I’m a big believer in being intentional. Being intentional in what you seek to accomplish every day, as well as over time. It’s an essential way to stay focused and not allow the grind of each day or life as a whole to win out over your highest priorities.
Similarly, the now whiter, more male, more rural, more conservative House GOP minority needs to be intentional about being a party that stands for more than white, rural, conservatives. That shouldn’t require a radical change in ideas (in theory), but it does require applying conservative principles to modern problems that resonate with voters they seek to represent in the future.
The alternative isn’t sustainable. Brian Kemp showed this in Georgia, as he goosed turnout in more rural, whiter parts of the state, winning the gubernatorial election without a runoff. At the same time, Republicans got hammered in suburban Congressional and state legislative districts. You know, the places that are growing in population, not shrinking.
I say “intentional” because it requires focused, sustained effort in the Age of Trump and its chaotic outrage of the day news cycles that makes a longer-term strategy more difficult to see and implement.
Republicans have to find a way to appeal again to growing populations of urban voters, suburban voters, and minorities. I’ve said as much on the suburban issue already, a demographic that almost single-handedly accounts for GOP midterm losses. Kevin Williamson has said something similar on cities, relevant for many a Governorship and US Senate seat the GOP would like to hold:
New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia — as far as conservatives are concerned, these may as well be so many Sodoms upon which we are all too happy to call down fire and judgment. But it’s not only the coastal dens of sin that we have written off: In Texas — Texas! — Republican office-seekers (a reasonable if imperfect proxy for conservative political tendencies) are largely shut out of the cities: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso — all are reliably Democratic.
We prefer the “Real America,” which apparently means depopulated rural areas and moribund Rust Belt mill towns, outer-ring suburbs, declining mega-churches, Idaho, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming. We aren’t even very sure about Montana these days. If by the “Real America” you mean the parts of the country where the people and the capital are, we are not quite so sure of ourselves.
We didn’t defeat Communism and win 49-state landslides in 1972 and 1984 by hunkering down on Oklahoma hog farms. We did that with a couple of California globalists, one of them a Hollywood union boss who gave his most famous speech in a European capital.
One could argue things have changed quite a bit in our body politic since the those 49-state landslides, including as people increasingly self-select into geographies populated by others of similar politics. But lurking in Williamson’s critique is that same idea of applying conservative principles to the problems voters care about, as opposed to relying on an agenda only one’s base cares about.
Departing Congresswoman Mia Love has a similar critique on the issue of minority voters:
I am not advocating a Republican version of identity politics. I oppose such tactics because they often strip people of their identity and reduce them to an avatar.
But Republicans should not be so afraid of identity politics that we refuse to seek out the unique experiences that actually do contribute to people’s individual identity.
We must do a better job of connecting with individuals and families that may not traditionally vote Republican. We must listen to their experiences, visit them in their comfort zones and take their priorities to heart. Our policy implementations must be personal — not transactional.
There are two components to addressing the problem. One, stop doing things that exacerbate the idea that Republicans are insensitive or uncaring when it comes to urban, suburban, and minority voters.
As Tim Scott said, if you don’t want him voting down a Trump judicial nominee, maybe don’t send him one with a “questionable track record” on issues related to race.
If Republicans don’t want to be viewed as Confederate sympathizers, maybe stop nominating people like Corey Stewart in Virginia or allowing modern-day Confederate apologists to become the top official at the VA.
If Republicans don’t want to be viewed as opposing the ability of people of color to vote, stop spending so much time on the issue of new efforts to target the highly rare case of individual voter fraud and instead focus on organized activity resulting in outright election fraud.
If Republicans don’t want to be viewed as insensitive to racial minorities, don’t continue to welcome the vile Steve King into the House GOP caucus.
If Republicans don’t want to be viewed as uncaring about the dramatic drop in women in the House caucus in DC, don’t stiff an enthusiastic remaining female Member who wants to support more female candidates (at the same time a departing, urban, Latina, female Republican Member is warning of a similar need for more attention):
This means that, going forward, Ms. Stefanik will be battling not only a fired-up Democratic opposition, but also deeply entrenched elements within her own party.
Sure enough, upon announcing her effort, Ms. Stefanik promptly faced pushback from the N.R.C.C.
Representative Tom Emmer, the committee’s new chairman, pronounced her plan “a mistake,” telling Roll Call, “It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary.”
While outreach to diversify the candidate base is important, as is being deliberate about rejecting the Corey Stewarts and Steve Kings of the world, the more critical factor is running on an agenda that resonates with voters.
This isn’t hard. George W. Bush did historically well with Hispanics and Latinos in part because of his clear focus on an issue that resonated well with many such voters: public education reform.
Today, equally helpful in some races could be touting criminal justice reform, such as the bipartisan First Step Act, and continue finding ways, as good conservatives can do, to support reform that deals with convicted drug users more wisely, reintegrates non-violent and reformed offenders better, and saves taxpayers money. It shouldn't be a stunner Ted Cruz and John Cornyn both found a way to support the First Step Act given long-term trends in Texas's political demographics.
There are other issues, but the point should be clear. Apply conservative principles to advance solutions to problems on the minds of voters who cast Republicans out in 2018.
That won’t be easy with Trump, including in 2020. But the effort has to start somewhere to have hope.