With Donald Trump out of office, Republicans now face the difficult balancing act of retaining new voters he brought into the party while bringing back voters he alienated. Remarkably, Trump brought former Democrats and union workers and minorities into the GOP. He also oversaw some bleeding in the suburbs. To stop the tide of illiberal cultural leftism, Republicans can’t afford to write off either group.
I don’t know what degree of political involvement Trump will have going forward. I do know, however, that the Trump base is much more loyal to the man himself than to the Republican Party. That’s a lesson the Beltway establishment seems to forget.
Appealing to Trump’s base while also appealing to educated suburban voters might seem like a mutually exclusive exercise. For Trump himself, I think it was. His utter singularity creates advantages and disadvantages, which is illustrated by this exact predicament. The brashness that gave Trump appeal with new demographics is what hurt him with groups like suburban women.
The question, then, is whether it’s possible for Republicans to channel Trump’s brashness in a way that doesn’t also alienate key voting blocs. It won’t be easy, but I think the answer is clearly yes. Not only is that formulation politically advantageous, it’s also the moral path forward. Without the baggage of Stormy Daniels or bizarre tweets about Mika Brzezinski, Republicans should embrace an aggressively anti-establishment temperament and agenda.
Take this fascinating prescription from the infamous 2012 RNC Autopsy report: “When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming. If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.”
“Inclusive” and “welcoming” were code words for “socially moderate.” That Republicans believed they could stitch together a diverse coalition of voters under the pastel banner of “growth and opportunity” (the report is literally in pastels) by ignoring or moderating on social issues is remarkable to think about now. Just two years after the report’s release, a big chunk of the GOP’s base proved that wrong, flocking to Trump not in spite of but because of his political incorrectness.
To the extent it’s possible, Republicans must absolutely seek to elevate leaders of good character who represent conservative values. That is not mutually exclusive with fighting back aggressively in the left’s culture war.
Cancel culture is an umbrella issue with some room for policy solutions and a lot more room for cultural solutions. But it’s a hugely important issue for working people, in rural America, in suburbs, and in cities. What happens to the mom who politely questions their public school’s embrace of the pro-trans book “I Am Jazz” in curriculum for elementary students? What happens to the father who loses his job or gets a suspension over a Facebook post about Colin Kaepernick? When cancelations unfold in the media, Bari Weiss can start a Substack. When they unfold outside the Acela Corridor, cancel culture’s victims lack powerful platforms to push back.
As we’ve reported, whether these hypotheticals are happening at a substantial rate (and I think they are), suburban voters worry about them. Who wouldn’t? Kamala Harris used to discourage Democrats from obsessing over identity politics because what keeps people awake at 3:00 a.m. has more to do with mounting bills and health care. Maybe. But these days, I don’t think “cancel culture” is just an abstract concern that looms large over newsrooms. I think it keeps a lot of people up.
All that is to say, part of what voters in these ostensibly disparate blocs want from the GOP is a fighting spirit. It’s not just about NAFTA or a child tax credit, although done correctly the latter is a good example of policy solutions that can appeal to both groups. The increasingly right-of-center working-class agrees with the Tea Party base on one point: They have zero tolerance for politicians who make fiery speeches at CPAC about fighting back and then vote with the establishment in D.C.
It’s not just about cancel culture. It’s about the media. It’s about immigration and corporate welfare and the Second Amendment and foreign entanglements and nonsensical leftist notions of gender. It’s largely about temperament but with some serious policy implications in terms of developing a pro-family, working-class agenda.
Of course, it’s not as simple as standing at a podium and laying into CNN. Suburban voters want the GOP to stand against Democrats’ wild spending priorities. That will come into some tension with the working class, along with other conflicts. But what will help Republicans unite this difficult coalition is packaging an anti-establishment temperament and policy agenda in leaders of strong character.
Future Republican standard-bearers needn’t tweet about the size of their nuclear buttons or act like Jeb! Bush to keep the advantages of Trumpism and ditch the baggage. They just need voters to know they’re fighting. The good news is that this is both a politically expedient strategy and a morally correct one.