Center-right wonks are increasingly optimistic that the next Republican nominee will have a real agenda to promote—one that’s attractive to all voters, not just white owners of capital.
There’s the focus on overhauling antipoverty programs from Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan. There’s the family-friendly tax plan of Sen. Mike Lee. There’s the brave gesture in the direction of prison reform from Lee and Sen. Rand Paul.
To be sure, this agenda is still bones and no flesh.
In the meantime, an equally important development is underway.
Byron York reported from the recent House Republican retreat:
At the House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Md., Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on GOP lawmakers to take a new approach to the nation’s economic anxieties. Dividing his remarks into four categories — Obamacare, jobs and economic growth, the middle-class squeeze, and opportunity — Cantor’s goal was to try to identify specific problems middle-class families are facing and spark discussion on conservative solutions that might help those families.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Cantors presentation was that it included a recognition that in the past Republicans have focused more on the nation’s employers than employees, have talked about small business owners and entrepreneurs to the exclusion of the far greater number of Americans who don’t own their own businesses.
“Ninety percent of Americans work for someone else,” Cantor said, according to a source in the room. “Most of them not only will never own their own business, for most of them that isn’t their dream. Their dream is to have a good job, with an income that will allow them to support their family.”
“We shouldn’t miss the chance to talk to these people,” Cantor continued, according to the source, “which is why we will present and pass our plans to relieve the middle class squeeze.”
This shift in tone and emphasis is key to any hope of a Republican winning the White House again. It is a not-so-subtle rebuke of the disastrous Romney campaign and its self-satisfied and divisive “Yes, I did build that!” rhetoric. It’s the human-interest frame in which to hang the Ryan-Rubio-Lee-Paul reform agenda.
After Ryan’s 2012 convention speech, I wrote:
In Ryan’s intellectual bubble, there are job creators and entrepreneurs on one side and parasites on the other. There is no account of the vast gray expanse of janitors, waitresses, hotel front-desk clerks, nurses, highway maintenance workers, airport baggage handlers, and taxi drivers. They work hard, but at the end of the day, what can they be said to have “built”?
There’s an old saying that American politics is fought “between the 40 yard lines.” This is half-true. It skips over the matter of which football field we’re playing on. For the last five years, we’ve been fighting between the 40 yard lines on the football field of low inflation and deficit reduction—spending cuts vs. new tax revenue. What, if anything, to do about long-term unemployment and underemployment is another field altogether—and we barely play on it.
The field on which elite Republicans would like to fight is that of cheap labor, tight money, balanced budgets, hawkish foreign policy and low taxes on capital. On this field, amnesty and gay marriage are between the 40 yard lines.
Not to single her out, because there are all too many Republicans like her in Washington, but this is Jennifer Rubin’s field.
It’s the way to defeat again in ’16.
Cantor’s advice to his Republican colleagues is a critical first-step in ensuring that, for the next campaign, the GOP is between the 40 yard lines and on the right football field.