Obama's Struggles and the Republican Rebound

Obama's Struggles and the Republican Rebound

By Ben Domenech - September 13, 2013

The latest poll data from the WSJ probably comes as a surprise to more than one insider. “The Republican Party is gaining a public-opinion edge on several key issues ahead of the 2014 elections, as Americans question President Barack Obama's leadership on Syria and worry about the country's overall direction, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. Republicans are now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy and foreign policy, and the GOP's lead has strengthened on several other issues, including dealing with the federal deficit and ensuring a strong national defense. On topics such as health care, Democrats have seen their long-standing advantage whittled to lows not seen in years.”

The real crux of this isn’t Republican improvement so much as it is that the American people believe Obama’s approach hasn’t worked. “The poll also reflected unease over the economy. Just 27% of Americans think the economy will improve over the next year, the lowest since July 2012, while nearly two-thirds think the country is on the wrong track. The public tilt on several issues in favor of the GOP, particularly among independents, comes as Mr. Obama's own job-approval rating has hovered around 45% for three months, a tenuous place for a president trying to build support for likely battles with Congress over possible military action in Syria, a proposed overhaul of immigration law and the budget.” The dramatic shifts on health care and the deficit have all been under Obama’s tenure.

Within this context, it’s worth noting the persistence of this idea that Republicans are doomed because they are too focused on white voters to the expense of the growing minority population. As I’ve noted before, that assumes a static and unshakeable union between minorities and the Democratic Party in the post-Obama era not yet in evidence (the latest Reason-Rupe poll found that 60% of African-Americans and 58% of Latinos think the individual mandate should be delayed). But it also assumes that the policies and messages Republicans, and particularly conservatives, have advanced are isolated to certain voters, and can’t expand beyond those limitations. This seems illogical to me. The argument goes like this: Republicans need more support from lower and middle class ethnic voters, yet they largely refuse to engage in appeals based on identity politics. Therefore, it is impossible for Republicans to win non-white voters.

This is absurd. While there are certainly cultural barriers to Republican appeals, and no one will listen to you if you’re not listening to them first, the argument for building a better plan for lower and middle class Americans is inherently color-blind. It is class-based, not confined to white voters. The lower class white family in Ohio is struggling just as much to make ends meet as the lower class black family. Just because the language you might use with the Dominican or Korean shop owner in Philadelphia or in Seattle might be slightly different, the set of policy priorities is the same.

Yet experienced political journalists and analysts seem incapable of understanding this – perhaps because they are naturally prone to believe that no conservative policy solution could be any good for anyone less rich than Mitt Romney or less pious than Mike Huckabee. Who knows why that could be? But whatever the explanation, the important thing is that conservatives don’t just sit back and twiddle their thumbs while journalists ignore Obama’s shrinking approval ratings: they need to use this time to ramp up their agenda for the very voters who are wavering in their support for Democratic policies. Next week at AEI will bring some remarks on tax reform, the family, and the pursuit of happiness, and the introduction of a new plan by Senator Mike Lee. Republicans should pay attention to it, and to other plans like it, which challenge the policy status quo on the right to better connect with the problems Americans of all races are facing in today’s stagnant economy. 

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

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