Where Republicans Go From Here

logoBy Jeb Bush

To start, we should back a constitutional convention to pass term limits and a balanced budget clause.

lincoln_12875269Donald Trump’s successful primary campaign was predicated on the idea that the GOP needs a new messenger and a new message.

Mr. Trump proved that he was right—as I well know, since I was often in his target sights! He successfully tapped into the anger and deep distrust that voters feel toward Washington. These voters believe the American dream is increasingly out of reach. They believe our system is skewed in favor of the powerful and the connected. They believe that the politicians elected to right these wrongs have only made them worse. And they overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Trump, giving him a hard-won victory.

But here’s something we shouldn’t forget: This election was more about voting against something than voting for something. Americans voted against the “establishment,” against the country’s changing culture, against a dysfunctional Washington, against the privileged, against Hillary Clinton—and, yes, against Donald Trump.

For the GOP to build on its victory, Republicans have to recognize that we’re still in a divided country—which incidentally gave Mrs. Clinton roughly two million more votes than Mr. Trump. Republicans need to do more than oppose things. We have to be for a few big ideas and show that we can put them into action.

The GOP has no excuse for failure. We are in charge of both the executive and legislative branches in Washington, and we dominate in the states like never before. We have the power to set the agenda, and we have the responsibility to govern, not merely on behalf of the voters who supported President-elect Trump, but for all Americans.

So let’s focus on what Republican leaders can do to build on this electoral success, whether in the White House, Congress or the states.

Americans, by wide majorities, agree that Washington is broken, so let’s send power back to the people and back to the states. Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced-budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory power than the Founders intended.

The federal government has become too unwieldy, too powerful and too distant—precisely the problem that the Constitution was designed to avoid. The breakdown of our constitutional system isn’t a theoretical discussion. It’s affecting every American in real ways. Republicans’ job is to make a compelling case for change and then help citizens regain power over their lives, from the bottom up.

What will this mean? The GOP should use its power in Congress and state capitals to test ideas to transform education, limit burdensome regulations, accelerate innovation and unleash our economy. Republicans should stand behind emerging technologies that are helping people customize their lives in new and dramatic ways. This is our chance to contrast our approach, which trusts people to make good choices, with the failed Democratic and progressive top-down approach, which prefers government to decide almost everything.

Most critically, Republicans should reverse the Obama-era policies that have made America weaker, both here and abroad. We need to repeal and replace ObamaCare, eliminate business-killing regulations, and reverse the massive expansion of government. While we protect our borders and our laws, we should also take on the hard work of reforming legal immigration and affirming the role that immigrants play in building up our economy and our nation.

Republicans can’t expect to be trusted to lead unless we help restore American leadership in the world. We must act with clarity, consistency and resolve. We must protect and reassure our friends and allies. I remain hopeful that as he assumes the role of commander in chief, Mr. Trump will come to understand and appreciate how important it is that the U.S. return to a foreign policy of peace through strength.

Within our own party, there is much work to do. Republicans must restore our brand as the party of conservative ideals, shared prosperity, liberty and responsibility. We have to fuse the party to a modern conservative movement that speaks to 21st-century problems and produces 21st-century solutions.

We can do this without stooping to the identity politics of the left. Let’s not focus on angst, grievance and division over race, class or gender. Our party must be big-hearted and creative and opportunistic. We must make it clear that there is no room in our tent for despicable bigotries like racism, misogyny or anti-Semitism.

I will continue to pray for President-elect Trump and his family. I pray he governs inclusively, with humility and with purpose. I pray that he will be led by a deep love of this nation and each of its citizens, regardless of background or ZIP Code.

And I want him to know that I hope for his success. I hope that he broadens the GOP, works across the aisle and governs with pragmatism and compassion. There are many who did not vote for him who agree that what matters most now is that this nation unites and moves forward together. I will work to support those goals.

Mr. Bush, a former governor of Florida (1999-2007), ran this year for the Republican nomination for president.

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