It has been decades since an incumbent Republican President was defeated at the ballot box. But our party has been here before.
After the stain of Watergate, Republicans were wiped out in the 1976 elections. The New York Times even declared the Republican Party as close to “extinction.”
As governor of California, Ronald Reagan offered a clean break from the country club Republicanism of the Washington establishment. He worked to move past the scandals, the taint, and the navel-gazing — and set a bold and optimistic vision of America that was focused on the everyday concerns of working people.
Just four years later, he was elected to the presidency in a landslide, creating a movement that endured for a generation.
The Republican Party can still make a strong comeback
The Republican Party can once again come back stronger than ever before. But, just like in 1980, we need to look outside of Washington to do it.
Outside the Beltway, Republican leaders are delivering results every day, working across party lines to rebuild our infrastructure, reduce the cost of living for working families, and grow the economy. And that’s what Americans overwhelmingly want — regardless of their party affiliation, race, gender or ethnicity.
But in Washington, both parties have been more concerned with winning arguments than actually solving problems.
COVID-19 has shown this problem in stark relief: For months, workers, families and small businesses have been hurting and in need of an immediate lifeline. Instead of working until they reach a solution, Congress took vacations. While some of Washington worked to find a compromise, their efforts were treated as just a distraction from the campaign.
Compare that to how our state and local leaders responded to this crisis. As COVID-19 struck our shores, I was proud to be leading the nation’s governors as chair of the National Governors Association. Republicans and Democratic governors came together to help each other, share best practices and push for action in Washington. We understood that in times of crisis, politics has to be put aside.
Our economy has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but our nation’s infrastructure has been crumbling for decades.
The cost of housing, healthcare and a good education are out of control and out of reach for everyday Americans. One party in Washington wants to impose radical solutions that would create more problems than they would solve. And the other party in Washington, too often, offers no solutions at all.
In Maryland, we’ve shown that it’s actually possible to make bipartisan progress on these issues. We’ve worked together to reduce health care insurance premiums over 30% and to move forward on nearly all of the highest priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction all across our state. Without raising taxes.
Many Republicans in Washington want to return to the way things were before 2016, while others want to proceed as if this election never happened. This is a false choice.
The answer is not to return to a party that frequently only spoke for the Washington establishment. For decades, too many in our party appealed to the memory of Reaganism while forgetting it’s true spirit.
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We dogmatically applied obsolete policies without recognizing how the world had changed or questioning old assumptions, as President Reagan did.
We used past successes as an excuse for obstinance, forgetting President Reagan’s call to “begin the world over again.”
We let conservatism become the language of the country club, Washington think tanks, and the Senate cloakroom instead of speaking to the working men and women who powered the movement in the first place.
That’s not what our party needs.
But we also don’t need and can’t afford any more of the division and toxic politics we’ve seen these last four years.
Much of Washington has bought into the fiction that the way you vote is pre-determined by where you were born, where you live, the color of your skin, who you love or where you worship.
Even in this divisive election, Republicans made modest gains with Black and Hispanic voters, many of whom are turned off by a toxic brew of elitism and political correctness run amok on the far-left.
We’ve already proven in Maryland that Republicans can win support from majorities of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, suburban women, and young people. But Republicans can’t keep missing opportunity after opportunity to expand our tent nationally by failing to embrace a unifying message.
What most Americans really want
Over two-thirds of Americans — what’s been dubbed the “Exhausted Majority” — are simply fed up with the angry politics. And they feel completely ignored by Washington.
Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of Americans want the same things.
They want humble, tolerant, respectful and effective leaders who work together to find commonsense solutions.
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They want us to appreciate that no one of us has all the answers or all the power.
They want a free and open discourse that tolerates contrary views among a diverse citizenry, not a cancel culture that turns political adversaries into enemies or doubts their patriotism.
They want a government that protects the vulnerable, but doesn’t dictate how we live our lives.
They want a strong America that stands for its allies, freedom and human dignity around the world, but doesn’t take for granted the sacrifices required for it.
They want to stand with their neighbors and feel proud of their country.
I still believe, as President Reagan did, that America is the last best hope of man on earth. And the best hope of our nation is a Republican Party that once again looks outside of Washington for answers.
Governor Larry Hogan has been governor of Maryland since 2015. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryHogan
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican party needs to look outside of Washington to move forward
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