Opinion: The Republican Party has a tough choice to make

(CNN)With few primary season challengers and strong support from his base, President Donald Trump easily emerged as the Republican Party's presidential nominee. As delegates prepare for their convention, where Trump will be formally nominated, CNN Opinion asked 11 contributors from across the Republican spectrum to weigh in on their visions for the future of the party.

Douglas Heye: The GOP's 'touch the stove' moment

Douglas Heye
If President Donald Trump wins again in November, the future of the party seems rather clear: Trumpism reigns supreme. His reelection, regardless of whether he receives a majority of the popular vote or not, will be hailed by the party as an affirmation of all things Trump.
    Reluctant Republican members of Congress will either resign themselves to play along -- or they'll resign from office all together.
      During the 2013 government shutdown, House Republican leadership referred to it as a "touch the stove" moment. If our members touch the stove, thus shutting down the government despite no strategic or principled imperative, we thought they would soon realize it's too hot.
        We were wrong. Many of them touched the stove, the government shut down -- and there were limited electoral repercussions for the GOP.
        For the past four years, Republicans have been leaning on that same stove. If they get burned this time, and the 2018 House midterm results combined with recent polling suggest they might, it's hard to tell exactly what direction the party goes, because it'll feel pressure from multiple factions.
          Some Republicans, queasy but quiet over how Trump has governed, will want to return to pre-2009 -- before the rise of the tea party and House Freedom Caucus, whom they blame for laying the foundation for Trump's rise to power.
          Others will seek that mantle of fiscal and social conservative purity that Trump never truly represented, hoping to return to a Ronald Reagan type of conservatism that valued low taxes and family values.
          And the President's most vocal supporters, for whom his personality was always more important than his principles, may well find reason in a Trump loss to claim the party was not quite Trumpy enough.
          Each President puts his own stamp on a party, but perhaps none more so than Trump -- and to a party that so willingly gave itself to him, despite his lack of conservative credentials or being, well, a lifelong Republican. But once the party crosses that threshold, it can never fully cross back.
          Voters know this, which is why with a shrinking base and demographics increasingly against them, Republicans may be in for a long and painstaking journey back to relevancy.
          Douglas Heye is the ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a GOP strategist and a CNN political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @dougheye.

          Mia Love: Capitalize on the advantages that drew me into the fold

          Mia Love
          As Democrats have lurched left and President Donald Trump has embraced a more populist agenda, we are seeing a realignment in American politics, in which working-class voters are moving right while many wealthy elites and suburban professionals shift left.
          In fact, following the 2018 midterms, 54 of the 66 wealthiest congressional districts in America were held by Democrats. As such, the Republican Party of the future may well be more economically and culturally diverse than ever before.
          While the Democrats' top-down, big government-led approach to public policy has had some appeal, in theory, it fails in practice. The contrast between heavily regulated and perpetually indebted Democrat-run states and their largely fiscally prudent red state counterparts is becoming more obvious with each passing day.
          State fiscal rankings by George Mason University's Mercatus Center since 2006 have consistently found blue states at the bottom for fiscal solvency, considering measures like cash-on-hand, ability to meet long-term commitments and unfunded liabilities like pension costs.
          I would like to see the party capitalize on this advantage and others that drew me, a first generation Black American, into the fold. Republicans have answers to poverty that actually work. Their pro-work, pro-family, pro-business, low tax agenda creates jobs and expands opportunity.
          Meanwhile, blue state policies incentivize government dependence, focusing on enlarging safety nets and thus disincentivizing work. As result, blue states take eight of the top ten highest rankings for welfare spending per capita, while traditionally red states consistently rank lowest.
          Though many in the party, including me, may be upset and tired of the brashness and combative style of President Donald Trump, we benefit from many of the policies he has promoted, including tax cuts, regulatory reform, better trade deals and energy independence.
          Additionally, instead of dictating from the top, Trump has in many cases allowed states to be the laboratory of ideas. My background in local government has taught me that, time after time, some of the best and most efficient solutions are found at the local and state level.
          People want to work, not become government dependents. They want to serve others, not outsource their service to government. They want to live in states that can capably manage their budgets without raising taxes.
          We can do more to elevate the diverse voices within our party -- women, people of color, immigrants and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are here, and more are coming. We need them, and we should welcome them.
          Mia Love, a Republican, is a former US representative from Utah's 4th district and a current CNN political commentator. Before Congress, she served as a mayor and city council member in Utah.

          Sarah Isgur: Rebuilding the three-legged stool

          Sarah Isgur
          President Ronald Reagan used to describe the Republican Party as a three-legged stool, made up of social conservatives, foreign policy hawks and free market/limited government advocates.
          But that stool began to wobble in 2009, as the tea party emerged on the political scene, offering a more populist alternative to traditional conservatism. And, in the intervening 10 years, the stool appears to have been sold off at a garage sale.
          Just last month, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley may have written the final epitaph for the Reagan Republican coalition. "It turns out we haven't been fighting for very much," he wrote, referencing the "ruinous trade policies" and a party that "focuse[d] more on cutting taxes and handing out favors for corporations."
          But it's not just the stool metaphor that is missing. The very idea of electoral coalitions is gone from the current Republican Party strategy as well. The GOP's victory in 2016 was centered around the personality of its candidate. And now the 2020 election will be a referendum on that personality.
          It's obvious that voters aren't weighing the competing policy platforms of two campaigns. As of last week, according to a CBS/YouGov poll, 96% of likely voters said their minds were made up about who to vote for this year. (By way of reference, the same poll in 2016 showed nearly three times as many voters were open to changing their minds even by October.)
          And in what should be a humbling thought about the future of the Democratic Party, more than half of registered voters supporting Joe Biden chose "he is not Trump" as their primary reason.
          So, what is the future of the Republican Party after November? Win or lose, it will be a party that will never have Donald Trump on the ballot again. And the 2024 nominee will be charting a new path for the Republican Party without the shibboleths of the conservative movement that used to comprise it.
          But a loss in November will only add fuel to the recriminations from all corners of the previous iterations of the party who wants to claim the mantle of "rebuilding" it. Meanwhile voters may start to ask what the party stands for -- and that is an increasingly difficult question to answer.
          Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.

          Rick Santorum: It's not just about the economy

          Rick Santorum
          The Republican Party has experienced a titanic political realignment, a simmering tempest that exploded after years of trade and tax policy that left blue-collar families behind and a progressive cultural movement seeking to redefine our fundamental values.
          The Wall Street bailouts simply lit the fuse, and these working-class voters became a force with the emergence of the Tea Party. My pro-American manufacturing, traditional values platform appealed to this group of disaffected voters in the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
          But it was President Donald Trump who was able to do what no candidate had been able to do before -- activating them to win the White House in 2016.
          Trump identified the importance of work, specifically in the manufacturing and energy sectors, for those left behind by the tech economy and globalism. He understood that we must be a party that drives the kind of economic growth that lifts all workers, especially because nearly 90% of Americans are workers, not business owners. Policies that lift all Americans win, and so does America.
          However, as we have been reminded during the Covid-19 pandemic, money isn't everything. Americans are worried about their health and family. Everything the conservative movement advocates must also be seen through the lens of strengthening families, improving quality of life, and lowering the cost while ensuring the high-quality of health care.
          A GOP agenda focused solely on growing the economy without guaranteeing those policies lift all Americans will be a failed agenda, a realization that current and future leaders like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have forcibly argued.
          The Republican Party is now attracting blue-collar workers who love America for all it offers and represents -- and that is with or without Trump in the White House.
          We must be the party that fights for their economic well-being, supports the family as the basic building block of society and never waivers from advocating for our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of what makes us truly happy.
          Rick Santorum is a CNN senior political commentator and a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and 2016.

          Scott Jennings: The Republican Party ought to stand for common sense

          Scott Jennings
          I would like to see us get back to standing for and focusing on a platform instead of personalities. I'm not for rigidity that precludes the flexibility to deal with unusual circumstances (i.e. the coronavirus pandemic clearly called for more government spending than your average Republican would want in normal times), but to grow and thrive we have to clearly articulate what we stand for no matter who the president or presidential nominee happens to be.
          That's not to say we won't love candidates who rise up and lead our party -- it is clearly human nature to follow leadership -- but it is to say that those leaders must be clear-eyed about why they are Republicans and that we must hold them to it.
          Our politics has fallen into the trap that plagues most of American culture -- the celebrification of everything. We chase personalities, rising and falling on their stars, which unfortunately makes us vulnerable to their personal foibles and deviations from our supposed principles and values.
          Operating a party this way also gives the media too much control of a party's image; individuals are much more easily destroyed and discredited than a rock solid set of ideals.
          We have to recognize that policy fights aren't always won by simply "owning" the other party's people and plans, as easy as they sometimes make it (and as much fun as it sometimes is). There's an old saying -- you can't beat something with nothing.
          To beat Democrats and their embrace of certain socialist policies, we have to offer policy ideas that appeal to common sense and our conservative worldview.
          I became a Republican, despite coming from a family of Democrats, for a handful of reasons. I am pro-life, because all life is precious and should be protected. I believe in lower taxes, because I don't support punishing people who work hard and create opportunity for others.
          And I think the United States ought to have the most fearsome and lethal military in the world, to serve as a deterrent most of the time and as a force to be reckoned with when bad actors choose to test us.
          Beyond that, my platform is simple: The Constitution, and the rights enumerated therein, are not negotiable -- especially the right to free speech. American exceptionalism should permeate all of decisions. People should determine their individual path to life, liberty and happiness -- not the government.
          Work is to be expected, valued and appreciated -- not disincentivized. America welcomes those who are here to work, play by our rules and add value to our society. Our borders are sacred and strong, as is our compassion and goodwill.
          No law or regulation need exist where common sense and the free market can dictate a good outcome. We should treat others as we expect to be treated -- with respect and dignity.
          And that's it. Party platforms needn't be lengthy, complicated documents. Setting up a series of maxims that guide policy thought and discussion is enough. Individual candidates can then use this kind of platform to develop their more specific policy proposals to achieve those maxims.
          The Republican Party ought to stand for reason and resist conspiracy theories. Old wisdom rings true to me -- if it's too good to be true, it probably is. Being truthful and honorable is always the right answer. And it is never the wrong day to do the right thing.
          Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

          SE Cupp: The Republican Party is Trump's forever

          S.E. Cupp
          As a longtime Republican, I have found the last four years ranging from disorienting to downright maddening. What happened to the conservative principles that used to undergird the party for decades? In one word, Trump.
          The advent of President Donald Trump ushered in utter chaos inside the GOP. Conservative orthodoxy was unceremoniously discarded to accommodate whatever Trump impulsively and self-interestedly needed in the moment -- adoration, self-preservation, even revenge.
          Whether the party will ever wish to reclaim its core principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, upholding the Constitution and fair elections is anyone's guess.
          But the damage is done. The corruption of the Republican Party by Trump is complete. The idea that Republicans can -- earnestly and with a straight face -- just pretend like the last four years never happened and pick up the policies and principles that the party used to espouse strains credulity.
          It's not clear, in fact, that they would even want to.
          The conservatives and moderate Republicans who've been left behind by the Trump takeover have found themselves without a home. And so they might consider forming a new party, or joining the legions of independents -- a plurality in America -- who feel that neither Democrats nor Republicans adequately represent them.
          The GOP should permanently rebrand: the Republican Party is the Trump Party. Whether Trump is President another four years or leaves in November, the party is now his to do with what he wants. Given the fate of his multiple bankrupt businesses, that doesn't bode very well.
          SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of "SE Cupp Unfiltered."

          Lanhee J. Chen: We need a principled, next-generation conservatism

          Lanhee J. Chen