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Since the 2012 US presidential elections, much ink has been spilled on the future of conservatism. What should a revitalized conservative movement look like? In an AEI debate on Wednesday night, Tevi Troy of the Hudson Institute and Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center discussed the necessary steps to bringing conservative ideals into the mainstream.
Troy emphasized the need for a strong leader who embodies conservative principles, explaining both what conservatism is and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not. He also outlined five ideas for a more appealing policy platform, while Wehner stressed the need for policy updates. He pointed out that the GOP platform has largely stayed the same since Reagan's presidency and discussed modernizing conservative ideas in ways that would improve the lives of more Americans.
Beyond policy updates, Wehner underscored the Republican Party's need to expand its audience and hence become less quick to purge anyone deemed a "heretic." Ramesh Ponnuru of AEI concluded the evening by pointing out that many of the debaters' ideas are not mutually exclusive, setting the parameters for what many on the right hope will become a conservative revival in both policy and message over the next four years.
The conservative movement is in an identity crisis. What went wrong, and what can be done to avoid another electoral defeat? Two main solutions have emerged: upgrade the message or overhaul the policy.
As Tevi Troy has noted, the GOP ran a “safe campaign” in 2012, failing to present a “cogent vision for conservatism” and dooming the right to a “communications vacuum” gleefully filled by the left. Consequently, exit polls revealed that 81 percent of voters felt Mitt Romney didn’t care about them.
But as Peter Wehner has pointed out, the Republican Party may need more than better messaging to reach struggling Americans. Declining social mobility, extensive corporate welfare, changes to family structure, and other emergent issues require innovative solutions. In this American Enterprise Debate, cosponsored with America’s Future Foundation, Troy and Wehner will explore competing ideas for moving conservatism forward. AEI’s Ramesh Ponnuru will moderate.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Roger Custer, America’s Future Foundation
Daniel Rothschild, AEI
Tevi Troy, Hudson Institute
Peter Wehner, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Ramesh Ponnuru, AEI
Adjournment and Reception
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Roger Custer has been the executive director of America’s Future Foundation since 2011. Previously, he was an associate at the Charles Koch Institute and conference director at Young America’s Foundation, where he oversaw the nation’s leading conservative student conferences and assisted with activism programs. His work has been featured in Time, The Washington Post, CNN, The Washington Times, the Daily Caller, C-SPAN, and other major media.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, where he has covered national politics and public policy for 18 years. Ponnuru is also a columnist for Bloomberg View. A prolific writer, he is the author of a monograph about Japanese industrial policy and a book about American politics and the sanctity of human life. At AEI, Ponnuru examines the future of conservatism, with particular attention to health care, economic policy, and constitutionalism.
Daniel Rothschild is the director of external affairs at AEI. Rothschild became AEI's first-ever coalitions director in September 2011 after six years in a variety of policy, communications, and project management positions at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In his current position, he serves as the liaison between AEI staff and scholars and think tanks, grassroots groups, and business groups across the country. His popular articles and reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Reason, the Chicago Policy Review, Economic Affairs, and many other popular and policy publications. He is a 2012–13 National Review Institute fellow. Dan has testified before the US Congress and several state legislatures on tax and fiscal policy, government reform, and disaster recovery policy.
Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a writer and consultant on health care and domestic policy. In 2007, Troy was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate as the deputy secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In that position, he oversaw all operations, including Medicare, Medicaid, public health, medical research, food and drug safety, welfare, child and family services, disease prevention, and mental-health services. He also has extensive White House experience, having served in several high level positions over a five-year period, culminating in his service as deputy assistant and then acting assistant to the president for domestic policy. Troy has held high-level positions on Capitol Hill as well. From 1998 to 2000, Troy served as the policy director for Senator John Ashcroft. From 1996 to 1998, Troy was senior domestic policy adviser and later domestic policy director for the House Policy Committee, chaired by Christopher Cox. Before serving on Capitol Hill, he was a researcher at AEI. He is a frequent television and radio analyst, and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business, CNBC, and the Jim Lehrer Show, among other outlets. His book, “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House,” will be published in the fall of 2013.
Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Wehner served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations before becoming deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush in 2001. In 2002, he was asked to head the Office of Strategic Initiatives, where he generated policy ideas, reached out to public intellectuals, published op-eds and essays, and provided counsel on a range of domestic and international issues. Before this, Wehner was executive director for policy for Empower America, a conservative public-policy organization. Wehner also served as a special assistant to the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and, before that, as a speechwriter for then-secretary of education Bill Bennett. Wehner is the author of two books and writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national security issues.