Republicans’ First Goal: Win Back Voters’ Trust in Washington

Voters sent a crucial message in last week’s midterms: They want change. Unfortunately, President Obama and Democrats didn’t seem to be listening. They’re already advocating the same tired agenda and maintaining the same leadership that developed it.

It wasn’t always clear that the Republican Party would properly interpret the results either. After all, it’s difficult to check your ego after a wave of this magnitude. But the fact is, as Yuval Levin writes for National Review, “this is an election that the Democrats lost far more than an election that Republicans won.” The voters clearly didn’t like the direction President Obama was taking the country, and were willing to do anything to change course, but they have yet to give Republicans a mandate to govern.

What Republicans have realized is that the next two years are about restoring trust, rehabilitating the conservative brand, and advocating for conservative solutions, such that they can achieve true conservative governance in 2016. How do we do it? Sen. Mike Lee offers a great start:

The greatest challenge to policymaking today is distrust. . . .

Rather than resent or deny this fact, Republican leaders should embrace it. We should throw open the doors of Congress, and restore genuine representative democracy to the American republic.

No more “cliff” crises. No more secret negotiations. No more take-it-or-leave-it deadline deals. No more passing bills without reading them. No more procedural manipulation to block debate and compromise. These are the abuses that have created today’s status quo—the status quo Republicans have been hired to correct.

Of course, restoring trust will require more than just not doing things, it will require proactively changing the process to one that is open and collaborative. In short, Republicans should think about governance the same way they would the economy: Foster good ideas regardless of the source, encourage entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas, nurture young talent, allow and encourage debate, and reject cronyism. None of those things happened under the iron-fisted, top-down rule of Harry Reid and as a result the people’s business got bottled up by politics. If Americans are every to trust Republican governance, that has to end.

Republican leaders have also made a commitment to focusing on policies, not politics, in order to unclog the legislative process.

“[W]e will restore an era in which committees in both the House and the Senate conduct meaningful oversight of federal agencies and debate legislation; and where members of the minority party in both chambers are given the opportunity to participate in the process of governing,” write Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell.

Of course, Republicans will now have the benefit of setting the agenda, which will allow them to not only show voters that things can get done in Washington, it will allow them to create a clear contrast in agendas in the run to 2016. Here’s what that means and doesn’t mean according to National Review’s Yuval Levin:

That doesn’t mean that lots of Republican ideas get enacted, or even reach the president. The filibuster will prevent that. It means, rather, that those ideas get killed in Senate votes instead of getting killed by the Senate’s unwillingness to vote. And that’s a significant difference, because it puts both Republicans and (for the first time) Democrats on the record in a meaningful way.

Levin is right to think that this is important, not just because sketching a contrast between Republicans and Democrats will be key for voters, but because the process of creating and pursuing a conservative agenda will allow us to rebuild the brand through honest policy debates.

That creates at least as much opportunity for errors as it does for successes, especially when the president still controls the bully pulpit and the media will largely disagree with us, but there are certainly pitfalls we should make sure to avoid. Perhaps the most prominent is just offering up programmatic budget cuts without fundamental reforms.

“Just spending less on a misguided program doesn’t get you any closer to a real solution than just spending more on it,” Sen. Lee writes. “If the program is dysfunctional—if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, and what it supposed to do is worth doing—fix it.”

And that’s the point. The federal government does have a role to play in fixing some of the problems that face our nation. Republicans were elected not to dismantle Washington, they were elected to fix what Democrats broke. It’s time to show that we can.