American Principles Project (APP), a socially conservative organization located just outside of Washington, DC, released a new report entitled “Family First: Reclaiming the GOP’s Forgotten Constituency.” (Full disclosure: I work with APP.) 

In it, Terry Schilling, APP’s executive director, Frank Cannon, APP’s President, and Paul Dupont, APP’s communications director, make the case that the Republican Party is dependent upon the existence of healthy families to remain politically viable in the upcoming election and the long-term. To that end, APP emphasizes that Republicans must adopt a pro-family agenda in 2020.

This report is reminiscent of the organization’s 2013 rebuttal of the Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” of the 2012 election. In their reply they stated that a winning GOP coalition requires conservatives to do two things:

  1. Reject the truce model in favor of an integrated model that uses social issues, as appropriate, to pursue Hispanic voters and other new non-white voters.
  2. Construct a conservative economic message that takes into account voters’ current economic pain and future economic aspirations.

The newly released “Family First” paper notes two things that President Trump did to build a successful coalition that resonate with the advice they gave in 2013. 

The first thing they said, “Trump refused to adopt a ‘truce strategy’ on social issues, instead using social conservatism to his benefit.”

Is President Trump a paragon of virtue? No. Did he adopt some of these policies for political expediency, most likely. Was it effective to do so? Absolutely. 

Objectively, President Trump has followed through on a number of his promises, primarily by executive order, which is unfortunate, but Congressional Republicans share the blame on that score. The Trump administration has implemented many religious liberty and conscience protections and has moved to defund more money from the abortion industry than any administration before him. 

That’s just a fact. Also, the vast majority of President Trump’s judicial picks have been excellent. Is his record perfect? No, but better than I’ve seen from previous Republican administrations. Trump has benefitted from a Republican-led Senate willing to work with him, and the Democrats’ precedent deep-sixing the filibuster on judicial nominations also helped.

Again, none of this excuses his character flaws, incivility, and a cesspool of a Twitter account, but it is an objective fact.

It’s also the reason he has held onto the support of a vast number of social conservatives and evangelicals. 

Also, they note that the left (who did not declare a truce on culture issues) overreached on the abortion issues and LGBT issues pointing to several recent polls that demonstrate an opportunity for Republicans.

The second thing President Trump did to build a winning coalition was to adopt an economic platform that discarded traditional GOP messaging and instead focused on American workers.

APP notes that the focus on “job creators” was a losing message in 2012. They note that Mitt Romney ran his campaign centered on the themes of job creation and economic growth and still lost by a nine-point margin as voters saw the Democratic Party as more likely to deliver a better economy.

They point out that President Trump instead focused on manufacturing jobs, renegotiating trade deals, and stricter immigration policy. 

As a result, Trump gained among white working-class voters, a voter bloc that Democrats traditionally won, thereby defeating Hillary Clinton in the Rust Belt. 

“This blend of cultural conservatism and economic populism proved a potent formula, and it led to the Republican Party’s largest electoral college victory in more than two decades,” Schilling, Cannon, and DuPont write. 

Earlier in the paper, looking at the results of the 2018 mid-term elections, they warn, “If the GOP decides merely to pursue the suburban voters it lost, wooing them with a message of tax cuts and economic growth, it will fail.”

The most compelling aspect of the paper, I believe, was the data behind it. They drew on data from a survey of 5,285 Americans ages 20-65 conducted after the 2018 midterm elections by the Austin Institute on behalf of APP. Some of the most critical findings from the survey include the following:

  • In 2018, Republicans won more than 45% of married voters, while they won only 38% of divorced voters and less than 26% of cohabiting and never married voters.
  • Among women, Republicans still won 45% of married voters, while winning only 33% of divorced voters and less than 22% of cohabiting and never married voters.
  • Black and Hispanic married voters were twice as likely to vote for Republicans as were their divorced, cohabiting, and never-married counterparts.
  • Minority voters from intact families were nearly twice as likely to vote Republican as those from other situations (30% to 16%).
  • Married respondents and those from intact families were more likely than average to hold conservative views on a range of social issues (abortion, marriage, child gender transitions) and economic issues (free markets, government regulation, taxation, income inequality).

Looking at those results, they contend that Republicans urgently need to prioritize a comprehensive policy platform that aims at encouraging and strengthening American families. 

They write, “On cultural issues, Republicans need to recognize and articulate the serious threat which progressive social policy presents to the family and also be able to offer a positive vision on how social conservatism is at its root directed toward strengthening American families and communities. And on economic issues, Republicans need to completely change their traditional reference point. Rather than prioritizing the interests of ‘job creators’ (i.e. businesses) and emphasizing abstract measures of economic production like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Republican candidates must instead outline of vision that prioritizes the needs of working families and focuses on alleviating the greatest financial obstacles to family formation.”

To that end, they offered a 2020 agenda that highlights several policy areas:

Parental rights: They advocate a “Parental Rights Act,” as well as legislation that protects a parent’s right to direct the medical care of their child. They say Republicans should oppose sexual orientation and gender identity accommodation laws. They also support the appointment of judges who understand the seriousness of protecting parental rights. 

Education: They advocate school choice initiatives (I assume primarily at the local and state levels). At the federal level, they promote the expansion of 529 tax-advantaged savings accounts. They also call for the empowerment of states and school districts to fix curriculum in public schools. (I would recommend that Republican candidates push classical education and drop workforce development, social-emotional learning, and personalized learning like a hot potato.)

Abortion: They urge Republicans to support laws that recognize the unborn child’s right to life, such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. They also press Republicans to oppose the government funding of Planned Parenthood. They also advocate measures such as the unborn child tax credit.

Pornography:  No candidate is talking about the scourge of pornography, and they should. Fifteen states have already declared it a public health crisis. APP advocates that Republicans support the Federal Trade Commission to require internet service providers to provide their customers with an “opt-in” for obscene conduct, not just a voluntary opt-out. They also state Republicans should support efforts to restrict and punish distributors of “revenge” pornography, and “deep fake” pornography.

Commercial surrogacy:  APP states that commercial surrogacy is not a good example of the free market at work. They note it “creates an underclass of victimized women through this dangerous practice and turns children into commodities that can be solicited, purchased, and permanently separated from their biological parents and birth mother.” They say Republicans should oppose any effort to legalize it.

Sound money:  APP states that Republicans should support regulatory and monetary policies that facilitate the re-monetization of gold. They say this would enable Americans to use gold as money that would subject the Federal Reserve to greater market discipline and re-empower working families.

Pro-family tax policy: They say Republicans should support taxing families and corporations at the same rate. APP noted that Republicans, wrongly, made the tax cuts for corporations permanent under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, but didn’t do the same for families. They also say Republicans should support making those tax cuts permanent, increase the child tax credit, and other creative tax credits that would help parents face the increasing cost of raising a family.

Paid family leave:  APP states that Republicans should support a budget-neutral paid family leave plan like the CRADLE Act, New Parents Act, and Cassidy-Sinema plan. Those plans, they say, represent fiscally sound proposals to give parents the needed financial cushion to take a couple of months off from work to stay at home with their new child.

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