How Republicans Can Win in November—And Beyond | Opinion

Before Dobbs v. Jackson, Republicans looked poised to take the House and the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections. The polls looked good. The Democratic president looked bad and the Democratic electoral coalition was collapsing. Democrats, as usual, aimed to keep their various constituencies together through fear. To black voters, they said Republicans will "put ya'll back in chains" or maybe just kill you. To unmarried young women, Republicans will, well, put you in chains too, as enslaved handmaidens forced to give birth. To Hispanics, Republicans will put your kids in cages.

These are all silly attacks. But they're working. Since Dobbs, the Democratic Party's standing in the polls has improved. And in special elections, which serve as previews for elections in November, Democrats have done much better than expected. The reason is obvious: many Republicans—the kind that rely on party leaders and donor money to run—are just doing nothing. Expecting that they'd simply fall into Congress because inflation was high, they put themselves in chains. They've shown no confidence that they can articulate a debatable position and then explain it convincingly in a soundbite.

Take Marc Molinaro, a Republican who lost a special election in a New York district that was leaning Republican by three points. He lost it by two. While his opponent attacked him relentlessly on abortion, Molinaro ignored the issue in his platform and instead ran on "reforming taxes and reducing inflation." To an ordinary voter, that means what it's always meant coming from an old-guard Republican: cutting taxes for the rich and paying for it by cutting benefits for the poor and middle class. Since the Republican offered nothing of substance, ordinary voters should be excused for assuming the worst of his intentions—especially on issues he ignored, like abortion.

Republicans need to get back to basics. First, they must fashion a clear idea of why and how their party is going to do good things with power. Then, they must add a theme—the sizzle—that encapsulates the "why" and the "how" in a catchword. Both their theme and theory should pair with and neutralize what the Democratic Party chooses as its own. The Democrats' theme will likely be—shockingly, after two years of pandemic tyranny—freedom. Their theory—again, shockingly—will be that Democrats let you do what you want whereas Republicans will oppress you. That includes keeping you from your abortions and your trans identities.

The acid to dissolve the fear holding the Democrats' electoral coalition together is hope. Republicans' theme should be "flourishing." "Freedom is for flourishing," goes the theory. "There are chains in society today. Corporations run everything. There are senseless rules everywhere for how to think and what to say. Wealth and power for ordinary Americans are scarce and prices everywhere are rising. Republicans will seek your flourishing. That means freedom for young women to start a family, not to have an abortion. It means freedom for entrepreneurs to run a business, not to have it shut down. It means freedom for parents to raise their own children—instead of radical schools doing it for them."

Republican elephant logo
A woman walks past the elephant logo of the Republican Party on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Republican Party opened its national convention, kicking off a four-day political jamboree that will anoint billionaire Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images

Propose policies and provide explanations. On flourishing families: "children of all ages must be protected—and so must the mothers who care for them. That's why I support making it free to have a child in America. That includes free prenatal care and free hospital delivery. It's also why I support making families flush again—with a bigger tax credit for having children and high-paying jobs for high-school graduates. We must help workers bargain—fairly but forcefully—for better pay. We must help companies build factories and drill for energy in America. That's why we should cut regulations and taxes—smartly but significantly. And that's also why we should keep fair-trade tariffs that cancel out the profits companies make from shipping factories overseas just to hire cheaper foreign labor. All my opponent offers are free abortions and free gender transitions—but that's not the flourishing you really want."

On schools, propose laws like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has. On business, look to the tax and regulatory policies in growing, flourishing states like Florida and Texas.

The popular tide on abortion will turn—but not immediately. But there is no reason the baggage of controversial beliefs should be carried by Republicans alone. When a Democratic candidate attacks a Republican candidate on abortion, the Republican should respond not by tacking or cowering but with three simple steps. First, the parry: "I oppose abortion because children's lives matter. It's my sincere belief, not a way to scare people into voting for me." Second, the pivot: "I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but neither should you expect everyone to agree with your party's bizarre philosophies, like trans surgeries for children." And third, the counter-punch: "The difference between my position and yours is the purpose of it all: I want flourishing families. All you can promise are abortion and sexual confusion." One, two, three.

One big issue that could decide congressional control is the Senate filibuster. Senate Democrats tried to kill the filibuster this year and will try again. They'll succeed if they get just two more seats. Then they'll pass whatever they want, no matter how unpopular—exactly as President Biden just threatened to do. Republicans can respond with, "A flourishing country is one free from the fear that, once the party you voted for loses one election, everything changes. That's why I support the filibuster—and it's why you have little to fear from me. It's what my opponent plans to do with the unchecked power his party wants from you for that you should really fear. Don't give in; vote for hope and for a flourishing future."

That's how to win, for party and country.

Sean Ross Callaghan is an attorney, a tech entrepreneur, and a onetime federal law clerk.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.