Todd Gilbert, House Majority Leader and soon-to-be House Minority Leader: GOP must learn to appeal to suburban voters.

by James A. Bacon

So, the Republicans have wrapped up their annual “Advance” — a retreat at the Omni Homestead resort in Bath County. And if reports of the two newspapers that covered the event are to be believed — one from the Washington Post and one from the Roanoke Times — GOP leaders have absolutely no clue how to become competitive statewide.

Attendees do agree that they got shellacked in the November election, and they share a vague sense that they need to increase their appeal in the suburbs. But their only hope at this point resides in the conviction that Democrats will over-reach with Trump Derangement Syndrome in Washington and enact California-style legislation in Richmond. If voters get buyer’s remorse, they might start voting for Republicans again.

But you can’t defeat something with nothing, and there is no indication in either news account that Republicans gave much thought to what they stood for, other than not being insane.

At the moment, the only only sign of vitality among grass roots Republicans is the wave of rural and exurban localities declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. But large majorities of Americans (and Virginians) in urban/suburban localities support measures like requiring background checks for private and gun show sales, and creating a “red flag” law to remove guns from crazy people. If gun control is the debate Republicans want to have, they will lose in the state’s population centers. No, they won’t just lose. They will get stomped.

I have argued that the place to start is to rebrand the Republican Party (or if Republicans are a lost cause, the Libertarian Party, or if they’re hopeless, to start a third party) as the Party of Opportunity, with a win-win agenda of wealth creation for all, while the Democrats effectively brand themselves as the party of grievance and victimhood, with a win-lose agenda of wealth redistribution.

To become the Party of Opportunity, Republicans need to identify the issues that matter most to a significant majority of Virginians. These might include:

  • Economic opportunity — more jobs, better jobs, a better business climate for entrepreneurs and corporate investors
  • Address runaway healthcare costs
  • Address runaway cost of college attendance
  • Address problem of low-performing schools
  • Hold the line on taxes, strengthen state/local government finances

These are just examples. Use polling data to identify the issues that resonate the most. Don’t identify too many issues because peoples’ eyes glaze over when they see a lengthy laundry list.

The next trick is to identify plausible policy solutions that reflect the Republican values of fiscal conservatism and a faith in market economies. Take health care, for example. While Democrats continue to think about nothing but expanding benefits for the poor, the average out-of-pocket cost of family medical coverage now exceeds $8,000 (not counting the nearly $20,000 for employers). That’s an issue with huge electoral appeal, if Republicans can frame it properly.

Now that Medicaid expansion is a done deal, campaigning on its repeal is a political loser. Create a positive message: We stand for boosting productivity, improving outcomes, and reducing costs for everyone. Then articulate plausible mechanisms for accomplishing those goals. Open up the health care marketplace for more competition between insurers and between providers. Create price transparency so consumers can find the best deals for discretionary procedures. Host health care summits that share best practices and recognize outstanding achievement. Keep the message upbeat, keep it positive.

Follow the same methodology for other high-profile issues. Target the source of the problem, identify plausible solutions, and frame a positive message. If Republicans can do that and also stake out the middle ground on the culture war issues while letting the Democrats be the party of crazy, the GOP can become the majority party again. If they can’t, maybe it’s time to start a serious third-party movement that can address the real problems of working-class and middle-class Virginians.

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12 responses to “In Failure, the GOP Has an Opportunity to Reinvent Itself”

  1. J. Abbate Avatar

    Until the Republican party cleanly divorces itself from the anti-science, anti-factual, pro-Russia, and quasi-racist Trumpism movement, they will continue to stink up the place. Additionally, there should be room for Republicans and Democrats to agree on policy that makes fiscal and ethical sense, like offering a single-payer option. In the course of defending the health care bill he passed in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney told Newt Gingrich that he got the idea for the individual mandate — a rule dictating that everyone must buy health insurance or pay a penalty — from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank. So instead of continuing to support an intelligent policy, once the Dems took it up, the Party of No simply stood against it.

    And finally, reality no longer supports bringing back the dead trickle-down economic theory, that providing a massive tax reduction for the wealthy 1% somehow magically benefits a struggling working class. An analysis by the Center for American Progress noted:

    “… Trump administration’s claims were [understood by economic critics to be] unlikely to pan out, in part because they hinged on the same supply-side economics that decades of tax cuts for the wealthy have consistently discredited.

    These critics emphasized a number of flaws with the CEA’s theory of the case. First, corporations were holding large amounts of cash. Second, they were able to access capital very cheaply with interest rates at historic lows for almost a decade. Third, the effective tax rates on U.S. corporate investment, especially debt-financed investment, were already quite low, indicating that the cost of capital—let alone the portion attributable to taxes—was hardly holding back corporate investment. The critics noted that greater corporate market power meant that corporate profits consisted largely of economic rents, not marginal returns on investment. Therefore, a new corporate tax cut would, even if effective, likely be passed onto shareholders rather than being reinvested by the firms receiving the tax cut. Critics emphasized further that even if the tax cuts sparked an investment boom that increased productivity, it would be far from clear whether workers would be able to capture the gains, given the power imbalances between U.S. workers and employers.”

    The report also noted that instead of substantially increasing investment, the windfall businesses received largely went to paying off wealthy investors. One analysis of Fortune 500 companies found that just 20 percent of increased cashflow in 2018 was spent on increasing capital expenditures or research and development. The remaining 80 percent of cashflow went to investors through buybacks, dividends, or other asset planning adjustments. The vast majority of corporate stocks are held by the wealthy, including foreign investors, and thus they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the windfall corporate tax cuts. Will the Republican party continue to trot out trickle-down economics as a policy without any regard to the actual consequences for most Americans who are not wealthy stockholders or part of the 1%?

    It appears that Trump’s position that he can fool enough of the people enough of the time is deteriorating for the Republican party. Where is the wisdom shown by Pres. Eisenhower, when he came forward to actually invest in the country’s basic infrastructure, highways, roadways, and bridges to foster major economic growth? The U.S. could be leading in broadband internet connectivity but we are not, should be leading in renewable energy development, R & D, and partnering with allies and trade partners for growth in a global economy, but we are not. Under Trump, we have contracted and are flailing at both our allies, trade partners, and our global competitors with a tariff war. This damages numerous American markets, slows growth at home and globally, and diminishes our respect worldwide, resulting in less trusted negotiations going forward. The Republican party can move away from this stance, if not for the obvious diplomatic reasons, at least for the economic benefits of cultivating business trust and beneficial agreements.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      It is hard to persuade people to depart from Trump, even those who find him cringe worthy, when odds look pretty good at this point he will win a second term!

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    well here’s your problem:

    Economic opportunity — more jobs, better jobs, a better business climate for entrepreneurs and corporate investors
    Address runaway healthcare costs
    Address runaway cost of college attendance
    Address problem of low-performing schools
    Hold the line on taxes, strengthen state/local government finances

    The GOP tends to encapsulate these things with respect to concepts and philosophies rather than specific policy proposals and the oppose what the Dems have proposed.

    For instance, they don’t like Obamcare nor the Medicaid Expansion and they never have SPECIFIC proposals – that they actually vote on as their solution. For years, they talked about “tort reform” and “certificate of need” , “transparency”, while at the same time waffling on things like pre-existing conditions. They advocate these cheap low cost policies
    as if they were real insurance instead of rip-offs.

    They almost NEVER put together a clear and compelling alternative while at the same time demagoguing “government doctors and socialism”, etc.

    On education, their “solution” to public school issues is to advocate more private and charter schools and when the Dems advocate free basic college – not all-you-can-eat including room & board – the GOP does not make clear what their alternative is – at all.

    They continue to support Jim Crow era policies like Confederate memorials and names for schools and roads and even govt buildings, school-to-prison policies,

    They stonewall and demagogue the gun rights issues – they’re all in to the NRA and the gun-rights crowd. This is not a message than urban dwellers agree with.

    They’re pretty good at messaging for low-information folks – like telling their rural constituents that they don’t want “socialized medical care” but when they are dealing with college-educated, and diverse voters in urban areas – they see through it.

    Fundamentally, many young urban voters want everyone to have equitable access to health care and education and what they get from the GOP is all kind of Conservative “philosophy” about these issues sans any real proposals other than attack the Dem proposals.

    This is why I have asked – NOT rhetorically – if the GOP really does want to actually represent more liberal-leaning voters wants/needs/desires in these urban areas – or do they just want to lecture them on proper values and somehow stay in the majority in Richmond?

    They used to have these more moderate guys in their ranks – they called them RINOs and booted them and now ally themselves with the likes of hard-right ideologues, Brietbart, FOX News, etc.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    If the Republican Party can come up with plausible solutions to the issues presented by Jim, I will probably vote for their candidates. (I have in the past, including the last election.)

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Hell, those are easy. There are solid center-right approaches to all of them, with opportunity for cross-aisle cooperation. They just need to focus on them and stop rallying with their guns at the Lee Statue or behind the border wall, or falling on their swords over ERA or gay marriage. But saying things like that gets me that RINO tag.

  4. Jim is fond of the phrase, “As Virginia’s electoral transformation into a blue state slowly converts the Commonwealth into the New Jersey of the South . . ..” Well, let’s not forget that even New Jersey has elected Republicans to statewide office in recent years. But what sort of Republicans? Gov. Christie, for example? Maybe closer to home, Gov. Hogan of MD? Virginia Republicans are not even close to the same page as them — hell, they’re not in the same book! Don’t reinvent the wheel, GOP, take a deep breath and learn from those who have survived this transition elsewhere.

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Go after crony capitalists. Start with the trucking industry. See my post on the gas tax increase. Next come real estate developers. Go after gasoline pricing where prices are fixed by distributors. As Dick Saslaw how that works.

    Protect employer-provided health insurance. Tell a room of federal retirees that the Democrats want to take away your insurance. Go ask Sanders and Warren. Have the grass roots confront their local Democratic representatives as to what they have done to protect their constituents against people like Sanders and Warren. Force confrontations that make elected officials chose between ordinary people and the party’s left wing.

    Busing. The Dems are going to break up existing school attendance maps and bus kids to different schools. This can easily enrage the many Asian and Middle Eastern parents who work their asses off to live near good local schools. Give it 4 years and you’ll see at least a 25% shift in Asian and Middle Eastern voters to the GOP.

    Give up chasing illegal immigrants and impose a national 4X5 penalty on anyone who hires a person without a valid E-Verify check. $5000 each to the federal government, state government, local government and public schools. As a penalty, the $20,000 payment would not be a deductible expense for either federal or state income taxes. Authorize treble damages and plaintiff’s attorney fees for anyone who can go to court and prove an employer doesn’t have all the paperwork. Split the money 50-50 between the plaintiff and the government.

    Crack down on private foundations and nonprofits that lobby. Whatever the tax-free amount one can give at death to heirs tax-free becomes the ceiling for what a person can give tax-free to “charity” at death. If it’s $10 million, every dime given to a private foundation or nonprofit above that amount is taxable first. Ditto for the gift tax. Do we really need a Ford Foundation that is more than 70 years old operating tax free? Same for Bill Gates.

    Any nonprofit that hires lobbyists (inside or out) or tries to influence public policy and opinion becomes taxable. NGOs have way too much power.

    Democrats have long abandoned their concern for people in the middle.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Amen and amen to that last sentence.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: Employer-Provided insurance and ” Democrats have long abandoned their concern for people in the middle.”

    that’s just plain wrong TMT and you should be ashamed for saying it because it’s the DEMs who supported ObamaCare and the MedicAid Expansion which helps people in the middle immensely and the GOP has done everything it can to get rid of Obamacare and MedicAid.

    It’s the Dems ALSO who want more and better education – universal pre-school and more funding for k-12 for at-risk kids, as well as “free tuition” for Higher Ed. What has the GOP offered? Private and charter schools with no transparency or accountability for their performance.

    You yourself have condemned the Dems for advocating taxes to fund these things so which is it? Do they support health care and education or not?

    On employer-provided health care – the Dems, as a party, (instead of one or two wackos) SUPPORT health care for everyone – universal and the GOP and supporters DING them for that support saying it is not “affordable” as if not covering millions of people is justified.

    The Dems want coverage for all INCLUDING the Middle – the GOP has consistently and stubbornly opposed it – and Voters KNOW THIS and that’s why the GOP loses in Virginia!

    These are simple facts. The GOP basically opposed what the Dems propose – but the GOP has not real alternatives other than to say that it “costs too much” and that’s their basic answer. It’s a “do nothing” answer and voters know it.

    You can count on the GOP opposing health care and education by saying it’s “tax and spend” and they oppose it. Ask them for what they support instead and it’s the same message – they oppose taxes and spending – period.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The Census Bureau’s latest estimate is that 55% of Americans have employer-provided health insurance as part of their compensation. And which side of the political spectrum wants to take it away in the name of universal coverage? Let’s all work together to crap on 55% of Americans and seize their earned compensation.

    And at-risk kids already have access to Head-Start and other pre-K programs. This is all about creating more taxpayer-funded jobs. Why not tax the nonprofits that are into advocacy, eliminate duplicate programs and layoff affected government workers, and shut down a few more unneeded military bases and then allow everyone to deduct the full cost of childcare for FIT and SIT purposes?

  8. VDOTyranny Avatar

    With the ever increasing regulatory burden, if you don’t crony-up you can’t get anything done. The bureaucrat state and crony capitalism go hand in hand

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    In 1964 US unemployment was at 5%. The US economy and US power dwarfed the entire world, the envy of the whole world too. Inflation was minuscule, the middle class expanding like Topsy. Poverty had been cut in half since 1940, was down to 15%, from 30% a little more that two decades before, and was falling steadily every year. Our system of education, from top to bottom, was also the best of the world.

    So, in 1964, LBJ with his overweening arrogance and rotten character, set about creating a false crisis and thereby build his own power and control, went about breeding trouble and making matters far far worse by declaring his War on Poverty, a monster that matched its twin, LBJ’s War on Vietnam.

    Both wars ginned up by LBJ, alone and severally, have been disasters. They’ve maimed whole generations and cultures of Americans right up to today, all smothered by our welfare state and its spiraling entitlements, grievances, and tribal wars started by LBJ and ginned up by corrupt politicians ever since, corrupting higher education, pitting groups of American’s one against other, all of us headed at an ever quicker pace into oblivion. Blackface Norton now is pushing more toxic drugs out of the same Devil’s Brew, for his private benefit at public cost. The harm he and his cronies inflict on Virginians will be incalculable.

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