Since their defeat in the 2020 elections, there have been two schools of thought in Republican circles. The first, ably articulated by Sen. Mitch McConnell and a handful of legacy Republicans, believes that the pathway to victory lies in making the election a referendum on the incumbent party. The second school of thought is that a victory based on a platform of not being someone else is essentially meaningless and not worth having.
Last week, former Vice President Mike Pence and his excellent and experienced team at Advancing American Freedom released their thoughts about what the Republicans need to do in the event they ever again control some portion of the federal government.
Happily, they came down squarely and emphatically in the camp of those who believe that politics has to mean something.
Their Freedom Agenda is a clear set of ideas and policy proposals that advance a vision for the future of the American people: expanded and shared economic opportunity, the curation of American strength as a force for good in the world, and the preservation of American culture. The agenda is explicitly and happily framed as necessary steps on the journey to strengthening and confirming American freedom and greatness.
Mr. Pence describes it: “The Freedom Agenda presents a bold agenda focused on the future and offers a clear and compelling choice to the American people. Conservatives across the country can unite around this plan to keep America from further decline and decay brought on by President Biden and progressive policies.”
Some of the proposals are very, very good. The agenda calls for the federal government to work with state and local governments and churches and nonprofits to promote adoption, foster care and crisis pregnancy centers. Make it easier to reduce and more difficult to increase federal spending. Preclude funding programs that have not been authorized by Congress. Require state and local jurisdictions to condition high school graduation on knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. Index the capital gains tax to inflation. Treat communist China as the adversary that it is.
Some are oldies, but goodies — abolish the Department of Education.
It is silent on a couple of elements — term limits for judges as well as elected officials and a regulatory budget.
But those are quibbles. The important thing is that Mr. Pence’s agenda contains actual ideas that voters can understand and measure against other ideas.
Legacy Republicans are still not ready to acknowledge that politics and governance have to be about something other than steadfastly maintaining the status quo. The national party, which failed to produce a platform in the 2020 election cycle (thank you, Team Trump), seems to be comfortable remaining silent and hoping that not being Mr. Biden is sufficient to regain congressional majorities.
Having nothing to say about what one might do once in office is, mercifully, not sustainable in a democracy. The more entrepreneurial Republicans — including Mr. Pence — have produced sets of ideas they intend to pursue if in the majority. For that they should be commended.
The purpose of a national government is to ensure the preservation and improvement of the nation and its citizens. Everything else is persiflage. The winner of the 2024 campaign for president will be the person who can best defend the American way of life, in all dimensions of that phrase. Mr. Pence has made a strong opening bid with his Freedom Agenda and its emphasis on the primacy of American culture in our current struggle.
Let the games begin.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the co-host of “The Unregulated” podcast. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly reported on policy proposals not included in the Freedom Agenda. The president’s ability to hire and fire workers is included.
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