In many respects, the Republican Party has never been in a better position. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. We hold the White House. We hold majorities in 67 of the country’s 98 legislative bodies. And we hold 35 of the nation’s governorships. All told, Democrats hold fewer elected offices nationwide than at any time since the 1920s.
And yet, Republicans must do better. The same force that has mired Democrats in a political funk is operating as a ceiling for Republican success. Democrats are cloistered together in America’s coastal, urban areas, granting them broad power in some of the nation’s most populous cities, but leaving them without a geographic footprint capable of competing on a nationwide scale.
Democrats didn’t just abandon rural voters, they purposefully left them behind. Hillary Clinton made that clear when she “othered” an entire group of Americans by labeling them a “basket of deplorables.” But that was just giving a name to their abandonment in their one-time foothold in the heartland and the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt. Once the party of the have-nots, Democrats’ growing number of litmus tests on social issues and deemphasis of kitchen table economic issues, pushed them toward well off urban areas that had time to worry about something other than having a job and the size of their paycheck.
Of course, we Republicans are also guilty. We occasionally looking down our noses and sneer at the “coastal elites” who would deign to push down their particular priorities and values on the rest of the country. We tease Democrats for their willingness to bow to the progressive peculiarities of coastal cities at the cost of losing touch with America’s rural areas and heartland. We portray a working class family in Scott County, Indiana as “real Americans,” forgetting what that implies about New Yorkers, Los Angelenos, or even Houstonians.
There is no doubt that Democrats are making a profoundly poor choice. They are binding themselves to an ever-smaller ideological bubble, one that pushes its candidates further leftward, which in turn, further limits their geographic appeal. But Republicans must be careful not to lean too far into Democrats’ mistake. Good policy is not a zero sum game. Urban citizens need not be abandoned to advance the causes of rural ones.
And that’s Republicans’ biggest selling point. Despite their tremendous focus on winning and retaining their urban empires, Democrats have largely failed to deliver winning outcomes for America’s cities. As Kevin Williamson writes for National Review:
Politics can be about policy, and the Democratic-dominated parts of the country could use a dose of good conservative thinking when it comes to improving their terrible public schools, reducing crime, sorting out their pension messes, and improving the standard of living for non-billionaires in high-priced coastal states. The cities need Republicans, and Republicans need the cities — assuming that they do not want to be a political party that dominates only those parts of the country where the people aren’t. Some will say: “California — let it burn!” Considering the cultural excesses of the tech industry, my colleague Heather Wilhelm suggested in these pages last week that we “Wall Off Silicon Valley.” She was being funny, but not everybody is joking. …
Writing off half of the country as a lost cause is bad for the Republican soul. It also will prove bad for Republican electoral prospects, in time. If the Republican party cannot be moved by the prospect of regaining its soul, then surely it can be moved by the prospect of losing the world, or at least Congress.
Republicans need the cities, not because “that’s where the people are.” It needs them for a much simpler reason: Because there are people there. If we believe in the power of conservative policies to improve the American economy, to raise wages and productivity, to instill the values of self-sufficiency as well as community, and to provide a hand up out of poverty then why wouldn’t we share that with everyone? Similarly, let’s not pretend that places like New York and Boston and San Francisco aren’t places with a profound place in American history, or that they won’t leave an indelible imprint on America’s future. Why are Republicans so quick to write them off?
Instead, we must return to the days of Ronald Reagan, who toured the desolate streets of the South Bronx, not for a photo opportunity, but because he honestly wanted to win urban voters. We must not write off any area of the country, nor the voters who live there. Instead, we must Make America Great Again. And when we say it, we must mean all of America.