Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is urging conservatives to update their messaging to make a fresh appeal to a new generation of voters, who will be won over once they see how conservative principles work best for them and their families.
Speaking on Election Day, before voters knew about a Democratic win in Virginia and the margin of the GOP win in New Jersey, Lee reiterated key tenets from his recent Heritage Foundation address that aimed to chart the way forward for the GOP and a conservative movement wearied by the recent showdown over defunding Obamacare.
Lee told WND the last Republican leader to effectively tailor conservative principles to the present-day concerns of Americans was Ronald Reagan. That was 33 years ago, and Lee points out by the time the next race for the White House concludes, the distance between that day and Reagan's 1980 landslide will be about the same length of time between Reagan's win and the D-Day landings in 1944.
As a result, Lee said it's time for new messaging. He says the message can include many reform-minded ideas but needs to be anchored in timeless principles.
"I think that agenda needs to form around two pillars of conservatism," he said. "The whole purpose of conservatism is to protect free markets and to protect the voluntary civil society in our country. Those are the two things that really give security, safety and meaning to community life in America, and those are the two principles that ought to animate all of what we do as conservatives to make sure that we protect those two key components of what our civilization is built around."
He said one of the greatest threats to those American cornerstones is the growth and intrusion of government into those organic institutions.
"We can damage both free markets and the voluntary civil society through excessive government interference," Lee explained. "There are a lot of things we can do to damage them, to weaken them, even to destroy them with government. And once you've destroyed them, you can't just flip a switch and recreate them because government lacks the capacity to do that."
He added, "So a lot of the time, this means looking for ways to get government out of the way so that individuals can do what individuals do best in a free society, which is to form voluntary associations with others."
Lee is championing several specific reform policies, including greater choice in higher education, giving employees greater flexibility in trading overtime pay for time off and drastically reducing the federal gas tax while giving state and local authorities greater control over where new roads and lanes are built to bring parents home to their families sooner.
But the hallmark of his agenda is tax reform. Lee would simplify the income tax code down to just two tax brackets. Individuals making less than $87, 850 and couples earning less than $175,700 would pay 15 percent in taxes. Americans above those income levels would pay 35 percent. He would also dramatically increase the child tax credit to $2,500 per child.
Lee said the tax savings will help families, but he said reforming the system will accomplish something even more important.
"This also would undo a really pernicious aspect of the existing personal income tax system, which is to say it would get rid of the parent tax penalty that exists in current law," Lee said. "What I mean by that is working parents pay into our senior entitlement programs twice, first when they work and pay their taxes and then again as they raise their children and incur costs at an average of about $300,000 to raise a child to maturity."
He said, "Those children grow up and, in turn, will pay taxes that will fund their parents' generation as they enter these senior entitlement programs as beneficiaries. So my tax plan would offset this parent tax penalty and would make it easier for parents, as they're raising their children, to get along."