Young Republican Offers Prescriptions For GOP Fix

The Republican losses on Tuesday have led to a lot of self-examination in the GOP. Reihan Salam, co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, offers his insight into the future of the Republican Party.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The Republican losses on Tuesday have led to a lot of self-examination in the GOP. What's the message? What should the party do next? We're asking a variety of Republicans and conservatives those very questions. Today, a young Republican who recently published a book laying out a vision for the party's future. Reihan Salam is co-author of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." Welcome, Reihan Salam.

Mr. REIHAN SALAM (Co-author, "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win The Working Class and Save the American Dream"): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: First, one piece of post-mortem wisdom you hear a lot is, get back to conservative basics against government spending and the GOP will be healthy. You agree or disagree?

Mr. SALAM: I have to say, I disagree. I think that John McCain tried making this case and he was talking about earmarks, he was talking about wasteful spending again and again. And while those are very serious issues, and Republicans should play close attention to wasteful spending, the truth is that the issues that are really facing American families are much bigger than that. They're about the structure of our healthcare system, the structure of our pensions. They're big ticket ideas about where our welfare state is and where we need it to go.

SIEGEL: You were born in 1979, that's six years after the Supreme Court ruled in Roe versus Wade. Among your contemporaries, how popular is the cause of overturning Roe v. Wade, which seems to be a cause that you have to believe in to be on a Republican national ticket?

Mr. SALAM: Well, I think that not a lot of people understand exactly what Roe v. Wade is about. There are a lot of people who believe that you have to be for Roe v. Wade if you're for abortion rights. I think the Republican Party needs to emphasize that it is the party of local democracy. So if Connecticut wants to have one set of laws that line up with Connecticut's values, they should have it, and if Texas wants another set, that make sense, too. So I think that that's one key problem that Republicans haven't done a very good emphasizing what they're for rather than what they're against.

SIEGEL: But every Republican platform for years now has advocated a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the rights of the unborn, which really eliminates the entire states' rights or federalist argument here. Might it be a landmark for the party not to include that clause in its next platform?

Mr. SALAM: Some of the most prominent Democrats like Harry Reid, like the new governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, are pro-life Democrats and of course the Democratic Party platform is firmly committed to abortion rights. So, I think that a big-tent party, a successful party has to include people who have lots of disagreements on these questions.

SIEGEL: The Republican Party has managed to hold together cultural conservatives, often evangelical Christians, with other groups whose interests have much more to do with economics. Is the future of the party still there, being a culturally conservative party that also reaches out to people who favor free market economics?

Mr. SALAM: I think it is, but I think the people who are going to have to compromise are going to have to be the advocates of a free market and low spending. I think that conservative elites have been asking those rank and file Christian conservatives to be the ones to compromise. They've been saying, you know what, yes, you're concerned about your straitened circumstances, but we're going to keep pushing tax cuts for the rich. I think what has to happen is that the advocates of tax cuts are going to have to realize that that agenda is too narrow an agenda.

SIEGEL: But in that case, is what would distinguish the new, the grand new party that you write about from the Democratic Party, cultural conservatism? Is there a litmus test that you would leave since taxes would be more similar, economic approaches might be more similar, but the difference would be the cultural conservative issues?

Mr. SALAM: I think that that would be part of the difference, but I also think there's going to be a difference in emphasis. This was the first campaign where a Republican candidate offered less in the way of middle-class tax cuts than the Democratic candidate. That was a real mistake. I think that the Republican Party has to be the party of aspirational voters, voters who are looking to climb the economic ladder.

SIEGEL: Now you been addressing ideas that the Republican Party and programs that the Republican Party should identify with. But when it comes to people, when you look out at the horizon of Republicans who are out there who could lead the resurgence of the party, who are the names that come to mind for you?

Mr. SALAM: Well, there are two people I like in particular. One of them is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, who is a guy who is very effective at talking about healthcare in language that is accessible, but also he's someone who offers very persuasive solutions. Another guy I like very much is Mitch Daniels, the newly reelected governor of Indiana. Here's someone that not a lot of conservatives have been talking about at the national level, but he's someone who faced a really dire fiscal situation in the state, who took a lot of tough steps and managed to turn things around. So, I think that those are two people who I think of as pragmatic, results-oriented conservatives who could change the face of the party.

SIEGEL: Apart from the reelection of Governor Daniels in Indiana, and earlier this year, the election of Bobby Jindal, are there any other events out there in this week's election that you can point to, any results, either victories or even exit poll answers that you can point to and say, that's what I'm talking about, I see a glimmer of hope right there? If the Republicans take that on board and thought - you're already laughing at this question. Zero is what I hear you say.

Mr. SALAM: I think that there's some glimmer of hope in the scale of the repudiation of a campaign that turned out to be very vacuous. I think that a campaign that's not running on policy substance, that runs solely on trying to gin up the resentment of the Republican base, is going to be a campaign that's going to fail.

SIEGEL: Well, Reihan Salam, thank you very much.

Mr. SALAM: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Reihan Salam, of "The Atlantic" magazine and the New America Foundation, is a co-author of the book "Grand New Party."

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