Michael Gerson

Republicans have distinctive contributions to make on climate policy. They might support a carbon tax instead of a cumbersome cap-and-trade system. They should insist that all revenues gained from a carbon tax or the sale of pollution permits go back to the American people in lower taxes. But the main policy choice is binary: Should a cost be imposed on carbon emissions? If Republicans generally say no, they will not be viewed as belonging to an environmental party.

A similar argument can be made concerning health care. Obamacare, in its nascent form, seems deeply flawed -- using a system of fines, new bureaucracies and subsides to push workers toward a plan resembling Medicare. Republicans have long supported alternatives that subsidize the individual ownership of private health insurance. But these proposals generally have been incremental, poorly explained and largely ignored.

A credible Republican alternative would employ a more generous refundable tax credit that enables the working poor to purchase basic health insurance -- essentially creating an entitlement to health care through the private insurance system. This is perhaps the only real alternative to the slow socialization of American health care. It is also costly.

Or consider immigration. Immigrants hold diverse political views, but they also make a determination about parties and politicians: Do they welcome us? The answer from Republicans has often been equivocal. Some of this is a matter of tone. But it is difficult to imagine a remedy to this impression of resentment without Republican support for immigration reform that includes a legal status for temporary workers and a realistic path to citizenship.

Each of these policies -- carbon restrictions, universal health insurance and immigration reform -- could eventually be important to the Republican recovery. But would a candidate carrying these ideas transform the Republican Party, or be destroyed by it? The hostile reaction to the pizza parlor putsch provides one answer.

But this is a snapshot, not a prophecy. As the years pass, the kingdom of irrelevance seems less and less pleasant, even to its rulers. Policy shifts that seem incredible become inevitable. This is how a party prepares to win.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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