- - Thursday, January 21, 2021

My Fellow Conservatives,

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have hosted a weekly Zoom happy hour with my friends from college, most of whom identify as Republicans. On our Friday call after the insurrection at the Capitol, one friend, channelling the thoughts of many concerned that all Republicans will now be dismissed as mob rioters, worried about “being cancelled” not only in the aftermath of the insurrection and its reckoning, but in “Biden’s America.” To them and to all conservatives, I say, fear not for three reasons. 

First, we must recognize our own “cancel culture.” For the past 30 years, any idea we didn’t like we ignored (income inequality), claimed didn’t exist (climate change and racism), or labeled socialist or communist (Obamacare). I’ve been a Republican longer than Donald Trump and I refuse to let him run me out of my own party because I know there are legitimate, conservative approaches to these and other big problems.

Conservatives know not every problem needs D.C. or the U.N to solve it. Don’t forget: Most of Obamacare started as Romneycare and before that as a policy paper from The Heritage Foundation. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were signed by Richard Nixon and the national parks by Theodore Roosevelt while he tackled income inequality by trust busting. 

Second, 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. These educated, tolerant people feel left out and left behind by the state of our economy and our politics. They turned to Mr. Trump not out of ignorance or racism but legitimate concern for their future. We all, Democrats and Republicans, owe them respect and a duty to make their lives better; making them feel part of the American system.

That respect and duty cannot be fulfilled with the negative partisanship that turned Republicans into the “party of no.” Instead, we must share specific policy ideas. While we don’t control Congress or the White House, we do control a large number of state legislatures and governors’ mansions. We can govern using the subsidiarity principle to solve problems working with the people and institutions closest to those problems, tackling the issues raised by the left and the issues raised by Trump voters, including immigration, regulation and economic opportunity across the country, not just the urban coasts. 

Lastly, there remains a vital need for a two-party system and most Democrats know it and want Republicans as strong debaters and sparring partners. We can and should have a rigorous debate about how to solve these problems, and that debate must begin with a common set of facts, an agreement to tackle the problems (not ignore or deny them), and proceed civilly within democratic norms.

The insurrection at the Capitol was fed by lies, spread by people determined to cling to power at all costs, willing to cast aside everything, including democracy, to ensure the other side didn’t win even a little bit. As Republican voters we must reward politicians for their ideas, not their made-for-Twitter antics and those ideas must actually be more effective at solving real people’s problems. 

So, my friends and fellow conservatives, fear not. Embrace the opportunity for dialogue and debate, and work to shore up our precious democracy and the common wellbeing of our fellow citizens and our country. As we seek to heal our nation after the insurrection and restart our post-pandemic economy we have everything to gain … and everything to lose.

• Richard J. Crespin is CEO of CollaborateUp, a consulting firm working to accelerate collaboration among companies, nonprofits and governments, and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. He is also a lifelong Republican.

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