After the defeat in the 2012 presidential election, GOP leaders commissioned what became known as an “autopsy” of the failed campaign. In victory, however, conservatives will need something very different: an exorcism of the forces that have possessed and ultimately distorted, conservativism. Conservatives need to:
1. Address the legitimate grievances that buoyed Trump with the white working class, but find a way to separate them from the toxic elements of Trumpism, including its authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, and isolationism.
2. Return to first principles and revive classical liberalism as an alternative to progressivism on the Left and authoritarian nationalism on the Right.
3. Revitalize a policy agenda that has grown tired and nostalgic. Simply repeating the mantras of the Reagan years is no longer enough and demanding ideological purity is a self-defeating strategy. The alternative may include taking a fresh look at what so-called Reformicons have been saying for the last decade.
4. Be willing to tell hard truths: about the importance of limited government (even if it means we don’t get everything we want), free markets (and why governments should not pick winners and losers), and the need for American leadership in the world (despite the siren call of the new isolationism).
5. Break free from the toxic thrall of corporate cronyism and K-Street coziness. Recognize that being pro-business is not the same thing as being pro-free market if it means handing out favors and goodies to special interest moochers. The 2016 election was a revolt against this kind of rigged, insider-dealing culture and the GOP had it coming.
6. Realize the demographic bomb that Trump has planted in the GOP. The appeasement of Trump may have alienated Hispanics, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans and women for a generation. Restoring the party’s ability to appeal to those groups will require more than a cosmetic makeover, but failure to do so will consign the party to political oblivion.
7. Drain their own swamp, starting with the alt-right and its bigoted, anti-Semitic minions. Lines must be drawn, lest the GOP morph into a Bannon-esque European-style National Front party.
8. Confront the conservative media that boosted and enabled Trumpism and created a toxic alternative reality bubble that threatens the credibility and sanity of the conservative movement. Conservatives cannot continue to out-source their message to the drunk at the end of the bar or the cynical propagandists on the internet.
Charles Sykes is an MSNBC contributor and former co-host of the national public radio show, “Indivisible,” which is originated from WNYC. His most recent book, "How the Right Lost Its Mind," published by St. Martin’s Press, was released in October 2017.
This essay is adapted from "How The Right Lost Its Mind."