Republicans need independent voters — and a pragmatic new approach

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The U.S. Capitol dome against the Washington skyline.

As a lifelong Republican and political junkie, I have read for some time about the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, N.H. It has been serving all-day breakfasts since 1922 and is a “must stop” for anyone with presidential ambitions. Last week, I dropped by for pancakes while on a “listening tour” of New Hampshire and Maine.

Upon arriving, I was startled by two things. First, it is incredibly small, with four booths and a counter that can seat perhaps 15 people. Second, it was packed with independent voters and not registered Democrats or Republicans.

The second factor was a little less surprising because I knew that independents make up about 40 percent of New Hampshire voters and Americans at large, according to Gallup polling. The situation is becoming more fluid because sharper and more extreme party lines are changing and shifting this significant independent voting base that thinks independently and does not blindly follow party leaders.

While Pew Research has shown that about 80 percent of America’s independents historically lean one way or the other, more independents are up for grabs for several reasons — and this may not be good news for Republicans. According to the Bangor Daily News, Maine has added roughly 60,000 new registered voters since the last gubernatorial election, and Democrats added nearly twice as many new previously independent voters than Republicans during that period.

As America becomes more partisan and divided, independents are going from complacent to energized, in part because of the way both parties are recklessly running up the national debt and bungling both economic and foreign policy.

“What the hell is going on in Washington?” is a common refrain I hear from independents across the nation as they rapidly lose trust that party elites are capable of — or even interested in — looking out for most Americans. My impression is that independents clearly will play a critical role in this fall’s midterm elections and in the 2024 presidential election.

A backdrop for this growing political unrest and unease is the superpower rivalry between China and the United States. Since 2000, China has gone from representing 3 percent of the global economy to about 17 percent, while America’s share has dropped from 28 percent to 23 percent. The American brand of a dynamic economy, political stability and military strength is tarnished, which is why China views our country as divided, distracted and in decline.

To turn things around and keep America as the world’s leading power, the first order of business is for the Republican Party to achieve in 2024 a decisive victory with a governing mandate of 55 percent and an eight-year agenda focused on what unites and matters most to Americans: economic, financial and national security.

The GOP cannot win or get to 55 percent with only registered Republicans; the party needs to attract a majority of independents. This means leading with optimism and focusing its agenda on three things: getting America’s finances in order, providing a roadmap to greater economic and financial security, and pushing a smarter, more pragmatic foreign policy.

In short, America can’t afford “politics as usual” with a Washington elite that talks a good game and then “kicks the can down the road.” Instead of just reacting to the crisis of the day, those in Washington must confront problems with courage and imagination. It’s what Americans expect of their leaders. Unfortunately, courage and imagination among elected leaders seem to be in short supply.

No question that when it comes to federal spending, the Biden administration is FDR on steroids, with $6.8 trillion of federal spending in fiscal 2021. But Republicans have been big spenders as well since at least 2000. Over the past five years alone, more than $10 trillion has been added to the national debt, fueling inflation — and scaring the hell out of independent voters. 

In fiscal 2021, federal spending reached a remarkable 30 percent of GDP. By a blend of private investment-led economic growth and some political backbone, we need to get spending much closer to 20 percent.

On health care, ObamaCare is still too expensive and does not contain costs. Republicans should counter the left’s call for “Medicare for all” with “Medicare Advantage for more.” The latter would offer private company competition and management, and the potential to reduce costs and premiums.

Then, instead of just verbally attacking Democratic socialism, Republicans should defend and expand capitalism. One way to do this is to sharply expand the number of Americans with a stake in the stock market. This should include a limited allocation of U.S. stocks in the Social Security Trust Fund. Even with the recent pullback, the S&P 500 index has delivered average annual gains of 13 percent over the past decade. Before long, the trust fund could be growing and we could maintain benefits while cutting FICA taxes on working Americans.

Another idea is to offer $10,000 Advance Roth IRA accounts for each American newborn. This could be funded by the Federal Reserve’s interest income from the Treasury bonds on its balance sheet, thereby requiring no new taxes. The $10,000 would be paid back by the new, more productive worker’s initial FICA taxes. By age 20, these accounts likely would be worth at least $40,000, and by age 40 could be worth $300,000 or more. Financial security, literacy and educational achievement all would soar, perhaps resulting in lower drug use and crime.

On foreign policy, we need a pragmatic “conservative internationalist” approach that leads with economics, deploys armed diplomacy, and — with the help of our allies — contains flashpoints such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Taiwan far before they become massive problems or worse wars. It also requires a more agile, focused and technologically advanced military to deter China as we seek a favorable balance of power and freedom of navigation in the Indo Pacific.

Finally, Republican-leaning independents must be organized and aggressive in backing candidates during primaries and not just sit back and wait for the Republican nomination to be decided. Independents likely will determine the outcome of the struggle between Republicans and Democrats at home — and, in turn, the U.S.-China rivalry in the world.

Carl T. Delfeld is a senior fellow at the Hay Seward Center for Economic Security, publisher of the Independent Republican, and was a staff member for the late Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) His latest book is “Power Rivals: America and China’s Superpower Struggle.”

Tags 2022 midterms 2024 presidential election conservatives independents Republican Party

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