Call it a tipping point, a time of choosing or testing. Whatever you call it, it is clear that this election will have far-reaching consequences for both the Republican Party and our exceptional country.
While he has no doubt tapped into the anxiety so prevalent in the United States today, I do not believe Donald Trump reflects the principles or inclusive legacy of the Republican Party. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t represent its future.
As much as I reject Donald Trump as our party leader, he did not create the political culture of the United States on his own.
Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. The president has wielded his power — while often exceeding his authority — to punish his opponents, legislate from the White House and turn agency rulemaking into a weapon for liberal dogma.
In turn, a few in the Republican Party responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and anti-common-sense.
The result has been the vanishing of any semblance of compromise or bipartisanship in our nation’s capital. Simple problems don’t get solved. Speeches happen; the important stuff doesn’t. The failure of elected leaders to break the gridlock in Washington has led to an increasingly divided electorate, which in turn has led to a breakdown in our political system.
Unfortunately, the understandable anger and fear haven’t given rise to a resurgence of purpose in politics or renewed a debate in our party about how Republicans win back the White House with the power of our ideas.
Instead, they have given rise to the success of a candidate who continues to grotesquely manipulate the deeply felt anger of many Americans. Trump’s abrasive, Know Nothing-like nativist rhetoric has blocked out sober discourse about how to tackle America’s big challenges.
And, on the left, Hillary Clinton promises to continue the disastrous foreign and economic policies of the Obama administration, as well as its hyper-partisanship. She has gone as far as to say Republicans are her “enemy” — a clear sign she doesn’t have any more interest in doing the hard work of forging consensus than her former boss does.
The next four months of this campaign will be entertaining politics for sure, but I’m not overly optimistic that the presidential election will be the catalyst for restoring dynamism in our country.
I haven’t decided how I’ll vote in November — whether I’ll support the Libertarian ticket or write in a candidate — but I do know there are a lot of things Republicans can do in the coming months to lay the groundwork for rebuilding our party and the foundation for a true conservative renewal in our country.
First, there is nothing more important than retaining control of Congress and state governorships and legislatures. We need House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and others to retain this important check on the power of the White House and federal bureaucracy, no matter who wins the presidency.
Second, let’s move beyond the daily fray of who is disparaging whom on Twitter, and rally around a policy agenda that will lead to greater economic growth, revitalized leadership on the global stage and a strengthened democracy.
Rebuilding trust in our party and, ultimately, in our government, requires that we be the catalysts that lead to change. Let’s call for moving as much power outside of Washington as possible; wherever possible, we should allow states to innovate and trust families and individuals to make their own decisions. We should work to end crony capitalism and revolving-door politics; reform the federal career service system to reward performance and incentivize results; and embrace the power of technology to make government leaner and customer-driven.
Let’s pursue term limits, a balanced-budget amendment and line-item-veto authority — even if that requires calling a constitutional convention of the states. And we must also refocus on articulating a coherent foreign policy centered on the belief that restoring the United States as a world leader is necessary for our national security and the security of our allies, and that begins with leading the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.
Third, the power of our conservative principles to impact the future of this nation goes beyond federal elections. We can help rebuild those institutions outside the political arena that lessen reliance on government and that have always been the true pillars of America: strong families, strong communities and a thriving private sector.
The best anti-poverty program is a strong family, led by two parents and a vibrant community around them. Similarly, higher economic growth achieved by unleashing our free-enterprise system provides opportunity for every American, regardless of background, to get ahead based on hard work and his or her own God-given potential.
Finally, this year has taught us the risks of letting personalities run roughshod over substance and principle. Let’s reintroduce civility, ideas and optimism back into politics. Let’s find ways to campaign and govern inclusively. Let’s find ways to ease the angst and fear of people, without cynically feeding it.
We can renew our country by applying conservative principles and aspirational politics over the long haul, but it will take stick-with-it-ness and strong leadership in the years to come. The Republican Party has always been the party of hope and optimism, of opportunity and liberty. I’m confident we can be that party once again.
Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and a 2016 Republican candidate for president.