Leading reform conservatives or “reformicons” April Ponnuru, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Pete Wehner discussed the future of the Republican Party and the need for a more substantial party platform at the Institute of Politics on Thursday.
The John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum event, moderated by Fall 2014 IOP fellow Kristen Soltis Anderson, discussed policy solutions for appealing to middle-class voters and examined actual and possible candidates and issues for the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections.
The evening began with an examination of the term “reform conservatism.” April Ponnuru, the policy director of the Young Guns Network, emphasized that reform conservatism is not a movement “reforming conservatism,” but rather one “offering reforms that come out of [a conservative] philosophy.”
“Conservatism needs to be updated,” added Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review. “Conservative insights have to be applied to the circumstances of today.”
All three panelists emphasized reform conservatism’s effort to appeal to middle-class voters, moving beyond what Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called the Republican Party’s “reputation as being the party of the rich.”
The panelists also discussed the party’s prospects in the upcoming 2014 elections. Anderson expressed her concern over a strong Republican midterm victory, noting that the “election is an election about nothing” and that such victories would just be another set of “false positives,” like the races in 2010.
Ramesh Ponnuru added to the midterm discussion, calling the current situation an “odd political moment.” He noted that Republicans were “bank[ing] on just the unpopularity of the President” to win, while it would probably be much more meaningful to focus on and build a serious agenda surrounding issues like healthcare and education.
“Republicans are running as people who are hostile to the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “They are not running as people who have any serious plan to repeal it, or replace it, or reform it. And that’s what concerns me.”
The panel concluded with a discussion of the 2016 presidential election and the importance of reaching out to minority voters. Ramesh Ponnuru emphasized the need for a broad economic platform that would appeal to the entire electorate without necessarily focusing on “group-specific appeal.” He also stressed that even a 5 or 10 percent increase in the minority Republican vote would be crucial to future elections.
“The margin matters,” he said. “You don’t have to win the vote, you’ve got to win some of those votes. You’ve got to make a marginal impact.”
Daniel V. Banks ’17 disagreed with the catch-all policy Ramesh Ponnuru described, stressing the importance of conservative principles that go beyond just the economy.
“Obviously the economy is important to you regardless of what color you are, regardless of what ethnicity you are,” he said. “But there also needs to be an acknowledgment within the Republican Party that blacks, Hispanics, Asians face different problems in the United States.... There needs to be something more substantive addressing minority rights.”