- - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It used to go without saying that small “c” conservatives were enthusiastic supporters of a law-and-order agenda. Today, some Republicans are beginning to lose their taste for this particular issue.

I’m not suggesting American conservatives are either becoming soft on crime or taking a more relaxed stance against truth in sentencing. Rather, they’re straying in their public support for law and order owing to a growing tide of negative sentiments among the general populace.

News reports about police brutality and questionable tactics in apprehending criminals have caused concern. Several stories behind prison walls have turned off people about incarceration. According to a Gallup poll last October, 60 percent of Americans favor capital punishment. That’s a 40-year low. Some prominent Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are attempting to shift the party away from illegal immigration to reforming the system. GOP Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Justin Amash of Michigan and Don Young of Alaska have all taken softer positions on marijuana.

A successful communications strategy in politics is always built around understanding the individual voter and creating desirable policies for the voting public. American attitudes on crime and punishment have indeed changed — and are continuing to change. While it may only turn out to be a short-term adjustment, the GOP has correctly identified this trend.

The mistake some Republican legislators have made is their decision to shift long-held positions about law and order with the prevailing political winds. This has been done at the expense of their own party’s point of view — and helped create parallel and uncomplimentary visions of an issue U.S. conservatives used to control and were mostly united on. It’s the worst political strategy you can ever concoct.

I still firmly believe that a law-and-order agenda is something all Republicans must continue to emphasize. America’s safety and security is integral to this country’s way of life.

With this in mind, here are a few strategies to help move all conservatives back on this important path.

First, shift the discussion about a law-and-order agenda back to the protection of families and their children. It’s the most important American political commodity, and has the greatest amount of potential electoral success among Republicans, right-leaning independents and disgruntled conservative Democrats. By working toward families living in safe communities, and children playing in their neighborhoods without fear or concern, you can earn the voters’ trust.

Second, defend the police and call for moderate reforms. No one is saying that the police forces are perfect and can’t be improved. The decision of some conservatives to reduce their public support for the police has diminished the value of this important institution. Hence, the entire GOP should champion the true defenders of law and order while ensuring that the best possible candidates always wear the blue uniform.

Third, Republicans must hold firm against illegal immigration and strongly promote legal immigration. Conservatives have always understood the vital role new immigrants play in enriching the United States and enhancing economic prosperity. At the same time, immigrants who follow the rules and come here legally should be the only ones the GOP defends. It’s not a perfect position, but it’s the right one.

Fourth, defend a state’s right to make decisions about the death penalty. According to last fall’s Gallup poll, 81 percent of Republicans support capital punishment. I also support it, but realize that some Republican governors turn away from this issue owing to a personal change of heart or fear of the voters’ wrath. Therefore, it is important for the GOP to defend the death penalty as a law-and-order principle, but leave the democratic right to the states to make that final choice.

Fifth, support decriminalizing marijuana. As I recently wrote in The Washington Times, an individual “shouldn’t have a permanent criminal record for the purchase or possession of a few joints. If they want to use it in the privacy of their own homes, and they’re not selling the drug on the black market or to children, then that’s their business.” There are many illegal drugs the GOP should continue to strongly oppose, including crack, heroin and speed. A shift to marijuana decriminalization (and not legalization) would show that Republicans are taking a more rational and modern point of view about drug use.

These small modifications could ensure the GOP maintains its law-and-order agenda and that the punishment would continue to fit the crime.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.