TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Time for a conservative comeback

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
Font Size:

2012 was a rough year for Republicans, but it is not foreordained that the GOP has to wear the loser dunce cap again in 2016.  The Republicans can rise again. What they need is a strategy for a comeback.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan has already suggested that the GOP get out front of the Democrats on a series of issues, including immigration reform. This is a good idea, but let me add two more issues other than immigration reform to the docket.

The first is to reform our drug laws. What if the GOP supported the decriminalization — or, even better, legalization — of marijuana? Talk about an issue that could make many college students reconsider their reflexive opposition to the GOP.

It’s also not clear to me why supporting sending people to jail for using marijuana is a conservative position. Conservative giant Bill Buckley certainly didn’t think it was. On a philosophical level, it makes no sense. On a moral level, it’s just wrong. Why should we be sending people to prison for consuming something that directly harms no one other than possibly themselves?

At the state level, pro-marijuana legalization and decriminalization advocates have momentum. Some states have already legalized marijuana, or at least “medical” marijuana. But federal law hasn’t changed. It isn’t too late for the GOP to wisely step out in front on this issue and steal it as their own.

Here’s another out of the box idea — so out of the box that it deals with Uganda.

In Uganda, there is a bill before the parliament that could make homosexuality a crime punishable by death, though some reports say the death penalty has been removed from the bill and life imprisonment is now the top penalty. The bill, which has come to be known as the “kill the gays bill,” could soon be voted on, according to reports.

Needless to say, the legislation is abhorrent and an affront to human rights. What makes the matter worse is that some renegade American preachers have been blamed for inspiring the bill, if not supporting it, making the problem more of an American issue than it might otherwise be.

Why doesn’t a conservative GOP senator — or senators — pick up the cause and speak out strongly against this human rights travesty, demanding that the Uganda parliament reject the bill lest there be penalties?

Maybe this would help the GOP with the gay community by showing that just because conservatives generally oppose gay marriages, they are not indifferent to violence against gays around the world.  Maybe it wouldn’t help. But at the very least, it would be the right thing to do.

Make no mistake, taking the lead on these issues alone certainly won’t ensure GOP success in 2016. I support conservatives taking the initiative on them first and foremost because they are good policy, both morally and philosophically. But as an added benefit, they do have the potential to help the GOP with constituencies they failed to connect with last November – and do so without sacrificing any central tenet of conservatism.

This is not moderation. On the fundamental issues of economic and foreign policy, conservatives are in the right.

But outside of being right on the issues, the GOP needs to communicate conservatism better. They have to explain to the American public how conservative ideas can revive America. Conservatives need happy warriors — leaders who “grin when they fight,” to paraphrase the great Winston Churchill.

Conservative leaders also have to be in touch with the culture. In theory, this should not matter all that much. In practice, it does. Obama connected with the public in a way Mitt Romney did not. That may not have been the only reason Obama won re-election, or even the predominant reason, but it certainly benefited Obama.

What conservatives need is someone who is, well, Rubio-esque. Conservatives need a candidate who is not only instinctively conservative, but one who can passionately and persuasively communicate conservatism — a candidate who can go into any environment and meet with any constituency without seeming awkward or out of place.

It’s true that few of the GOP’s potential 2016 candidates fit that bill. It is, after all, a hard bill to fit.

It just may be that in 2016 conservatives will come to the conclusion that there is no one more Rubio-esque than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio himself.

Follow Jamie on Twitter