An Election of Upheavals, But One of Reform?

Posted on September 13, 2016 by

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The election season of 2016 has brought massive upheavals to both political parties. For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton faced off against Bernie Sanders in an unexpectedly tough primary race. Sanders captured the spirit of many younger voters who felt disaffected by Clinton’s establishment status. Though he ultimately conceded, Sanders was able to push Clinton and the Democratic party to the left. It is likely that many of his points will have lasting effects on the Democratic platform.

This challenge to the establishment was felt much more strongly in the Republican party during the primary race, and those effects are just as long lasting. Popular, well established candidates like Cruz, Rubio, Jeb! 🐢  and Kasich flamed out in the face of Trump. Much of Trump’s success has been his high popularity among working-class white voters. It is clear that the traditional establishments within both parties have abandoned or ignored this shrinking segment of the population. Even Joe Biden openly admitted that the Democratic Party had failed to speak to these voters.  Trump has been able to speak directly to this group of people and make them feel like they have a voice.

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Whatever the eventual outcome of this election, the GOP will face dramatic changes. If Trump loses, the party will again need to look inward to see how they can capture the new, younger, non-white demographics that are critical for any future electoral successes. On the other hand, if he wins, Trump’s victory would vindicate the mostly white, rural, non-college educated electorate that has felt abandoned by the Republican establishment. Many Republican insiders have expended a great deal of effort to first prevent Trump from winning the primaries, and perhaps from winning the general election. Although some have eventually come around to publicly declaring support for Trump, it seems like they are doing so reluctantly. A Trump victory would not instantly guarantee that the party would have had time to heal and unify. Trump has upended political rules and established ways of thinking.

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Enter The Reformicons

This gap is seen as an opportunity for a certain group of reform conservative thinkers. These “reformicons” see an opening for their ideas in this election cycle. In addition to generally being vague on policy specifics, Trump’s ideas keep changing and quite often contradict each other. The reformicons are a broad group, but their general theme revolves around rethinking Republican orthodoxy– and most critically, rejecting Reagan-era thinking. Some propose rejecting additional tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year and also expanding tax breaks for lower income voters. They are against mass deportation but also support reducing the number of less-skilled immigrants entering the country. While they acknowledge that universal health care is going to stay, they also push for more market-based solutions. While the historical legacy of Reagan’s policies had formed the GOP into a party of trickle-down economics and free trade, many of Trump’s core voters have failed to reap any of these benefits. The reformicons hope to reframe and rethink Reagan’s policies for this new era of increasing inequality and globalization.

“What it means to be a conservative is up for grabs”

-Reihan Salam of the National Review

However, the ideas of the reformicons have not made it far into the world of politics. John McCain was arguably the first reformicon in this era. He argued for campaign finance reform, opposed Bush tax cuts, and even acknowledged anthropogenic climate change. In this political climate, it seems like a far fetched fantasy to have a major Republican figure hold these views.While there are some in the political establishment like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee who are part of the reformicons, McCain’s views were still far to the left of this current group. The polarization of politics has increased greatly over the last few election cycles. As the Republican party has grown increasingly conservative, reformicons are constrained in reacting against those views. Outside of the few in politics, most reformicons live in the isolated halls of activist groups and conservative think tanks. New York Times columnist wrote off the reformicons as a group who have no constituency. Many reformicons still live in the world of think tanks or activist groups like the American Enterprise Institute. Although some have written off the reformicons as a group with no constituency,  there is still space for them. This election has devolved into an ideological shouting match, but after the election policy will need to be developed and implemented as the parties also rethink themselves. When that time comes, the reformicons will be ready.

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