Republicans: Let’s Change Our Presentation, Not Our Principles

Opinion   |   Nathanael Bennett   |   Nov 9, 2012   |   6:28PM   |   Washington, DC

“This election is over, but our principles endure.”  – Gov. Mitt Romney, conceding 2012 presidential election

In the wake of the reelection of President Barack Obama, many conservatives are understandably discouraged. It is natural to feel momentarily defeated when a setback occurs. However, conservatives must remember that we fight for specific principles not because they are politically expedient, but because we believe those principles provide people with the greatest opportunity for success. Our love for these principles stems from a belief in those principles, not from political convenience.

At the same time, the fact that we stand on unchanging principles must not mean that we grow complacent in finding fresh and innovative ways to ensure that those principles improve the lives of those in need.

I have heard two common (and opposing) views on how conservatives should move forward. I believe that both are partially correct, but that both are incomplete.

The first view is that our conservative principles are sound, and therefore we must simply reiterate them with more strength and conviction.

The other view is that our principles are outdated and rigid, and that we must leave them in favor of principles that are more current and easier to articulate.

These two views confuse principles with ideas. Principles are held not because of political motivation, but because they are morally sound. Ideas are the ways in which we give life to those principles.

Conservatives believe in the principle of a strong rule of law.

We believe in the principle of individual liberty and limited government with constitutional restraints.

We believe in the principle of a strong national security.

We believe in the principle of religious freedom.

We believe in the principle that every life is sacred.

We believe in the principle that the family is the backbone of a strong society.

We believe in the principle that America must be a safe haven in the world.

We believe in the principle of living within our means, both individually and as a society.

And we believe in the principle of a Biblical mandate to care for fatherless and those living in poverty.

We believe in these principles because we know that they afford people from all walks of life with an opportunity to pursue happiness and achieve the American dream.

As such, these principles do not change. They endure. And we as conservatives must continue the good fight of advancing them.

However, standing on unchanging principles does not mean continually recycling the same ideas. Too often, we as conservatives forget that while principles do not change, our methods of reaching those in need with these principles must be open to change. This certainly includes delivering a more articulate and charismatic message. But it goes far beyond just the delivery of the message. It must extend to the development of new and fresh policy ideas that reach real people in real need.

Doubling down on the same ideas and the same message will not advance our unchanging principles. In fact, it will undermine them.

There are a myriad of issues for which we must develop fresh ideas. One of the most controversial will be immigration. We are all immigrants, removed from that act of immigration by at most a few generations. The Left has successfully defined us as anti-immigrant, which of course we are not. But the fault of that label sticking is our own.

The Hispanic community is a conservative one – built on family values, love of country and hard work. The Hispanic community also overwhelming supports our unchanging principles of a strong rule of law and a strong national security. We must do a better job of articulating that our immigration goals include all of the following: a secure border that protects all Americans, a strong rule of law that provides security and freedom to those living within its reach, and a process that welcomes hard-working and productive immigrants to our great country.

Our principles have long contained those three ideals, but we have continually lost both the idea battle and the messaging battle when trying to make them a reality. American citizens have suffered and died because our border is as porous as ever. The integrity of our rule of law has been compromised as our laws are regularly ignored. Immigrants have suffered because they’ve been painted with a broad brush that labels them as a burden on the American society.

We can do better and we must do better. Our country, our principles, and our future immigrant citizens depend on it.



I only single out immigration in this post because it most clearly illustrates our failure as conservatives to generate fresh and relevant ideas. But the same goes for issues of life, national security, caring for the poor, and many others. In many cases, the appropriate role of government is one of simply encouraging an environment that enables those best equipped to engage the problem. But that is far from an insignificant or irrelevant role. And even in those cases, our ideas have to reach real people in real need rather than simply being a louder reiteration of why our principles are correct.

We must stand on our principles. They don’t change. But we must also develop fresh ideas in order for those principles to reach real people. That is the only way to ensure that our principles endure, and that they improve the lives of a citizenry who embraces them.

At the ACLJ, the work we do every day is dedicated to these principles. Our mission is to defend and advance these principles in all three branches of government, regardless of the political landscape. It does not change based on who is in the Oval Office, what party controls the Legislative Branch, or who appointed the Judge hearing our case. That mission is unchanged today. Note: Nathanael Bennett is the Director of Government Affairs for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), as well as the Main Representative to the United Nations in New York, NY for the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ).