I’m a lifelong Republican and a veteran of the Republican National Committee and the George W. Bush White House. But in November, I cast my vote for Democrat Joe Biden. I did so because I believed he could help unite our divided country, and the Republican Party, free of Donald Trump’s toxic personality, could develop a more positive, hopeful agenda for the future.
Thankfully, the American people voted in record numbers to elect Biden and, while it is early days, his inauguration speech was a clear call for unity. I’m less hopeful, however, that the Republican Party can break free of Trump. While Trump’s approval ratings have dipped to their lowest level (34 percent), he still maintains the overwhelming support of GOP voters (with nearly 9 in 10 approving) as well as the RNC, elected officials in Congress and at the grassroots.
This has led some Republicans who oppose Trump to give up hope and leave the party. Trump himself reportedly discussed leaving to form his own “Patriot Party.” But third parties have never proved viable in our two-party system, and no third-party candidate has ever made it to the Oval Office.
Breaking the GOP apart is only going to benefit Democrats, and a Republican Party at war with itself between Trump and “Never Trumpers” will never succeed. If we believe the Republican Party — and our two-party system — is worth saving, then we have no choice but to come together. We will never agree on Trump, but we can unite around the principles of our party.
The Republican Party, for all its division, is still in a strong position. While Trump lost the House, Senate and White House during his presidency, Republicans in 2020 gained at least 14 new seats in the House — adding to a record number of women — and kept the Senate tight so there is a good chance of taking back both chambers in 2022. Republicans could even win the White House in 2024 if Biden, then 82, doesn’t run again.
But to win these elections, Republicans need ideas and leaders who can unite the party. It won’t be easy, but here are four ways to begin:
First, the Republican Party must strongly affirm that Joe Biden is our duly elected president and that the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol is against everything Republicans stand for. As Sen. Mitt Romney said in his powerful speech hours after the assault: “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.”
Whether Senate Republicans vote to convict Trump or not, they must dispel the lie that the election was stolen and make clear that hatred, violence, white nationalism and conspiracy theories have no place in the Republican Party.
Second, and equally important, Republicans who oppose Trump must listen to and respect the views of his voters — all 74 million of them. Most Trump voters believe in the values Republicans have always believed in: limited government, personal responsibility, free enterprise and a strong national defense. Some I know didn’t like Trump personally, but they liked what he stood for.
Third, Republicans need to develop a positive agenda. I was at the RNC in 1994 when Chairman Haley Barbour and House Republicans developed the Contract with America, a checklist of 10 reforms Republicans would pass if voters put them in charge. We even printed it in Readers Digest for the public to see. They did, and Republicans took back the House for the first time in 40 years.
The agenda Republicans develop must state what we are for — not what we are against. Our policy on immigration can’t be just to build a wall. Our policy on health care can’t be repealing Obamacare, without an alternative. Our policy on climate change can’t be that it is a hoax. Republicans must come up with better solutions to these and other issues if they are to be a modern majority party.
Some of these solutions will come from Republican governors, who are on the front lines putting Republican policies at work in their states. When Bill Clinton was president, there were 32 Republican governors working on policies such as welfare reform and education reform. One of those governors, George W. Bush, rode that agenda all the way to the White House.
Fourth, Republicans must put country above party. Finding ways to work with Democrats, right out of the gate, on bipartisan issues such as COVID-19 or infrastructure reform will not harm Republicans. In fact, voters will reward leaders who try to bring our country together to get things done. Just ask President Joe Biden.
Suzy DeFrancis was a deputy assistant for communications in the George W. Bush White House and deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee from 1994 to 1996.