Thank you all for having me here tonight. And thank you Reince for the outstanding leadership you provide to the Republican Party. And I want to thank our great RNC members from Louisiana, Chairman Roger Villere, National Committeewoman Lenar Whitney, and National Committeeman Ross Little for all of their hard work.
Let me warn you in advance that I plan to talk big picture here tonight, and I plan to say some things that may challenge your assumptions.
You may not agree with all of it, but that’s ok, ours is a party that can handle real discussions.
And now, after losing two Presidential elections in a row, is certainly the time for some candid discussion.
I. America is not the federal government.
The first concept I want to talk about is simply this—America is not the federal government.
Take a minute to let that thought sink in. America is not the federal government.
In fact, America is not much about government at all. In America, government is one of those things you have to have, but you sure don’t want too much of it…kind of like your in-laws.
This is of course the polar opposite of the political debate in our country today.
At present we have one party that wants to be in charge of the federal government so they can expand it, and one party that wants to be in charge of the federal government so they can get it under control.
It’s a terrible debate, it’s a debate fought entirely on our opponents’ terms.
A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate.
If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win.
In our public discourse today, America is pretty much defined by government, by the latest moves that occur in Washington.
If you landed from outer space … and read the news … and watched TV for a week … you would have to conclude that Washington is the hub of America and that what happens in Washington is what drives and dictates the success or failure of America.
In addition to Washington, there are a bunch of outlying areas we call states, but they are pretty much just adjuncts of the federal government.
This is not the idea of America. But … this is what America will become if we do not reorient our way of thinking right away.
As government grows ever larger, it will become what America is all about … if we let it. This is our challenge; this is what we are here for.
Look at the debates that have dominated Washington in just the last few weeks:
The fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, and Joe Biden’s gun control task force.
These are in reality sideshows in Washington that we have allowed to take center stage in our country—and as conservatives, we are falling into the sideshow trap.
All of these sideshow debates are about government.
Government and government power are the leading lady and the leading man.
Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs…even as we invent new entitlement programs.
We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping.
This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play.
Today it’s the fiscal cliff, tomorrow it’s the fiscal apocalypse, and then it will be the fiscal Armageddon.
But I have news for you; our government already went off the fiscal cliff.
It happened years ago, and has happened every year for many years.
Today’s conservatism is in love with zeroes.
We think if we can just unite behind a proposal to cut the deficit and debt … if we can just put together a spreadsheet and a power point and a TV ad … all will be well.
This obsession with zeroes has everyone in our party focused on what? Government.
By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington—instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport, and Cheyenne.
We as Republicans have to accept that government number crunching—even conservative number crunching—is not the answer to our nation’s problems.
We also must face one more cold hard fact—Washington is so dysfunctional that any budget proposal based on fiscal sanity will be deemed ‘not-serious’ by the media, it will fail in the Senate, and it won’t even make it to the President’s desk where it would be vetoed anyway.
In fact, any serious proposal to restrain government growth is immediately deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington. The Balanced Budget is deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington.
Term Limits are deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington. Capping federal growth by tying it to private sector economic growth is deemed ‘not-serious’ in Washington.
The truth is nothing serious is deemed serious in Washington.
When then-Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling, he said he was doing so because the national debt was at an outrageous 8 trillion dollars … and he clarified for effect, saying that is “trillion with a T.”
Now President Obama has our national debt over 16 trillion dollars and climbing … larger than our entire economy. And he’s not worried about it in the least.
He calls it progress. You remember his campaign slogan, he says it is “Forward.”
I have news for the President—If Washington’s debt is going forward, America’s economy is going backward.
Instead of worrying about managing government, it’s time for us to address how we can lead America … to a place where she can once again become the land of opportunity, where she can once again become a place of growth and opportunity.
We should put all of our eggs in that basket.
Yes, we certainly do need folks in Washington who will devote themselves to the task of stopping this President from taking America so far off the ledge that we cannot get back.
We must do all we can to stop what is rapidly becoming the bankrupting of our federal government.
But we as conservatives must dedicate our energies and our efforts to growing America, to growing the American economy, to showing the younger generations how America can win the future.
That path does not lie in government. If more government were the answer, our economy would be booming right now. That path has been tried.
You can’t hire enough government workers or give enough taxpayer money to your friends who own green energy companies to create prosperity. The facts are in, it’s a disaster.
Balancing our government’s books is not what matters most. Government is not the end all and be all.
The health of America is not about government at all. Balancing government’s books is a nice goal, but that is not our primary objective.
Our objective is to grow the private sector. We need to focus our efforts on ideas to grow the American economy, not the government economy.
If you take nothing else away from what I say today, please understand this—We must not become the party of austerity. We must become the party of growth. Of course we know that government is out of control. The public knows that too. And yet we just lost an election.
Again, we cannot afford to fight on our opponents’ terms. The Republican Party must become the party of growth, the party of a prosperous future that is based in our economic growth and opportunity that is based in every community in this great country and that is not based in Washington, DC.
We have fallen into a trap of believing that the world revolves around Washington, that the economy is based there. If we keep believing that, government will grow so big that it will take us all down with it.
If our end goal is to simply better manage the disaster that is the federal government, count me out, I’m not signing up for that. It’s not a goal worth attaining.
Which of you wants to sign up to help manage the slow decline of the United States of America? I sure don’t. That’s what we have Democrats for.
The Democrats promise to be the party of “more from government,” but they are actually the party of less. They are the party of economic contraction, austerity and less from the economy. The Republican Party is the party of “more,” the party that creates “more from the economy.”
As Margaret Thatcher famously observed—first you must win the argument, then you can win the elections. And by the way, it’s time for all of us to remember that we are not in this just to win elections.
We are in this to make America the greatest she can be, to make America the prosperous land of opportunity that she can be. To do this, we will certainly have to win some elections, but first we must win the argument.
If this election taught us anything—it is that we will not win elections by simply pointing out the failures of the other side. We must boldly paint the picture of what America can be, of just how incredibly bright America’s future can be.
II. How we win the argument
So … you ask … what does that future look like? How do we win this argument?
For starters, we have to recalibrate the compass of conservatism.
We do not need to change what we believe as conservatives—our principles are timeless.
But we do need to re-orient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives—in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway.
We must lay out the contrast between liberalism’s top-down government solutions and our Bottom-Up real world philosophy.
We believe in creating abundance, not redistributing scarcity.
We should let the other side try to sell Washington’s ability to help the economy, while we promote the entrepreneur, the risk-taker, the self-employed woman who is one sale away from hiring her first employee.
Let the Democrats sell the stale power of more federal programs, while we promote the rejuvenating power of new businesses.
We don’t believe old, top-down, industrial-age government becomes a good idea just because it agrees with us or because we are running it.
We must focus on the empowerment of citizens making relevant and different decisions in their communities while Democrats sell factory-style government that cranks out one dumbed-down answer for the whole country.
This means re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington. Very few of them work in my view, and frankly, the one-size fits all crowd has had its chance.
If any rational human being were to create our government anew, today, from a blank piece of paper—we would have about one fourth of the buildings we have in Washington and about half of the government workers.
We would replace most of its bureaucracy with a handful of good websites.
If we created American government today, we would not dream of taking money out of people’s pockets, sending it all the way to Washington, handing it over to politicians and bureaucrats to staple thousands of pages of artificial and political instructions to it, then wear that money out by grinding it through the engine of bureaucratic friction…and then sending what’s left of it back to the states, where it all started, in order to grow the American economy.
What we are doing now to govern ourselves is not just wrong. It is out of date and it is a failure.
We believe in planting the seeds of growth in the fertile soil of your economy, where you live, where you work, invest, and dream, not in the barren concrete of Washington.
If it’s worth doing, block grant it to the states.
If it’s something you don’t trust the states to do, then maybe Washington shouldn’t do it at all.
We believe solving problems closer to home should always be our first, not last, option.
We believe hiring others, far away, is the last and least effective way to meet our social responsibilities to others.
States should not face a moral dilemma when they try to right size their own budgets and federal strings stand in the way.
While the Democrats work on taking more from working Americans, we should stand for radically simplifying our tax code—not for the benefit of Washington, but to get the Washington out of the way.
Get rid of the loopholes paid for by lobbyists and blow up the incentives that Washington uses to coerce behavior from the top-down.
It shouldn’t be complicated for a taxpayer to fill out his taxes…or to live his life without fear of the tax consequences of his or her choices.
When it comes to education—let the Democrats extoll the virtues of our hopelessly antiquated one-size-fits-all factory schools where the child follows the dollars.
Meanwhile, let us feature the success of child-centered education solutions that meet the needs of the digital age, education where the dollars follow the child.
These are but a few examples of the way we must fight the battle of ideas, or as Thatcher said, how we must win the argument.
One thing we have to get straight—Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states.
As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.
III. How we win the election
Now let me shift gears and speak to changes I believe we must make if we are to win elections.
As I indicated before, I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.
This badly disappoints many of the liberals in the national media of course. For them, real change means:
• Supporting abortion on demand without apology
• Abandoning traditional marriage between one man and one woman
• Embracing government growth as the key to American success
• Agreeing to higher taxes every year to pay for government expansion
• And endorsing the enlightened policies of European socialism
That is what real change looks like to the New York Times editorial board.
But that’s crazy talk. America already has one liberal party, she doesn’t need another one.
Government spending still does not grow our economy.
American weakness on the world stage still does not lead to peace.
Higher taxes still do not create prosperity for all. And more government still does not grow jobs.
If you believe in higher taxes, more debt, more government spending, weakness abroad, and taking guns from law-abiding citizens—you already have a party that is well represented in Washington.
No, the Republican Party does not need to change our principles … but we might need to change just about everything else we do.
Here are seven things that I believe we must change if we are to amass a following worthy of our principles, and if we are to be in position to win elections and lead America:
1. We must stop looking backward. We have to boldly show what the future can look like with the free market policies that we believe in. Many of our Governors are doing just that. Conservative ideals are aspirational, and our country is aspirational. Nostalgia about the good old days is heart-warming, but the battle of ideas must be waged in the future.
2. We must compete for every single vote. The 47 percent and the 53 percent. And any other combination of numbers that adds up to 100 percent. President Barack Obama and the Democrats can continue trying to divide America into groups of warring communities with competing interests, but we will have none of it. We are going after every vote as we work to unite all Americans.
3. We must reject identity politics. The old notion that ours should be a colorblind society is the right one, and we should pursue that with vigor. Identity politics is corrosive to the great American melting pot and we reject it. We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior. We must treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups. The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.
4. We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.
5. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.
6. We must quit “big.” We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, or big anything. We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive. We are the party whose ideas will help the middle class, and help more folks join the middle class. We are a populist party and need to make that clear.
7. We must focus on real people outside of Washington, not the lobbyists and government inside Washington. We must stop competing with Democrats for the job of “Government Manager,” and lay out ideas that can unleash the dynamic abilities of the American people. We need an equal opportunity society, one in which government does not see its job as picking winners and losers. Where do you go if you want special favors? Government. Where do you go if you want a tax break? Government. Where do you go if you want a handout? Government. This must stop. Our government must pursue a level playing field. At present, government is the un-leveler of the playing field.
This is a pathway forward for the Republican Party, one that honors our principles, the American people, and also, will help us win elections.
Let me conclude by making this observation—America is facing her greatest choice, and the hour is late.
We can either go down the Government path or the American path.
The left is trying to turn the government path into the American path.
Shame on us if we let them do that.
We believe freedom incentivizes ordinary people to do extraordinary things and that makes America an exceptional nation.
In the last few years it has become fashionable to talk about American Exceptionalism—the idea that this country is better and different than any other on the planet.
As Republicans we have criticized President Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism.
It is imperative that we not only promote America’s exceptionalism, we must also define it.
During the inauguration I heard a lot of commentators remark on the uniquely peaceful transfer of power we have in this country.
But let us not get confused….
Even as we must never take for granted the peaceful transition of power, America is not great because of the design of our government.
Our nation is not exceptional because of its commitment to free elections.
The genius of America is that our strength and power and growth come from the individual actions of our people.
Government does not order greatness. Government cannot command outcomes that exceed those in other nations.
But free individuals … taking risks … building businesses…inventing things from thin air … and passing immutable values from one generation to the next … that is the root of America’s greatness.
And that is our mission as we build a new Republican Party.
We must shift the eye line and the ambition of our conservative movement away from managing government and toward the mission of growth.
It falls to us to show the younger generations the wisdom and the great benefit of the American path.
It falls to us to unleash a new dawning of the American Dream—the dream my parents came to America for—a dream of growth, prosperity, and equal opportunity.
It is our responsibility to seize this opportunity and lead our country into a new era of possibility, progress, and prosperity.
It falls to us to take the ever-fresh principles of freedom and apply them to the future.
Make no mistake; I’m not calling for a period of introspection and navel gazing. Far from it.
I’m calling for us to get busy winning the argument … and then, after that … winning the next election.
Thank you, and may God richly bless you.