To regain suburbs, Republicans must return to 'first principles'

The Republican Party has arrived at an inflection point where many of our policy solutions have never been more relevant to helping improve citizens' lives but our messaging style is defined by what we are against rather than what we are for.

As we approach the critical 2022 election cycle, how do we become more relevant in the Chicago suburbs and suburbs nationwide, particularly in Democrat-leaning states, where our influence has steadily ebbed over the past half decade? What are some "first principles" that can guide us?

We need messengers who can open hearts and minds, particularly those of young people, to principles such as support of the free enterprise system, the protection of First Amendment rights, property rights and the rule of law (never more important than after the appalling events at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month by individuals who do not understand, or even care, about the norms and institutions that support our fragile democracy), benefits from free trade and globalization, the judicious use of the American military as a force for global stability, and the recognition that all individuals throughout the world are created with equal dignity in the image of God.

We also need messengers who employ fact-based reasoning and ask, "What policies will best secure all my constituents' freedom and allow them to pursue happiness and fulfill their potential in the years to come?"

As Utah Sen. Mitt Romney so poignantly noted in his floor speech during the debate surrounding the certification of Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election, "the best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership."

What are some concrete policy areas showing how these principles can be put into action today? On the state level, COVID-19-related school closures have been shown to have significant negative long-term consequences on the human capital and welfare of children, particularly those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. We can fight for both children and parents, and promote economic recovery, by highlighting evidence proving that reopening can be accomplished safely, particularly for our youngest learners in Grades K-8.

This effort can be supported by the efficient appropriation of additional funds by Congress to the states to accomplish this objective, if needed, and the priority vaccination of teachers.

We should point out that many parochial and private schools have safely provided full in-person learning to their students this past fall and promote policies that give every student access to meaningful school choice.

It is important to respectfully highlight the built-in conflict of interest inherent in public sector unions versus private sector unions (even President Franklin Roosevelt, a champion of organized labor, noted that the process of collective bargaining had "insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management") and the impact that unions have had on returning children to public schools.

On the federal level, we must work towards implementing cost-effective, universal health care coverage that is not linked to an individual's place of employment. In the future, new workers will likely change jobs every three to five years and freelance work will become even more prevalent. Our current system of employer-provided health insurance is not well situated for our evolving labor market and the COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted this vulnerability.

Reforms could be incremental, such as legislation that would make Heath Savings Accounts available to more families while allowing them to put more pre-tax money into them. Flexible Spending Accounts could be reformed to keep families from losing their saved funds at the end of the year or when changing jobs.

Reforms could also be transformational, such as Sen. John McCain's 2008 health care reform plan which would have changed the tax code to encourage people to buy coverage through the individual insurance market by replacing the current tax exemption for employer-provided health benefits with refundable tax credits and allowing the purchase of insurance policies across state lines.

Inspiring examples of solution-oriented servant leaders in our party exist, both in Illinois (U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, State Rep. Tom Demmer) and nationwide (Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney). A future Republican revival in the suburbs will be led by similarly impactful messengers who can effectively advocate for lasting policy changes while seeking compromise with others who may have different perspectives than ours. They should be guided in their actions by Abraham Lincoln's words from his First Inaugural Address, "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

* Andrew Eastmond is a member of the American Enterprise Institute Leadership Network, active in Illinois Republican Party politics in Lake County where he lives, and is an airport consultant assisting large municipalities with air service development efforts at their airports

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.