Vol. 49, No. 2

In this edition

With the first presidential debate set for August 6th, many Republicans are now wondering whether history will repeat itself again. Will the House and Senate become passive bystanders and watch the political focus shift to the campaign trail? Or will the GOP Majority defy history by shaping the agenda on Capitol Hill? Precedent exists for […]

How Congress Shaped the ’80 Campaign

Ronald Reagan changed the nation’s economic course during the first two years of his presidency, but the seeds of this achievement were rooted in a House member’s bold attempt to broaden Republican appeal at a time when Democrats held solid control of Congress.

What America Wants…

There’s a quiet debate going on in Washington over the role Republicans in Congress should play in the 2016 presidential election. One side argues that Hill Republicans should leave a faint legislative footprint so as not to risk running afoul of the eventual GOP presidential nominee’s agenda. The other side argues that if Hill Republicans […]

How Congress can shape the 2016 campaign…

Just as the tax proposals of Rep. Jack Kemp and Senator Bill Roth contributed to President Reagan’s successful campaign, the current Republican-led Congress has an opportunity to have a significant impact on the 2016 elections with the tax reform effort underway in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

How Congress can shape the 2016 campaign…

America’s position in the world is shifting beneath us. Strategically speaking, we are ceding ground to the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and to terrorists. All of this has a negative impact on our future. Congress can take some important steps this year to turn back this dangerous trend threatening America’s leadership role in the world.

How Congress can shape the 2016 campaign…

The current Congress is less than a year old, and already it is clear that the new GOP majority will have a tough time passing its agenda, let alone overcoming presidential vetoes to any laws that should happen to pass. Such an unfortunate circumstance does not, however, mean that this Congress cannot have an impact. […]

How Congress can shape the 2016 campaign…

To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “It’s the enterprise, stupid.” And not just any enterprises: technology-based, global, and fast growing enterprises are the key. This focus should be the north star of Republican economic policy. Congressional Republicans can play a key role in this by promoting legislation over the next year that a GOP presidential […]

What Every Candidate Should be Asked in 2016

As much work as I’ve done in Washington, DC, Congressmen and Senators can only do so much. I saw from the inside that Washington, DC was never going to fix itself. Instead of remaining in the bureaucratic morass that is the federal government, I thought it was important to work on something that could actually […]

The Roots of Ripon Republicanism

Continuing our year-long commemoration of The Ripon Forum’s 50th anniversary, the former President of The Ripon Society writes about the founding of the Society and how one of the group’s organizing principles was “the advancement of Civil Rights.”

Red Governors in Blue States

Republican governors elected on platforms of economic growth through tax reform are running the economies of three traditionally blue states. Can Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan deliver on their promises?

Ripon Profile of Cory Gardner

In the latest Ripon Profile, the freshman Senator from Colorado discusses the message of the last election and what voters want from Washington, DC. “I think voters around the country are searching for a positive message. They want to hear what your plan is, and they want to hear how you’re going to get it […]

The Roots of Ripon Republicanism

MLK march

(Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of essays being published this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Ripon Forum.)

“We were tired of apologizing to people on our campuses for being Republicans, and tired of apologizing to some Republicans for being on a college campus.”

This was the comment that some of the founders of the Ripon Society liked to make when asked what prompted the launching of the organization. The remark is best understood in the context (historically) of 1962 and (geographically) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the height of the Kennedy era, and the great buzz word of the day was that the Kennedy Administration was uniquely tapping into the world of exciting new ideas.  The cloud hanging over the Republican Party was the recollection of the recent McCarthy era – which had widened a growing gulf between the country’s centers of learning and the GOP.

This was not to say that Republicans could not cite their own strong intellectual roots; well into the twentieth century, in fact, the party of Lincoln had as much or more support among the so-called “educated classes” as did the Democrats – and that affinity had been strengthened during the Progressive Era.  But the traumas of the Great Depression and two World Wars, along with the appeal of the New Deal and the excesses of both witch-hunting extremism and isolationist nationalism had changed older patterns of party identification.

Those who first came together to launch the Ripon organization in 1962 were mostly students, recent students, or young faculty members – in the Boston area at first, and then across the country.  We drew on the model of Great Britain’s Bow Group, a moderate, policy-oriented affiliate of the UK’s Conservative party.  Our central proposition initially was that the country deserved two major political parties with lively academic resources – and proud ties to centers of learning.  And we shared a deep aversion to the common stereotype among young people at the time that the Republicans were “the stupid party.”

There was one set of policy concerns that came to define and motivate the Ripon Society more than any other – and that was a renewed commitment to the advancement of Civil Rights.

It didn’t have to be this way, the group believed, and we set out to prove it by developing over the next several years a series of policy proposals addressing great public challenges, but in ways that emphasized traditional Republican themes – including marketplace incentives, private initiatives, decentralized power, streamlined government and broadly-based international engagement.  Over time, most of Ripon’s early agenda (revenue sharing, welfare reform, a volunteer army, minority business enterprise, school desegregation, government reorganization, affirmative action, a new opening to China and other initiatives) was reflected in the policies of the Nixon administration.

But there was one set of policy concerns that came to define and motivate the Ripon Society more than any other – and that was a renewed commitment to the advancement of Civil Rights.

Among the members’ strong convictions was that Civil Rights was a matter on which the party of Lincoln should exercise particularly strong leadership. It was a part of the party’s DNA at the time, we thought, stretching back to its earliest days.  It was an issue on which Democratic administrations through the years had been compromised by their strong dependence on southern Congressional and Electoral College support.  Civil Rights was a cause that had been advanced in the 1950’s by Republican leadership on the Supreme Court of the United States – and enforced most recently by a Republican president.  (And it would, in fact, soon be advanced much further, through 1960’s federal legislation which would draw more support from Republicans than from Democrats in the United States Congress.)

Ironically, however, Civil Rights also became the one issue which most clearly separated the Ripon Society from the nascent New Conservative movement as it emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Among the members’ strong convictions was that Civil Rights was a matter on which the party of Lincoln should exercise particularly strong leadership.

Nonetheless, it was support for Civil Rights which most forcefully galvanized the Ripon founders. Perhaps the first reflection of that fact came when the group adopted the name of the Wisconsin town where the party had first been organized, with strong abolitionist support, in 1854.  The Ripon Society held one of its first public press conferences there, on the grounds of the “Little White School House” where the Party’s leaders first called themselves “Republicans.” (The School House still adorns the nameplate of The Ripon Forum.)  And the Society adopted as its logo – marking its stationery and a growing flow of press releases, reports and other documents – a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln.

The Republican Party has experienced a vast array of ups and downs since that time—but the Lincoln legacy still represents an ideal Party lodestar.  This anniversary occasion is surely an appropriate time for remembering and advancing that legacy.

Lee Huebner

Lee Huebner was the Ripon Society’s second president from 1967 to 1969. He later was a speechwriter in the Nixon White House and now is a professor at the George Washington University.