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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat on the GOP’s Need for a Compelling Middle-Class Message



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Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest column argues that while it is true that Republicans have fared poorly among Latinos, young voters, and unmarried women, a strategy that focuses narrowly on immigration reform or a shift to more socially liberal positions is not the most constructive long-term approach to building support. Rather, the party needs to focus on crafting a domestic policy agenda that will prove more compelling to economically insecure low- and middle-income voters. Consider his observations about Latinos and the young:

Hispanics are disproportionately poor and uninsured. And like people of other races in similar situations, they tend to have views on economic policy that align with the Democrats. In California, for example, Hispanics helped get Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increases approved on Election Day. A Republican Party that is associated with repealing Obama’s health-care legislation — and not with any alternative plan to get people health insurance — is going to get trounced among these voters.

Public support for same-sex marriage has risen a lot, among young people especially, and the Republican Party will have to soften its opposition to it. Again, though, there is an economic dimension to the party’s trouble. Young people are also less economically secure than the middle-aged and the retired who vote Republican more frequently. That has to play a role in the way they vote. What have Republicans up and down the ticket offered to address the concerns of economically stressed young people? A vague promise to create more jobs; an entitlement reform that, even viewed charitably, would do nothing for them here and now.

Something similar can be said of unmarried women, who tend to be less economically secure than their married counterparts. Unless Republicans can convincingly argue that their policies will deliver higher take-home pay, due to some combination of stronger economic growth, tighter labor markets, and less expensive medical insurance and higher education, they will continue to lose support from voters who are anxious about the economic future.

On Sunday, Ross Douthat made the case for a more reform-oriented agenda:

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.” It should be possible for the party to reform and streamline government while also addressing middle-class anxieties about wages, health care, education and more.

The good news is that such an agenda already exists, at least in embryonic form. Thanks to four years of intellectual ferment, Republicans seeking policy renewal have a host of thinkers and ideas to draw from: Luigi Zingales and Jim Pethokoukis on crony capitalism, Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein on tax policy, Frederick Hess on education reform, James Capretta on alternatives to Obamacare, and many more.

The bad news is that unlike a pander on immigration, a new economic agenda probably wouldn’t be favorably received by the party’s big donors, who tend to be quite happy with the Republican Party’s current positioning.

But after spending billions of those donors’ dollars with nothing to show for it, perhaps Republicans should seek a different path: one in which they raise a little less money but win a few more votes.

One tangential point is that raising somewhat less money wouldn’t be a problem if resources could be allocated more effectively, a subject I’ll address in my next post. 



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