As Republicans regroup after the 2012 election, they need to avoid the easy mistake of spending too much time fixing weaknesses rather than improving strengths.
The party does have weaknesses to fix, but nearly half the electorate supported the GOP presidential ticket. Getting above 50 percent in the future means articulating ideas that make sense intuitively to a significant majority of Americans -- including many of this year's Obama voters -- regardless of demographics.
If the concepts behind Tom Rath's popular book "StrengthsFinder 2.0" were applied to Republican politics, the results might point to the following issues to build upon:
» Drive home the fact that the size of government matters. We're on a debt-laden, government-spending trajectory toward the government (federal, state and local) devouring 40 to 50 percent of our economy. This can only diminish our liberty and prosperity for the long term.
» Reform the no-tax pledge. Borrowing (which represents a future tax hike) while not raising taxes defeats the purpose of the pledge -- it's spending that needs to be restrained. Instead, offer a commitment to fiscally sustainable federal government of no more than 20 percent of gross domestic product with a balanced budget, and the setting of priorities this implies.
» Make spending restraint permanent with a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Most states already operate with this requirement. Republicans at the federal level should support the state-initiated process under Article V to add this to the Constitution without Congress.
» Continue to promote market-based policies for job creation and economic growth. Rather than targeting industries with subsidies, target the process of innovation that allows entrepreneurs to bring new technologies and products to life. Government should commit to funding basic research, provide incentives for risk-taking (e.g., tax reform, lower marginal tax rates and cost-benefit analysis for regulations), a technically trained workforce through education block grants and immigration reform, and expanding free and competitive markets at home and abroad.
» Pick up the immigration ball that was dropped in President Obama's first term. Provide an "earn out" through public service for people who admit to their illegal entry, and then allow them to stay in the U.S. as permanent residents. Reserve citizenship only for those who came to the United States legally. Permit foreign students with technical degrees to stay in the U.S. and work after graduation rather than return home to compete against us. Increase enforcement and penalties for law-breakers. Make it easier to come to America legally and harder to do so illegally.
» Champion federalism. It's not just about the 10th Amendment -- it's also about giving taxpayers the best value for their money. Replace restrictive federal rules on infrastructure, education, Medicaid and other programmatic spending with block grants so that more money serves its intended purpose without nanny-state red tape. The federal government should focus on its unique responsibilities rather than micromanage states and localities.
» Retain the conservative social values that form a key part of the Republican identity. Republicans should be proud of the values by which most of their supporters live. By the same token, if these are perceived as exclusionary litmus tests, or distract from other priority issues, the GOP loses.
» Move the country toward a competition-based health care system. Americans should be able to change insurers with a 15-minute phone call, just like a certain auto insurance company advertises. This alone would eliminate many problems supposedly cured by Obamacare.
» Promote transparency at all levels of government. Sunshine is the best disinfectant for ensuring clean government. While transparency is often supported across the political spectrum, it's fundamentally a conservative issue. The more citizens see how government works, the more limited they will want it to be.
If Republicans focus on political strengths, their message of opportunity will appeal to a majority of Americans, women and men, of all ages, incomes and ethnic backgrounds. Such an appeal offers people the dignity of being treated as Americans, not as segments of society. Voters will respond accordingly on future Election Days.
Jim LeMunyon, a Republican, represents portions of Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the Virginia House of Delegates.