Change is especially hard for conservatives. It's not our nature.
But change is also essential — especially when things aren't going well.
After losing the White House, both houses of Congress and watching the president attempt to incite an insurrection, it's fair to say things aren't going well for my party.
While we've made notable gains with rural voters, broader political demographics will soon make it mathematically difficult for Republicans to again be a national majority governing party — absent a willingness to embrace change.
Party leaders and activists will now predictably debate whether an improved version of Trump populism, some updated version of Reagan conservatism, better outreach, or more celebrity candidates is the way forward.
Those options might rearrange the political furniture, but they don't represent real change.
Republicans should remain committed to conservatism and populism, but we now also need to also embrace modernism.
Republican modernism simply means effectively applying conservative principles to modern challenges, realities and opportunities.
The main fault line between America's political left and right is the way in which government resolves the inherent tension between equality and liberty. Our country's political journey features the ceaseless struggle to balance these two crucial and often competing values. Democrats use government to advance equal outcomes for all — while Republicans try to stop government overreach from trampling our liberties.
Republican modernism can highlight the GOP's commitment to liberty and equal opportunity in new ways. Here are a few examples:
Free speech and other forms of nonviolent free expression are among our highest demonstrations of liberty. To be clear, violently storming the Capitol is not free speech. It's insurrection. However, the left's strident and chronic efforts to repress views it deems offensive creates an opportunity for Republicans to become the free speech party. History confirms the exercise of free expression fuels innovation and progress.
History also confirms that socialism kills liberty. The best way for Republicans to combat the naive but now rising call for socialism in America is to make capitalism's opportunities more widely and equally available. For most people, the ante into capitalism is having a skill or education which provides a meaningful connection to the private economy.
The continued failure of our schools to effectively educate and equip a large percentage of students is not morally, socially or economically sustainable. Republicans need to again become the champions of bold education reform and accountability, especially at the state and local level.
And as to matters of personal liberty and equality, our courts and many individual Republicans now recognize that gay rights and same-sex marriage are just that: matters of personal liberty and equality. Accepting that fact does not undermine the party's well-founded support for religious liberty.
Our liberty is also enhanced by clean air and water, good health and a sustainable environment. Republican modernism should embrace improved environmental policies.
The root word in conservative is "conserve," which means to protect something from harm or destruction. Coal was never "coming back," and rolling back mercury emission restrictions and other similar initiatives were awful ideas.
Republicans should acknowledge the bulk of the world's scientists aren't wrong, that climate change is real, and that we can meet this challenge without micromanaging or damaging our economy.
Republican modernism should also recognize that America has always been a refuge for others seeking liberty and opportunity. That doesn't mean going easy on illegal immigration, but we must do better to acknowledge the value that legal, strategic and controlled immigration adds to our economy and fabric of our country.
And there is no liberty, equality or prosperity without safety and security. The world remains a very dangerous place and Republicans should be champions for keeping America's military so strong that no adversary dares to directly challenge us. We should also continue to strongly support law enforcement but ensure it has the modern training, tools and resources it needs to succeed in the eyes of all the people it protects and serves.
Forty years ago, I volunteered for Reagan to help steer America toward traditional and common-sense conservatism. Twenty years ago, I urged Republicans to be the party of Sam's Club — not just the country club — a call for Republicans to be more populist. Both were worthy efforts, but more is needed now.
A smart person once observed we need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster. Republicans are now at that point.
Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota, 2003-2011.