Nunes: Conservatives need a bold domestic agenda to win in 2024

Caleb Nunes, Op-Ed Contributor


If conservatives want to secure the Republican nomination and win against President Joe Biden in 2024, they must present a thorough and optimistic domestic policy agenda crafted around four pillars: tax reform, spending restraint, border security and environmental conservation.

Former President Ronald Reagan’s resounding electoral college victory of 489 to 49 in 1980 and the Reagan Revolution that followed in the years after illustrate the magnitude of change possible when damning economic conditions are met with a visionary leader. While the next decade will present challenges different from what Reagan faced, modern conservative politicians would be foolish not to learn from him. Today’s challenges call for extreme reform and retrenchment of the federal government to avoid stagflation and create a generation of economic growth.

The first pillar of the conservative agenda should include meaningful tax reform aiming for a single rate, broad base flat tax. Presidential candidates in the past like publishing executive Steve Forbes, Republican senator Ted Cruz and even Democrat and former Californian Governor Jerry Brown have run on low-rate flat taxes. Still, no president with such a goal has entered office. So, candidates should look toward tax reform that mirrors Reagan’s reduction in the number of tax brackets from 16 to merely two in the 80s. 

Additionally, the tax code currently includes more than 200 expenditures that amount to corporate interest giveaways and significant market distortion, commonly known as loopholes. Reducing the corporate tax rate to 15% from 21% or eliminating it altogether would continue the repatriation of assets that began after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. A tax reform package like this would greatly spur growth and thus the base of taxable income. 

The second pillar should aim to reform federal spending programs to reduce costs and increase efficiency. All non-defense agencies should face budget cuts, and we should downsize the federal workforce through efforts like those proposed in the Public Service Reform Act of 2022. The next conservative leader must also focus on increasing transparency in the Pentagon. While the current geopolitical threats from Iran, China and Russia warrant more tanks, warships and aircrafts, it is important to eliminate the Pentagon’s abundant corruption. Defense contractors should not be burdened by the requirement to “Buy American” — a policy scheme that increases taxpayers’ cost for defense purchases. 

Mandatory spending reforms, although politically challenging for any conservative leader, will  reduce over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, debts that aren’t backed up by present assets, entailed in Social Security and Medicare. For Social Security, a free market reform creates retirement savings accounts for employees’ payroll taxes. With Medicare, reform efforts must repeal the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and regulation on insurers as well as providing individuals more financial freedom through health savings accounts.

The third pillar of the conservative agenda should increase border security while passing immigration reform. Politicians should combine heavy-handed proposals like ending the diversity lottery system, which randomly selects 50,000 people immigrating from countries that send low numbers of migrants to the U.S. green cards, with implementing a merit-based immigration system. 

The fourth pillar of the conservative agenda must cover energy abundance and environmental conservation. The only way conservatives will ever gain the trust of Generation Z and Millenials is by framing themselves as defenders of the environment. The current paradigm suggests energy abundance comes at the expense of the environment. To change this, conservatives must communicate how free market capitalism can preserve our environment, ensuring clean, affordable energy without breaking the bank.

Conservatives should promote deregulating nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has the highest energy capacity factor of all energy sources, but regulations have prevented the development of numerous nuclear energy projects. In fact, the Progressive Policy Institute states current permitting requirements for clean energy projects are one of the biggest hurdles in achieving net-zero emissions. Conservative politicians like U.S. Representative and Florida Republican Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) have already led efforts to modernize regulations and permits surrounding nuclear and other clean energy sectors to unleash their potential. 

A true conservative visionary in the mold of Reagan should build their domestic policy agenda on these four pillars. While some items will face opposition from Democrats and big-government Republicans, liberals and conservatives can find common ground on defense spending transparency and clean energy reform.

We need a leader who knows how to form coalitions while avoiding compromise on conservative values. An absence of strong leaders in Washington has led the nation into economic stagflation and recession anxiety. The time could not be more right for a bold conservative agenda to restore economic prosperity and revitalize the American spirit. 

Caleb Nunes is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.