After the Republican bloodbath that was the 2022 midterm election, there was no shortage of reactions.
“We have to ballot-harvest, too.”
“We have to stop the stealing.”
“Only Trump can save us.”
“We have to move away from Trump.”
“We have to reposition on abortion.”
“We have to kick out the RINOs.”
“We have to win-back the never-Trumpers.” And so on.
Too often, we hear that there’s only one path forward. But my experience as a candidate, working to rebuild the party after setbacks going back to 1986 and spending much of the last few years listening, leads me to believe that it’s a mix of things. There is no “home run” idea; but there are a lot of singles that we can hit. And if we bunch the singles together – and avoid errors – we can win. (Forgive me; I’ve been coaching softball for 24 years.)
First, let’s dismiss the bad ideas. You can’t grow the party by focusing on who doesn’t belong. Too many Republicans spend too much time discussing how to make our minority party even smaller. We need to focus on addition, not subtraction, especially in swing states – and most of all, in the suburbs.
I have advice for fellow Republicans as they look to the suburbs. As a friend might say to his pal who has spent years chasing a woman who doesn’t respond: “She’s just not that into you.”
More and more upper-income suburban voters don’t share our priorities, don’t like our solutions – and wouldn’t tell their neighbors that they agree with Republicans, even if they did.
Many suburban voters are just not Republicans, no matter what their voter registration card says. And don’t discount their desire to be loyal to their new “boyfriend” (the Democrats), who they started dating in 2008 and have been going steady with for a while.
But there is hope. Let’s talk about our issues and highlight our solutions to real problems – not mythical, virtue-signaling problems. (Hint: those voters aren’t our voters.) There are things that the GOP can do to grow its numbers in the suburbs and win states like Pennsylvania.
First, “It’s about parents, stupid.” Support for school choice is on the rise. A recent survey commissioned by the Commonwealth Foundation showed that 73% of Pennsylvanians support Lifeline Scholarships – the proposal to offer school choice to families of kids trapped in failing schools. This is happening because of frustration with the stranglehold the teachers’ unions hold over schools, falling test scores, the unnecessarily long school closures, a deemphasis on advanced courses and grades, and controversial school curricula that focuses less and less on math, reading, and science.
Most Democrats have adamantly opposed all forms of school choice. The GOP should embrace this issue and campaign on it – everywhere, including the suburbs.
Second, while it’s true that more white, suburban, upper-income voters are parroting left-of-center positions, there is another potential pool of new GOP voters: first- and second-generation new citizens from India, China, Latin America, and Africa. As a group, these citizens support small businesses, embrace capitalism, want schools to focus on academics – and oppose socialism and big, intrusive federal government. They respect families and the role of parents.
Third, the story of the black Democratic state legislator in Georgia becoming a Republican offers a lesson applicable elsewhere – like, say, Philadelphia: African-Americans living in neighborhoods where violent crime is rising and schools are failing feel angry and abandoned. The elitist, progressive-run Democratic Party that has focused on defunding police, protecting the teachers’ unions (not kids), and defending school boards (not parents) is not their party. (I call them the “Cherelle Parker coalition” – named after the winner of the Philadelphia Democratic mayoral primary.)
But our outreach must be genuine and ongoing – and we must fight tirelessly to deliver on our commitments of safety and school choice.
Finally: yes, the GOP needs better election tactics. We need a focused effort to triple our tally of mail-in ballots. And, yes, the GOP must make sure that elections are legally conducted and fairly, openly counted. It should be easy to vote and impossible to cheat, and we should have results that we can trust.
Focus on growing the party, not kicking people out. Promote our issues and solutions to people actually interested in listening – even if these voters have never voted before, or never voted for our party before. Genuinely reach out; ask for their support; and fight for their issues.
Singles need to be strung together. But, as a coach, I can tell you: we’re behind, they have a more expensive roster, and the umpire doesn’t like us. But if we play our game, we can win.