A party of ideas, not a cult of personality

Throughout its long history the identity and meaning of our Republican Party has always been shaped by big ideas and bold visions. Whether it was the party led by Abraham Lincoln in the fight to abolish slavery or the party led by Ronald Reagan in the fight to lead our allies in ending the Cold War, the bold ideas have mattered, not the individual, and shaped a successful and valuable vision.

Unfortunately, and quite distressingly, over the last four years our party has veered away from core values and big visions, to devolve into a fiefdom of one person. Cult-like loyalty has never led to good. Democracy requires vigilant and persistent questioning and vigorous debate. Frederick Hayek writes graphically in “The Road to Serfdom” about what happens when a society gives up the free exchange of ideas.

To win elections over the long term and ensure that the Republican Party is successful, we must turn away from protectionism, nativism and isolationism — which is to turn away from the message espoused by Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE. Our party and our country have been most successful when we have embraced reasonable measures for the protection of our environment, globalization, multinational relationships and free trade, fiscal responsibility, and safe and legal immigration.


The environment consistently ranks as one of the top concerns of Millennials and the generation following them, as well as suburban voters, a traditional Republican base. Climate change is real, and it is a threat. We can lead the world in reducing our carbon footprint, fighting sea level rise, and protecting our waters. It is important to remember that Republicans have traditionally led the way on important environmental issues. President Teddy Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service and many national parks to protect our natural resources, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, and President George H.W. Bush implemented measures to combat urban smog and acid rain. We need to reclaim our legacy of Republican stewardship of the environment.

It is sad to see that in Republican dogma, globalization and free trade have become dirty words and that protectionism has taken over. The facts are that interconnected, globalized trade has increased the economies of both developed and developing countries, including the United States, and has drawn countries together through mutual self-interest, which has enhanced global security and stability since World War II. Shared economic interests are the most enduring means of aligning nations’ strategic interests. Since our country is a developed economy based on consumption and service, we benefit more than most from free and frictionless trade. We can accomplish this while also ensuring that nations like China, which do not share our values and often compete unfairly, do not gain advantage over us. There are strategic supply chains and products over which the United States must maintain critical production capability, like 5G components and microchips. We have unfortunately let much of this lapse.

Over the last four years, I have consistently criticized the excessive, irresponsible spending promoted by both parties, which has taken our national debt to a stratospheric $27 trillion. Although most individuals are now numb to these dollar amounts, the uncomfortable reality is that debt matters and unless we get spending under control, sometime in the future it is inevitable that our standard of living in America and stature in the world will suffer. Republicans must return to a focus on fiscal conservatism and explain clearly and concisely why it matters.

Lastly, Republicans have always believed in legal, appropriate levels of immigration. America has a history of welcoming immigrants to integrate into our nation and build families, create businesses, and prosper as members of our communities. Facts are that the United States needs both high skilled and entry level workers to support and grow our economy.

At the end of the day, the Republican Party must propagate a message that reaches a wide cross section of America. A message which is inclusive, welcoming, and based upon the traditional values we have held from the beginning. The cult of Donald Trump is not the answer and our leaders should not pander to him. Time to move on.

Francis Rooney represented Florida’s 19th District from 2017-2021 and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005-2008.