with conservatives, a sizable chunk of Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats would be drawn into the fold of an evolved form of Republicanism. Such a bloc of voters would be large enough to outweigh the far-right fanatics still sipping Trump’s Kool Aid in the 2022 Republican primaries, especially in the many red states that hold open primaries. This hypothetical group would also likely perform well against Democrats in the suburban districts lost under Trump. Apparently, this pitch even works in urban centers like New York.
More encouraging is that we already know the Yang platform plays well with conservative audiences. He has been a regular guest on Fox News for the past decade, first appearing on Cheryl Casone’s show “Cashin’ In” back in 2011. Since then, he has done interviews with Fox hosts Neil Caputo, Bill Hemmer, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham. Outside of Fox, he has also appeared on The Ben Shapiro Show. This is no accident. The producers of these shows know that their Republican and independent viewers are sympathetic to Andrew Yang’s proposals. Center-right candidates looking to pick up this platform and run with it would already have significant momentum.
One thing is certain: the next generation of the GOP cannot run on the same neoconservative platform as the defeated establishment of yesteryear. The era of neoconservative control of the GOP had it’s time, but that time is past. It was routed in the 2016 primaries. It became overly reliant on a stale message that appealed only to its donor class and failed to adequately respond to the concerns of its real base of supporters. Somewhat poetically, the party that was so skeptical of evolution failed to adapt.
For those who are discouraged by the resilience of Donald Trump’s approval numbers in the face of his many illiberal transgressions, I would offer the following perspective. Up until this point, Republican leaders have never offered any real alternative path forward for the party. The base only has two options: hand the keys back to the old guard, or keep riding the crazy train with the Inciter in Chief. When presented with this choice, it’s true that many Republicans choose the latter, but that statistic only paints a partial picture. These voters need a legitimate alternative choice that both addresses the issues they care about and embraces their values. Until someone offers that alternative, they have no reason to change course.
It’s time to consider the possibility that tomorrow’s GOP will have more in common with progressive Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt than with neoconservatives like Ronald Reagan. Evan McMullin and his “center-right” coalition can succeed by being a party that embraces fresh perspectives and a new image. By adopting a modernized centrist platform like the one Yang is offering, the soul of principled conservatism can enter a younger, more vigorous body that offers solutions to 21st century issues like automation, globalization and the role of powerful tech firms in a democratic society. Once that option is on the ballot, yet another Trump brand will fade from relevance.
The alternative, forming a third party that solely exists to siphon off votes from Trump-approved candidates and guarantee Democratic victories, is short sighted. The voters will not take kindly to candidates deliberately trying to sink their own party. These people are already convinced that the system is rigged against them and the Dear Leader is the only one who understands their plight (because the system is rigged against him too!). A third party designed specifically to destroy their movement, but offers no substance of its own, will only stoke a louder anti-establishment battlecry behind Trump’s candidacy leading into 2024 (or, if Donald Trump doesn’t run himself, whichever sycophant Trump designates as his successor to lead their “movement”). Plus, no one who thinks they have a future in politics is going to volunteer to be a sacrificial lamb, so they’ll end up running a slate of amateurs who will be crushed before this new party ever gains momentum. This will only further discredit the notion that “principled conservatives” have what it takes to lead this country.
Likewise, if the remaining Republican moderates abandon ship and support the opposing side, they’ll lose credibility among a bloc of voters they must recapture if they are going to bring the Republican party back from this madness. To state what should be obvious, ceding control of an entire political party to rage-addicted lunatics will only exacerbate the tribal atmosphere. The objective should not be to abandon the GOP, but to reclaim it.
If this is to be accomplished, the next generation of Republicans needs a forward-thinking platform that fuses conservative ideology with fresh energy. It’s not enough to be anti-Trump. You need a message. Andrew Yang has one, and the Democrats weren’t interested — yet.