Republicans represent bad tidings as the times get better. They rail against a retiring President. They oppose any positive federal government measures to transform the economy and, at the same time, make it easier for everyone to rise with it. They fear for the rich and for defense spending. And they’re positions work with Republicans—and are broadly understood by most everyone else.
Professional pride, if not personal ambition, is forcing Republican leaders to re-assess their brand. They liked running the federal government in the past and would like a shot at winning a winnable election in 2016.
Ryan Lizza's “The House of Pain” in the New Yorker this week meticulously reports on how Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his caucus are circling around the problem. These two quotes are interesting in that they are becoming the memes of pragmatic conservatism.
“At the January retreat, a halfway point in the midst of these budget battles, Cantor sounded chastened, or, at least, like a man wanting to appear chastened. 'We’ve got to understand that people don’t think Republicans have their back,' he said. 'Whether it’s the middle class, whether it’s the Latino or the Asian vote.' It was not 'necessarily our policies' but, rather, how 'we’ve been portrayed.' He added, 'It goes to that axiom about how people don’t really care how much you know until they know you care. So we’ve got to take that to heart and, I think, look to be able to communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing.'
“'Well, we have features that we’re for, whether it’s balanced budgets, whether it’s fiscal prudence or reforming entitlements,' he said. 'Those are features—those aren’t ends in themselves. But they’re going to produce a stronger America. They’re going to save the safety-net programs for those who need them.'”
These statements don’t offend the base, but—alone—won’t change their image with the broader electorate.
When Republicans were different, they did well with the Hispanic bourgeoisie and very well with Asian American voters. Lloyd Green outlines in the Daily Beast “Why Asian-Americans have turned against the Republican Party.” He points out that their very material and educational success has made Asian Americans progressively less inclined to identify with white Republican resentment and fear.
Let’s put one more on the table: racism.
All things being equal, there isn’t any reason to expect Hispanic and Asian American voters to be more tolerant toward blacks than is the American white majority. Nevertheless, they are both minorities—and minorities, if not majorities, today do have each other’s back.
The vehemence of the Republican campaign against the person of Barack Obama, likely, not only alarmed blacks but also turned off Hispanics and Asian Americans.
From this perspective, Cantor hasn’t moved the puck very far. He has offered his hand two minorities—but did not mention America’s black population. He repeats their promise to save the safety net for “those who most need it.” He uses five words rather than a simple two: “the poor.” And his caucus goes on record favoring deeper spending cuts in Medicaid in order to lighten cuts in the Pentagon.