Saturday, November 10, 2012

How can Republicans win after 2012?

Self-proclaimed "liberal Democrat" Bill Scher has some advice for Republicans on how to win in the future. (And yes, it's genuinely good advice, not sarcastic or insincere!)

Condoleezza Rice says:

When you look at the composition of the electorate, clearly we are losing important segments of that electorate. And what we have to do is to appeal to those people not as identity groups, but understanding that if you get the identity issues out of the way, then you can appeal to Americans on the broader issues that all Americans share concerns for.

Alex Knepper (a libertarian Republican) agrees and elaborates:
That’s exactly right. The social issues serve as a barrier to persuasion. New voters — young people, immigrants — tend to identify with one of the parties on a ‘big picture’ basis — not by going down a checklist of issues and comparing the party platforms. The social issues are not only the easiest for the uninitiated to understand, but they have the most emotional impact. It’s one thing to argue over the merits of adjusting the capital gains tax rate — most people will submit that it’s an issue about which reasonable people can civilly disagree. But when Hispanics hear that the Republican presidential nominee has openly advocated making life so miserable for illegal immigrants that they won’t even want to live here anymore (that’s what “self-deportation” means, people), then an enormous wall has been created. When you’ve lost the trust of a minority group, they won’t listen to a word you have to say about Medicare, tax reform, or deficit-reduction. There’s nothing inherent about brown skin that makes a person hostile toward capitalism. But if people with brown skin think that the party of the free market hates them, then they’ll run into the arms of the party of statism. And why not? People need to feel assured that you view them with dignity and respect, not with contempt and loathing. There’s nothing that should be surprising about that.

We don’t need to win the Hispanic vote — we just need to increase our share back to levels more like George W. Bush’s. Changing our policies and tone toward immigration issues is only a first step to achieving that — not only because it is practical, but because it is the right thing to do. Once that issue is out of the way, then we can go about the vital task of reaching out to Hispanic voters on the basis of the timeless American values of upward mobility, economic freedom, and individual liberty.
I think a lot of people go along with Democratic economic policies largely because they've already decided to be Democrats based on social issues. As Knepper points out, social issues are relatively easy to have clear, unwavering views about. Given the choice between memorizing and repeating a few slogans to sum up the mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, or reaching your own conclusions on those issues by soberly weighing the smartest arguments on all sides, many people just don't have time for the latter, no matter how much more intellectually honest it would be.

Yet people would rather feel a sense of clarity than uncertainty on the major issues of the day. So, when they don't have time to master those issues, they develop shortcuts, like saying their side cares, and the other side doesn't care — or, only cares about the wrong people. That approach is simplistic but powerful enough to be able to explain almost any political divide. Given that Republicans are the party of social and economic conservatism, and that their social conservatism is blatantly uncaring, socially liberal voters have a readily available shortcut for taking a stand on Republican economic policies: just as Republicans' social policies show that they don't care about women, blacks, gays, immigrants, etc., their economic policies show that they don't care about the middle class (or the poor), and that they only care about the rich (or corporations).

It's not just that many voters are socially liberal and prioritize social issues, causing Republicans to lose a portion of the electorate every Election Day based on those issues. Of course, that's true, but Republicans have a broader problem: their positions on social issues are turning off many voters from the very idea of agreeing with them on any issue. Conservatives like to bring up "the law of unintended consequences." Well, how many professional Republicans are willing to face the fact that their party's retrograde positions on social issues have been inadvertently holding economic conservatism hostage?