Ryan’s Ripon revival

April 7, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

As the summer draws nearer and nearer, it seems increasingly likely that the Republican Party will lose the 2016 presidential election. There are three ways they can lose. They can lose with a racist demagogue at the helm. They can lose with a self-interested, loathed-by-all, ideological extremist. They can even lose with a hand-picked, more moderate, “establishment” candidate. But no matter which they chose, they will almost certainly lose.

At Stanford, I pity the young conservatives. What lies in store for their party’s future? Is this Republican Party really their party? Young conservatives are not the stereotypical rich, old, white men (at least not yet) that liberals tend to caricature Republicans as. After a loss this November, the Grand Old Party will have to think of something new.

Over fifty years ago, a group of young, intellectual conservatives identified a growing need for change in their Republican Party. They gathered under the name “the Ripon Society,” and their hero was Democratic President JFK. Shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, the society released their first public statement. The words couldn’t ring truer today.

We speak as a group of young Republicans to that generation which must bear the responsibility for guiding our party and our country over the coming decades. We speak for a point of view in the Republican Party that has too long been silent.

We believe that the future of our party lies not in extremism, but in moderation. The moderate course offers the Republican Party the best chance to build a durable majority position in American politics. This is the direction the party must take if it is to win the confidence of the “new Americans” who are not at home in the politics of another generation: the new middle classes of the suburbs of the North and West – who have left the Democratic cities but who have not yet found a home in the Republican party; the young college graduates and professional men and women of our great university centers – more concerned with “opportunity” than “security,” the moderates of the new South – who represent the hope for peaceful racial adjustment and who are insulted by a racist appeal more fitting another generation. These and others like them hold the key to the future of our politics.

The Republican Party we know has slowly and quietly evolved (or devolved) into its current fragmented state, and it is ripe for a revival. A couple of weeks ago, David Brooks expressed excitement about the opportunity we will all soon have to witness the recreation of the Republican Party. He wrote of a new party that is kinder, more caring and less divisive than the current one.

With this in mind, it becomes difficult to think of a more Ripon-esque leader to push the party into this new direction than the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Ryan, with his youthful vigor, Catholic compassion, mind for policy and attractive persona, could be described as a modern-day Jack Kennedy (despite Joe Biden’s derision).

In addition to occasionally condemning Trump, Ryan has implicitly criticized the Republican field in speeches this year about the decrepit state of his party:

We need to be inspirational. We need to be inclusive. We need to show how our principles and policies are universal and how they apply to everybody. We know that the economy is weak. We know that the world is on fire. We know that the future is uncertain. There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there. And is it justified? It sure is.

But we should not follow the Democrats and play identity politics. Let’s talk to people in ways that unite us and that are unique to America’s founding. That’s what I think people are hungry for.

Spectators have hinted at the possibility of nominating Ryan this year, but the Speaker himself has ruled that possibility out, and with good reason.

Since becoming Speaker, Ryan has promised to deliver to the public a Republican “agenda” by the time his party selects a nominee. Originally, the agenda, which he described as “nothing short of a generational defining moment,” was to offer the vision for what a Republican presidency might mean. But as that becomes less likely, the agenda may rather offer a vision for what the future of the Republican Party might look like.

The Republican Party has considered reform after each disappointing general election loss in the recent past, and it has failed to follow through each time, but maybe in this election, instead of loss being the catalyst for a desire to reform, a desire to reform can be the catalyst for loss. A Trump nomination will be tumultuous, and a Clinton (or worse yet, Sanders) presidency may certainly be undesirable, but these might just be necessary to bring about a much needed revival of the Republican Party.


Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at [email protected].

Ruairí Alfredo Arrieta-Kenna (BA Political Science '18) was a columnist for the Stanford Daily.

Login or create an account