Michael Barone might be a right-wing ideologue, and a pompous ass to boot, but no one I know has a better grasp of American political constituencies state by state and district by congressional district. His analysis of what the Republican Party needs to do cuts through the nonsense about somehow appealing to minorities and cuts to the chase: the need to recover well-to-do social moderates–those country club suburbanites who may have voted Democratic the past couple of cycles but are hardly locked into the party of Clinton and Obama. Here’s how he ends his latest RCP column:
Going upscale also means downplaying the cultural issues that were an important reason for Republican victories from 1980 to 2004. Here, young voters are critical, and their attitudes give guidance. They oppose criminalization of abortion, but they also disfavor it — the position of the great middle of the electorate. They tend to favor same-sex marriage — the days of winning votes by opposing it are nearing an end. And while they seem blithely confident that government action can solve problems like health care, they are also a generation that insists on choice in their personal lives. Members of the iPod generation don’t wait for their elders to tell them what the top 40 songs are. They make their own playlists.
There’s a tension here, which Republicans can exploit, between the tactics of the MyObama campaign and the policies he favors that would limit choices — one-size-fits-all government health insurance, the effective abolition of secret ballot unionization elections, and environmental policies that reduce your choice of cars and increase the price of energy.
Republicans can argue that their policies will let you choose your future. No, I don’t have a candidate in mind, and I don’t think Republicans can abandon cultural conservatives altogether. But upscale seems to me to be the way to go.
This, it seems to me, is what the guys who elected Michael Steele RNC chair know, and why he hasn’t gotten a congratulatory hug from Focus on the Family Action. The challenge is: You can’t win back social moderates by simply soft-pedaling the family agenda–that’s always been the GOP’s electoral strategy (wink wink, nod nod), and it’s stopped working. You win them back by letting the world know that there’s a place for the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage kind in today’s Republican Party. We’ll see how that goes.