Intra-Republican Policy Fights Will Enliven 2024 Campaign
Beyond Trump or ‘someone else’ lurk rifts on taxes, business, abortion, and marriage.
Think past the coming bitter fight between President Trump or “someone else.” One of the hopeful things about the coming 18 months is that they will give the Republican primary electorate a chance to help the party, and the country, sort through some substantive issues.
The presidential candidates — some of them at least — will no doubt try initially to avoid getting pinned down. They’ll resort to vagueness, dodge the questions, and attempt to redirect the conversation toward the flaws of President Biden, which are manifest.
That makes some sense. A “big tent” Republican Party that manages to appeal broadly, and simultaneously, to libertarian “leave-us-alone” types and to Christian conservatives, to country-club coastal corporate types and police-union members alike, has been part of the party’s electoral successes from Reagan through George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
To govern is to choose, though. If a Republican does manage to win back the White House in 2024, he or she will be in a stronger position to act with the benefit of guidance from the electorate on a few key issues. Voters, advocacy groups, journalists, and even some dark-horse candidates will press for clarity, rather than obfuscation. Precision, after all, can also be a political strength. Trying to get elected president while hiding from the voters what you’d actually do once in office is a strategy that carries its own risks.
Here are some questions on which the Republicans could benefit from making some choices over the coming campaign:
What’s the tax plan?
Some Republicans want to use the tax code to reward certain behavior or to achieve policy goals, pushing ideas like an expanded child tax credit or even a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Others see taxes mainly as a way to raise revenue for the government while minimizing distortions of behavior and while maximizing economic growth.
Which rates to change, for whom, and how?
Would any Republican dare make a play for suburban voters or those in high-tax states by lifting President Trump’s cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes? Federal marginal income tax rates on individuals, topping out at 37 percent, are higher than the 28 percent level at the end of the Reagan administration. Would any Republican be bold enough to run on restoring the Reagan rates?
What’s your post-Dobbs view of abortion law and of same-sex marriage?
There’s fairly broad Republican consensus that the Supreme Court was correct to scrap Roe v. Wade, but there is considerable diversity of opinion about what comes next in terms of reproductive rights, a privacy right, and the federal law. Some Republicans want a federal law banning abortion. Even at the state level, there are differences over later-term restrictions or full-fledged bans.
On same-sex marriage, which some see as threatened by the logic of the Dobbs decision, 12 Senate Republicans voted to advance federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and the rest of the Senate Republicans opposed it.
If the Republicans don’t figure out a position on this as part of the nominating process, expect Democrats to make a big deal of it in the general election, as they did, with some success, in the 2022 midterms.
What’s your view of big business?
The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, tweeted November 28: “As Chinese citizens bravely protest, Joe Biden & the corporate class shrug.” Governor DeSantis got into a fight with Disney. Some Republicans seem eager to transform the GOP into a party that fights against the corporate class from a party that represents the corporate class. If you think the stock market is sagging this year, imagine what your retirement account could look like when investors realize that the Republican leadership sounds suspiciously similar to that of Senators Warren and Sanders.
What limits, if any, are there on American support for Ukraine?
President Biden has sent $19.7 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. Would Republicans keep it flowing at that rate? Slow it down? Step it up? Relatedly, was Mr. Trump right to speak of “ending the era of endless wars”?
What’s your view on immigration levels?
Beyond the situation at the southern border is the question of how to address what to some U.S. employers seems like a labor shortage. Will any Republican dare talk about immigration as a possible solution to America’s problems and as a source of American greatness, rather than as just an ongoing crisis?
If President Trump wants to make the election about more than just him and his personality, an issue-based campaign is a possible approach. If Mr. Trump doesn’t take the opportunity, who will?