Republicans Must Refocus on Restoring the American Dream

American is a nation of go-getters. We have become the wealthiest nation on earth because, above all things, we work for it. That’s a point Marco Rubio made in the same speech in which he suspended his campaign for the presidency.

We are a hopeful people, and we have every right to be hopeful. For we in this nation are the descendants of go-getters. In our veins runs the blood of people who gave it all up so we would have the chances they never did. We are all the descendants of someone who made our future the purpose of their lives. We are the descendants of pilgrims. We are the descendants of settlers. We are the descendants of men and women that headed westward in the Great Plains not knowing what awaited them. We are the descendants of slaves who overcame that horrible institution to stake their claim in the American Dream. We are the descendants of immigrants and exiles who knew and believed that they were destined for more, and that there was only one place on earth where that was possible.

Settlers. Pilgrims. Slaves. Immigrants. Exiles. In grade school we were taught that America is a melting pot of ideas, customs and traditions, but what Rubio argues is that the tie that binds us is the gamble our ancestors took on the unformed idea that became America.

Just as important, it became the American Dream – the notion that a person, regardless of their station at birth, can become successful through hard work. Sadly, that Dream has broken down. As one Ohio small businessman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Salena Zito: “We don’t fit in with Washington. We have done absolutely everything that we were supposed to do all of our lives and our values are looked at as backwards. Our homes are worth less than we paid for them and there is no great replacement for the jobs we are skilled to perform.”

That feeling is pervasive. A recent RAND Corporation survey found that the strongest predictor of a voter’s support for Donald Trump is if they “somewhat” or “strongly agree” that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”

Although much of the blame for that growing resentment rests at the feet of liberal Democrats, who cloak big government solutions under the palatable banner of populism, we, as Republicans, share some of the blame. April Ponnuru and Ramesh Ponnuru write for National Review:

This nominating season is showing us that the old conservative formulas for winning elections aren’t working any more — even within the Republican party. If we want to bring conservative change to the country, we are going to have to adapt.

Even many Americans who do not identify as liberals do not feel that the conservative agenda of the last four decades has much to offer them. Trump has, after all, been able to thrive while disagreeing with or ignoring much of that agenda.

One of the problems the Ponnurus identify is that conservatives “look at the economy too often through the eyes of business owners, and not often enough through the eyes of their employees.”

So what should be done? First and foremost, we must re-align the conversation so that the first item on the conservative agenda is not lowering the marginal tax rate for labor income. The benefit, which comes through an expanded economy, is in some ways outweighed by the costs to the budget, especially since there are better bang-for-your-buck alternatives to fostering growth. More than that, we need to focus on policy proposals that speak directly to the middle class, who are being pulled out to see by economic tides that are out of their control.

James Pethokoukis, writing for The Week, lays out some thoughts:

Use your political capital to formulate a middle-class agenda that acknowledges the challenges as well as the opportunities from globalization and technological change. This might mean expanded tax credits or payroll tax cuts for working-class families. Maybe even broad wage insurance for people who lose their jobs, whether to offshoring or the robots. Social Security reform that improved benefits for those at the bottom. And wouldn’t the GOP be better off if voters thought it was the party obsessed with making higher education a better value for students as opposed to cutting taxes at the top?

We are a nation of go-getters and of hard workers. But if we, their descendants, feel as though that no amount of go-getting and hard-working allows us to achieve the American Dream, then the promise of this country has been lost. It’s time to reclaim it.