The GOP needs to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics, blacks, Jews, Muslims, women, and young voters. That doesn’t mean we need to compromise our principles, but it does mean that we do need to stop writing off these groups and giving up before we get started. The truth is that the Republican Party is a better fit for every one of those groups than the Democrats, and we can make that case. But to do that, we need to tailor our message to each group and make a real, consistent, long-term effort to bring more people from these groups into the fold instead of making a halfhearted effort, saying “they’ll never vote for us anyway,” and giving up. ~John Hawkins

The determined attitude is admirable, even though the proposal is still pretty bizarre. I would be fascinated to know what tailoring the current GOP message to Jews and Muslims in different ways would look like. Except perhaps for blacks, those two groups stand out as the most improbable targets for winning a lot of new voters, and it’s not clear to me how you tailor your message to one without flatly contradicting it with how you tailor it to the other. Social issues offer a good example of what I mean. Jewish voters are predominantly liberal or very liberal on social issues, and Muslims are typically much more conservative. Indeed, back in 2000 Bush won the Muslim vote thanks in part to some shared social conservative views, but it was also depended heavily on Bush’s public rejection of the use of secret evidence against Muslim suspects. What are the odds that the GOP is now going to become the vehicle of civil libertarian protest against the security state? After everything that has happened in the last eight years, it is absurd to think that the GOP can regain the goodwill of voters that it has consistently and deliberately alienated with its policy choices. My point here is not even that these policy choices were wrong, though I think most of them were, but that you cannot keep hanging on to all of the policies that brought you into the wilderness and expect to turn things around.

There is a constant tension in these six or ten or twelve-point plans for GOP revival. There is always some standard statement that no principles will be compromised, which effectively means that no policy positions will be changed, but there is some idea that the “message” can simply be restated in a pleasing way such that the target audience will forget that it doesn’t actually agree with the policy or just doesn’t like the messenger. The GOP has retained some marginal advantage among married women, but it suffers from a huge deficit with single women, and it is not remotely clear what “tailoring” could be done to the message that would not alienate core constituencies that the GOP can still reliably bring in. It is probably the case that the things that make the GOP attractive to half of married women in most elections are the things that make the party seem unappealing to single women, and the same problem will apply with middle-aged vs. young voters.

There is always the constant danger that the message will be “tailored” in a way that is essentialist and driven by stereotypes of what a certain constituency wants, and this tendency will be exploited by those forces inside the GOP coalition that already want to change policies in a certain direction. Pro-choice Republicans will say, “Oh, no, I guess we’ll have to modify our position on abortion to win over more women voters–strange how this is what I’ve been saying we should do for decades!” Pro-amnesty figures will say something similar about immigration and Hispanics, and on and on. The trouble is not just that this sort of policy change might come across as empty pandering or insulting stereotyping, but that Republicans have long since lost their ability to craft policies that actually serve voters’ interests rather than making generic appeals to their “values.” If they can’t even serve the interests of the constituents they have right now, why are other voters going to be inclined to support the party in the future? The party’s hostility to economic populism is just one part of this, but it is an important part.

For most, if not all, of the groups Hawkins mentions the tailoring would have to be closer to radically re-designing the entire concept, and that would mean sacrificing or at least risking support of existing constituencies to win over new ones. The track record of GOP outreach efforts in the past, as I have said before, is not reassuring as a matter of politics or policy. In principle, expanding a voting coalition is the right idea, but I have yet to see a proposal along these lines that does not sound like a call for a new marketing strategy, which fundamentally misunderstands why the GOP does not win the support of these voters.