Reviews | Tom Cotton’s New Reaganism

More Republicans should follow Cotton’s lead.

Cotton, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, began by noting that three consecutive Republican presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump — have all placed portraits of Andrew Jackson in the White House. This may sound strange, because Jackson founded the Democratic Party. But not when you realize that Jackson’s strong sense of national unity and defense of the common man was the essence of the three Republicans’ worldview. Cotton argued that, as the Democrats all but erased Jackson from their history, “the Republican Party assumed the mantle of this proud, patriotic, and populist tradition.”

Such a reorganization must necessarily have consequences for party policy, and Cotton offered several possibilities for this, even as he endorsed Republican orthodoxy in other respects.

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Reminding conservatives that “government isn’t the only threat to freedom,” Cotton called for regulating big tech and social media companies that misrepresent people into expressing their opinions, a stance that will not fail. not to anger the libertarian wing of the party. He went further in his economic policy – “we are a nation with an economy, not an economy with a nation”, he said – arguing that the needs of the nation and the individual should come first on ideological calls for “open, unfettered borders”. trade and globalization.

So in immigration, Cotton said, that means replacing a system that prioritizes extended family ties with one that favors the immigration of the highly skilled, as well as instituting mandatory use of the program. E-Verify, which requires employers to only hire people who are legally able to work in that country. Republican business interests have long resisted E-Verify; Cotton challenged them to “invest more in American workers, pay them more, and treat them better.”

On trade, Cotton said, that means decoupling the US economy from China’s and ending China’s most favored nation trading status. He further argued that the government should ban U.S. investment in “strategic Chinese industries” and “encourage the relocation of American factories and jobs.” Taken seriously, it would involve a degree of subsidies, taxation and tariffs that Republicans have avoided for generations.

And on rights, Cotton called on Republicans to defend Medicare and Social Security. “Working Americans deserve a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work and paying taxes,” he told the conservative audience. Under that principle, there’s probably still room to cut spending, but Cotton’s reframing puts more emphasis on protecting individuals than recent GOP orthodoxy.

Some might think that such views are contrary to those of Reagan, but that is really not the case. Reagan raised taxes rather than cut Social Security benefits in 1983, and he often spoke of the need for a social safety net to protect the truly needy. Yes, he was a free trader, but he was also a fair trader, and he acted to impose quotas or otherwise protect American industry from unfair foreign competition. In his autobiography, “An American Life,” Reagan said he had always been very embarrassed by the usurpation of a person’s “democratic rights”, whether by the government or an employer. No true market fundamentalist could ever imagine an employer taking away someone’s rights, but Reagan could.

Reagan’s grave is a few hundred yards from where Cotton spoke Monday night. His epitaph sums up his vision perfectly: “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always triumph, and that there is purpose and value in every life.” The vision Cotton articulated on Monday night is a worthy interpretation and extension of those words into our current moment. The party would be wise to take this into account.

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