Republicans Should Embrace Grace | Opinion

Despite their protests to the contrary, Democrats seem determined to keep Donald Trump at the center of the nation's political stage. From the FBI's raid on Mar-a-Lago to Joe Biden's recent speech at Independence Hall excoriating Trump's followers, if the current administration wanted to ensure Trump is the 2024 Republican nominee, this seems like a good way to do it. As fractured and radical as the Democrats are, they require something or someone else to run against.

The raid and speech intensified Republican interest in the midterm elections, but also make things harder for those Republicans wanting to move beyond Trump in 2024. The raid was a bad day for Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Larry Hogan, and others with similar ambitions. One anti-Clinton voter said, "God must have a sense of humor. He is going to make me vote for Donald Trump again." Democrats, on the other hand, may consider the Philadelphia speech a master stroke for 2024, as they truly believe Trump is the weakest possible Republican candidate and hope to make him unbeatable within his own party.

Trump evokes visceral reactions in both Democrats and Republicans. The GOP will be tempted to make the November election about Trump, and not about Biden, Democrats, or change. For many Republicans, the raid legitimized Trump's charge that victory was stolen from him in 2020. Democrats cannot help attacking Trump out of pure hatred and fear. His existence and successes exposed their electoral vulnerability, and must be negated for that reason.

Biden's speech conflated Democrats' partisan goals with democracy itself, transforming his fellow Democrats into heroic statesmen and Republicans into enemies of the state. The speech motivated the president's base while demonizing members of the loyal opposition. Biden did not even bother trying to speak to mainstream Republicans who have principled reasons for supporting pro-life legislation and opposing his administration's reckless spending. Strategically, Republicans are doing the same thing Biden did in his speech, confident that being correct and polarizing is enough to defeat the Left.

Republicans can learn from Biden's mistakes. The president was speaking to his party's most ardent supporters, helping to secure his place as the 2024 nominee while alienating persuadable swing voters. He spoke more like a Democratic candidate than like a man who had already been elected president; he sounded more like he was campaigning to Democratic primary voters than addressing the nation. Biden could have offered an example to both parties of how to critique each other's policy positions without questioning anyone's patriotism. He could have shown elected officials they serve all their constituents, not merely the ones who voted for them.

Joe Biden Philadelphia speech
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 01: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park September 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. President Biden spoke on “the continued battle for the Soul of the Nation.” Alex Wong/Getty Images

Biden could have reined in his side's worst excesses—the tendency to incessantly nag fellow Americans not just on how to act, but also on how to think and speak. Liberals no longer simply want to redefine the nation's cultural norms. They now expect conservatives to affirm their beliefs. Biden could have acknowledged the deeply held concerns conservatives have about a rapidly changing, secularizing, and liberalizing culture where long-held gender, religious, and other norms are constantly being challenged. He could have cited his own evolution on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and asked for respect and understanding for those who continue to believe as he once did.

There is a path toward satisfying the country's need for grace on a higher level. Republicans can stick to their principles and still demonstrate they understand and respect the beliefs and fears of voters on the other side. This will be essential if the nation is to end the outrage war in which near-identical politicians perpetually trade schoolyard jabs. Republicans can demonstrate commitment to fighting for principle by delivering results without resorting to name calling.

Politicians in both parties strive to appear tough, hoping to avoid the fates of President George H.W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. Despite being combat veterans, both men were ridiculed as weak by opponents who avoided similar service. Politicians today demonstrate their toughness by ridiculing their opponents in increasingly crude and personal terms.

This is not an argument for weakening what Republicans believe and offer—just the opposite. The more gracious Republicans are, the more powerfully they will be able to advance their principles. Biden won his party's nomination by promising to be a unifier, offering to heal the nation's political divides. Trump in 2016 reached out to African-American, Hispanic, and other voters who had previously supported Democrats, offering them a chance at the American Dream and asking them what they had to lose after years of being taken for granted.

Ronald Reagan's sunny optimism reflected his confidence in the moral correctness of his conservative beliefs, and his rock-solid faith that liberal democracy would outlast communism, that capitalism and limited government would provide abundant opportunity and prosperity, and that America's restored military would guarantee peace.

Politicians find it easier to win elections by scaring voters about what will happen if the other side wins than by inspiring them with hope. Far easier to describe opposing politicians as particularly inept and crazed than to convince voters of the merits of one's own leaders and ideas. Rather than talk about civil war and magnify the differences that divide us, Republicans should confidently make the case that conservative ideas benefit all Americans. They should champion equality, personal responsibility, and a brighter future. Biden and the Democrats have abandoned the political high ground, and Republicans should seize the opportunity.

Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) was the governor of Louisiana from 2008-2016 and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

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