Tim Carney has an interesting take on where the GOP should go from here: economic populism. Now economic populism usually means what Obama practices: spread the wealth around class warfare. But Carney is advocating a different kind of populism:
The new Republican populism shouldn’t blame the “47 percent” of Mitt Romney’s imagination, or immigrants seeking to make a better life. The new Republican populism should declare war on the cronies and special interests who use big government to rig the game in their favor and deny opportunity to those trying to climb the ladder and live the American dream.
The GOP is out of power and it needs to play to the disaffected. The disaffected are not the wealthy, an obvious point that conservatives can’t seem to understand. The wealthy got wealthier under Obama, and corporations earned record profits while median family earnings fell. Obama uses these facts to defuse the charges he’s a socialist. Republicans should use them to show that Obama’s big government expands the privileges of the privileged class.
Instead of trying to convince successful people that Democrats will take away their wealth, why not explain to the middle class that big government is keeping them down?
When it came to picking up the economy, the Romney campaign seemed a little too focused on cutting taxes for job creators and businesses. That’s important, yes. But there is a growing perception among many Americans that these policies would be useless because the game is rigged. Banks and auto industries got handouts the rest of us paid for (or, more accurately, borrowed for). Our consumer choices narrow and wages fall. Millions have been out of work, not just for months but for years. And the perception is not that this is just a downturn; the perception is that something has gone deeply wrong.
We’ve talked about the issues underpinning this a million times: massive complex regulations that crush small business while favoring big ones; handouts to crony capitalists; tax loopholes; cable monopolies. Everything our government has done over the last 12 years has served to empower a narrow group of businesses and individuals. And those businesses that do rear up immediately start playing the Washington game, sometimes just to survive. This isn’t a problem of Barack Obama being a corrupt nincompoop. This is a problem of a system that favors corrupt nincompoops.
As bad as things are on the federal level, they are worse at the state and local level. The government of DC — entirely Democratic — has made cabs into a virtual monopoly and is fighting Uber, a private driver app. They recently passed a regulation, as many cities have, trying to effectively abolish food trucks (or at least bring them to heel for political donations and begging for waivers). The Institute for Justice has spent years fighting this, recently triumphing in a case to allow an order of monks to build caskets in defiance of a state-created oligarchy. And these are just two examples.
The Democrats have long charged that we don’t have a level playing field in this country. The Republicans need to jerk the rug out from under them by saying, “You know what? You’re right. And you know who made the playing field unlevel? You did.”
John Huntsman dipped his toe in these waters during the primaries, calling for a tax structure that would slowly break up the “too big to fail” banks. But Romney, possibly because of his background, never talked about it. He dinged Obama on the auto bailouts but then claimed he’d have bailed them out in a different way. TARP never came up. He talked about streamlining regulation but only in the context of helping “job creators”; never in the context of fairness. He talked about tax reform in the context of supply-side economics; but never in the context of fairness. And I don’t mean fairness in the way the Democrats do, where you pay for my healthcare. I mean that we all play on a level field. That businesses rise and fall based on their performance, not on their ability to manipulate the tax and regulatory codes.
In the aftermath of the election, people think the GOP needs to change its philosophy and go liberal, despite the rightward shift of the voters. I don’t think that’s the case, per se. What they need to do is back out of the intellectual cul-de-sac they’ve wandered into with the same old talking points and make it clear why conservatism is good for everyone. Not because what benefits the wealthy or big business benefits the rest of us but because the playing field needs to be leveled. That’s an issue that can appeal to everyone — conservative, liberal and libertarian.