Evan McMullin, Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference, came to Penn this past Friday to speak on his vision for the Republican party.
In his speech he argued that the happiness of all people is best maximized by decreasing Federal influence on individual lives at home and increasing the exercise of American power abroad.
Addressing the issue of poverty, McMullin underscored the fact that despite “tremendous” expenditure on anti-poverty programs “the poverty rate today, in America, is still about the same that it was in the mid 1960s.” McMullin argued that this was due to the incompetence of the Federal government in meeting the needs of real people. The government provided a safety net to “make poverty more tolerable,” but tolerable, McMullin claimed, is not “good enough.” People need programs that empower them to make their own way to success. Programs that view Americans living in poverty as “not our burden but our potential.”
Basically politician-speak for: yes, we’ll stick with welfare, but let’s not have welfare programs that make people afraid of losing their benefits if they find a job.
McMullin shifted naturally from the discussion of poverty to criticizing the over-bloated federal government, citing a Gallop statistic in which Americans listed “the government” itself as one of the largest problems facing the country. McMullin suggested that an over-bloated and incompetent Fed was responsible for the popularity of a controversial, non-traditional candidate (the Donald) and a socialist (Bernie Sanders) in the current election cycle.
McMullin claimed that the Fed is so large and so distant from the individuals it served that it has little incentive to do a good job. He cited the example of Thomas Bream, a veteran who died in September of 2013 after two months despite requesting cancer treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare systems. A week after his death, the VA called to let his family know that there was a slot available for him. To this day, the VA uses scheduling software developed in the early 1980s.
“The future of the Republican party,” McMullin claimed, lay in placing the power of the Fed back into the hands of the people and their relatively responsive state governments. McMullin noted in passing that this would not be accomplished by a program of free college for all, but would be better served by modernizing and refashioning the American education system so that it was more practical and less expensive.
On foreign policy, McMullin blamed the Obama administration’s withdrawn foreign policy for creating a power vacuum into which “destructive forces” have “surged.” McMullin claimed that the U.S. has been “the primary driver of the world’s security and economic order since World War II,” and that the results have been mostly quite positive, including significant spread of democracy, “unparalleled prosperity,” and “the absence of world wars.”
“Free markets and liberal democracies don’t just happen on their own; they require the support and leadership of powerful nations…. It is our responsibility to be a force for good in the world,” he asserted.
McMullin closed his speech with a reiterated emphasis on America’s fundamental ideals.
Along with the pursuit of happiness, McMullin listed “diversity” and “the protection of all people regardless of race, religion, nationality – and really, our respect for all people no matter who they are” as a fundamental American ideal. This ideal served as a backdrop for another cut at Donald Trump and co. (“presidential candidates who attack Mexicans, Arabs, women, people with disabilities, and others”). McMullin echoed Hillary Clinton’s claims that Trump’s rhetoric was “doing the work of ISIS for it,” and then went one step farther, claiming that it presented a larger threat to our national security than ISIS itself.
The Q&A focused largely on the problem of how the Republican party can expand beyond its rural, Midwestern, Christian base and become “a big tent party again.” McMullin’s answer was best summed up in his response to one student’s suggestion that “making the Republican Party more inclusive” would undermine its support with its base: “I do think that you have some corners of the Republican party… that maybe struggle with diversity, and that’s a challenge. But it’s also an area where we – the rest of us – need to lead… there’s more wood to be chopped, as we say, in reaching those people.”