The Corner

Republicans and Rich Guys

A number of conservatives, including me, have argued that the Republican party’s most pressing need is to make it clear to voters that it promotes the interests of all Americans, not just rich people. Writing at the Washington Post, political scientist John Sides points out that the public has associated the party with rich people and big business for a long time. He concludes that

perhaps this association is something the party can ultimately live with.   Republicans have suffered an “empathy gap” for some time—embodied in the idea of “caring about people like me” or, in Bill Clinton’s rendering, “feeling your pain.”  This hasn’t stopped Republicans from winning elections. . . .

But if the GOP wants to push in the direction Ponnuru suggests, it has a difficult road ahead.  People’s perceptions of the parties are difficult to change.

It is fine (and inevitable) that Republicans are associated with rich people and business, so long as they are not associated exclusively with their interests. That they frequently are has been, as Sides suggests, a longstanding problem for the party. It is a problem that Republicans have often been able to overcome, but has kept them from becoming the country’s natural majority party at any point since the Great Depression. And it’s a problem that (as I argue in the most recent issue of NR) the party can take steps to alleviate even if not eliminate. In politics as in economics, it’s often change at the margins that matters.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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