How the GOP Takes Back the Suburbs

Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 motivated Democrats to embark on a soul-searching journey to reconnect with the plight of the white working class in the upper Midwest. Countless op-eds about laborers left behind made the rounds. The author of Hillbilly Elegy rode its success to a term as senator. Fast forward six years, and Democrats have produced stars like Pete Buttigieg, John Fetterman, Tim Ryan and Eric Adams.

Republicans face the same dilemma. But instead of losing a key demographic in just one election, they’ve lost “the suburban voter” in three elections. Will they learn from these concrete results? If they are the capitalists they claim to be, they’ll have the marketing capability to listen to those voters who have rejected their brand yet again, and the dexterity to adjust their product so it appeals to those potential customers. Those voters are oft cited as:

  • White
  • College-educated
  • Suburban
  • Middle-aged
  • White-collar

I tick those boxes. In fact, I tick an even more important box you don’t hear about: politically agnostic before Trump but now a reliable Democratic voter (icing on the cake, I wrote in a House candidate because I can’t bring myself to vote for my House rep). You’ll find nothing on this blog about American politics before Trump came down the escalator, and there have been a dozen articles since. So, if anybody in the GOP is listening, here are my demands.

No Drama Queens

First and foremost, no reality TV actors or WWE stars. A cameo is OK, but a fulltime job in reality television or professional wrestling is disqualifying. I don’t watch cable news and don’t need someone to create compelling television.

Once upon a time, an article came across my radar titled Obama dislocates shoulder reaching across the aisle. The leftist fringe was frustrated at his valiant efforts to win bipartisan support for his initiatives. Fortunately, the adults of the Democratic party are more adept at ignoring their base than the Republicans. Unfortunately, the Republicans were transitioning to Banana Republicans.

I don’t want politicians who vow to “stand up to” anybody. I want them to “sit down with” the opposition. Like adults do. I want to see Republican candidates who reach across the aisle and compromise. That is the secret sauce of the American experiment. The Spanish holdings in Latin America splintered into two dozen small countries and city-states because they were unable to compromise. Hence “Banana Republicans.”

Orthodox Economics

There was a time when it was fashionable to say, “I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Trump turned that on its head by ushering in a Republican Party that is fiscally liberal and socially conservative. I don’t want anything to do with socially conservative policy. Not fossil fuels, abortion bans, unfettered access to guns, the war on gays, none of it.

What would appeal is a return to their capitalist roots of orthodox economics as taught in universities, the fiscal conservatism of Milton Friedman and Adam Smith. No trade wars to pay for farm bailouts. A healthy skepticism of industry subsidies and other forms of protection. More human capital via immigration: high-skilled, low-skilled, whatever we can get.

More Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, less Herbert Hoover and Donald Trump.

No Blame America First

Once upon a time, conservatives disparaged woke lefties as the “Blame America crowd.” These are the people who saw American influence as the cause of every ill in the world. It was a reflex and an instinct. Ironically, conservatives have become the Blame America crowd. They blame previous administrations, the opposition, elites, the deep state and intelligence agencies of the United States for all the world’s problems. They want to withdraw from the world into an impotent isolationism.

I’d like an old-school Republican who will proudly defend the postwar order: NATO, the EU and the alphabet soup of geopolitical alliances — we built this order! Only anti-American radicals should want to tear it down. The Republicans used to be optimists to a fault, deemed “naïve.” Reagan would be rolling in his grave if he heard conservative Republicans genuflecting to a former KGB agent.

I’d like a leader with a cocksure, speak-soft-but-carry-a-big-stick disposition looking for win-win arrangements internationally.

Internal Locus of Control

The Republicans used to be the party of personal responsibility, but now it’s the party of grievance, blaming America and “the system is rigged.” I don’t think that way. I am not a $1500-per-hour attorney or investment banker in Manhattan, not because the system is rigged, or China, NAFTA and the ruling class. It’s because I did not work hard in high school. I was a loser delinquent with substance abuse issues. That’s not the system’s fault, it’s mine. That’s how responsible adults think, and I don’t hear that orientation in conservative messaging since Trump.

Stop talking about the “ruling class,” unless you’re going to end your sentence with “comrade,” because that’s how socialists talk. And there’s no fucking matrix. I’m old enough to remember when The Matrix came out because I fell asleep during it. You know who liked The Matrix? Nerds. The matrix and red pills is nerdery without the smarts of cool nerds like Milton Friedman.

Republicans used to support immigration not only because it’s good for business, but because immigrants are living proof that the American Dream is alive. If semiliterate peasants who don’t speak English can earn a living, and smile while they do it, then what’s the excuse from the deadbeats asking for protection and handouts? I don’t wholly agree with that statement, but it illustrates why true capitalists who espouse personal responsibility hold immigrants up as an example to be proud of and as proof the system works.

Newspapers that Cost Money

Twenty years ago, Republican leaders were in fact informed by newspapers that cost money, but would occasionally pay lip service on right-wing propaganda outlets. Today the right-wing mediasphere has exploded in size and influence, and many Republican leaders don’t just pay lip service. The echo chamber has been around long enough that there are true believers who haven’t known anything else. Trump was the first U.S. president who is wholly informed by Fox News.

I’m not voting for anything that smells like Fox News, talk radio, that YouTube channel, that podcast, Substack or Patreon. American conservatism has gone so far from reality that I need to see a seed of premium intelligence. Reporting behind a paywall.

There are still Republican leaders who are informed by newspapers that cost money, but they are in the closet. I need them to come out and wear it on their sleeve. Obviously they won’t say, “I read a newspaper that costs money.” They’ll find some kind of dog whistle, and I’ll know it when I hear it. This issue is the kind of silver bullet that can take care of all the problems on this list. The suburbs will come back en masse if conservative leaders dump the fever swamps of influencers and for-profit pundits shilling pills, securities for the apocalypse and the rest.

MAGA Must Die in Public

Like Christie’s idea of having it out in the open

The path of least resistance will be “Trumpism without Trump,” but that is not going to win my vote. We suburban dorks want atonement. We want to know it won’t happen again.

Conservatives today have no problem trashing previous GOP leaders including Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Someday the Republican leaders will gladly denounce Trump and all the sycophants. Until that happens, I’m a no. It will take time, but the day will come. Some are starting to speak out. These candidates are unviable for now, but I like what I hear from Charlie Baker, Chris Sununu and Larry Hogan.

If I had to name a name, I liked everything I heard in this Charlie Baker interview.

Conclusion

Old and boring, I know. But this is what dominated suburbs for generations. Voting for a Republican who does anything less is a nonstarter absent, say, the Democrats inspiring a mob to sack Congress and overturn an election.

Are you a newly anti-Republican voter? What are your demands?

5 comments

  1. Colin,

    You know my main demand is that the Republicans have to fix Social Security’s funding problems without cutting benefits. Then I would probably vote Republican again. The only way to fix Social Security without killing everyone over 65 tomorrow (which I oppose since that includes me) is to cut benefits or raise taxes. Republicans are opposed to raising taxes in any form so they will want to cut benefits.

    As for 2024, I think it could get really ugly for Republicans. Ross Perot ugly. Trump still has loyalty from about 50% of Republicans. If he wins the nomination I think he will lose the Presidency, but Republicans wouldn’t do so badly in Congress. If he loses the nomination I think he will start a new political party and try to run a full slate of candidates for Congress. He would lose, his candidates would lose, and most Republicans would lose, too, because he would take away a lot of their votes. The next 2 years will be interesting if his ticker doesn’t give out from carrying his bloated body around.

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    1. Agree 99%. The 1% of doubt regards the third-party run. Trump flirted with the Reform Party decades ago. I think he wisely concluded it’s not viable in our system. I agree with Ross Perot ugly, but I think he’ll do it from within the GOP. But who knows? He is the juggernaut of small-dollar donations and he’ll want to maintain control of that. A party in his own image makes sense.

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  2. I wasn’t a Republican before Trump, certainly wasn’t during Trump, and most likely won’t be after Trump.

    That being said, I agree with a lot of your goals here for the Republican Party, even though I think doing what you recommend here sounds like what got the Republicans Trump in the first place. Maybe they would get the suburbs back, but the base would not be happy, and it’s McCain and Romney losing all over again. Also, a lot of what you are criticizing is completely situational depending on whether Republicans think they can exploit the factor in question that you dislike. Let me go one by one:

    No Drama Queens – I would love it if all those terrible demagogues pulled a Madison Cawthorn and disappeared humiliated, but most of them have the best fundraising, the highest media profiles, and the biggest social media followings. If they torpedo McCarthy for speaker the drama queens will never shut up about it.

    Orthodox Economics – Across the spectrum, that train has sailed. Look at Steve above. Nobody wants to touch SS or Medicare, and nobody wants to reduce the military footprint either. At that point, you are just trimming around the edges, and Americans are increasingly aware that people in other developed countries don’t worry about going bankrupt when they get sick or old, or if they want a college education. Even something like Obamacare or its Medicaid expansion are increasingly popular with Republicans once they start benefitting from them.

    No Blame America First – One of Trump’s rhetorical tricks is to drag everyone down in the mud with him, so you can’t tell if his corruption is worse than anyone else’s. He does the same thing when it comes to foreign policy, mostly citing America as a vague perpetrator of crimes to change a subject or excuse an ally who he thinks he can get something from. America is a complex place, and whenever I hear someone calling it a global pariah or a city on a hill I stop listening. Iraq has cast a long shadow that anti-Trump Republicans are still loathe to reckon with – though that didn’t keep Trump from saber rattling against Iran.

    Internal Control – “The system is rigged” only gets marched out when the system in question keeps Trump Republicans from getting 100 percent of what they want. But I agree that it’s a poor fit for a Republican Party that talks about personal responsibility for groups that vote for Democrats and handouts for themselves. The immigration demonization doesn’t help Republicans either, most voters are descended from immigrants and like the most recent wave. Reducing immigration in a way that doesn’t negatively affect our economy is going to require more investment in Latin America, something Republicans don’t seem like they will want to support either.

    Newspapers that Cost Money – In practice, I agree with you. Conservative media is awful in just about every way, and I don’t think it actually helps Republicans at the margins to win elections anymore. They should try to fund some non-ideological reporting that focuses on accurate and timely information that is relevant to voters if they don’t like the New York Times or Washington Post, but every single time they’d rather just consume lazy propaganda based on a misinterpretation of something in those news sources. They think the bias of those outlets is deliberate, so they built conservative outlets whose deliberate biases are much worse than the outlets they criticize. It makes them shoot themselves in the foot – mail voting is bad for demagogic reasons, so they had to campaign with one hand tied behind their back because there is no information in their ecosystem that can correct mistakes on their own side or do any introspection.

    MAGA Must Die in Public – But who will kill it? All those politicians you mention are better than most Republicans, but they will never win a GOP primary. DeSantis hasn’t really been tested yet, either by the full onslaught of Trump’s insults or by issues he would prefer not to talk about, and he will take up that MAGA mantle if he can.

    I am pleased that almost every election denier lost, and that Republicans are at least starting to make more bold criticisms of Trump, but any Republican that succeeds him is going to have to convince his voters he’s Trump without the baggage, and I don’t see how they do that without alienating the voters you’d prefer Republicans appeal to. That said, I am complacent about nothing. Democrats still need to play hard for every jump ball, even if a GOP civil war starts happening soon.

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    1. Agree with most. I would argue Republicans were more successful before Trump. Since 1980 they went five for nine in presidential elections, and 1992 was spoiled by a third-party candidate. McCain faced historic headwinds with unpopular incumbent, unpopular war AND historic, charismatic opponent. Re: Romney, I think Obama deserves some props here. He wasn’t a token. Romney had to face a giant, one of the most effective presidents of my lifetime.

      I’d agree the “small government” ship has sailed, but orthodox doesn’t necessarily mean American-style small government. You don’t have to cut spending for revenues to equal expenditures, but you’d have to collect more taxes. Germany ran a balanced budget or a fiscal surplus with the standard Euro safety net for eight years going into the pandemic. I’m also thinking about trade wars. American has gone through bouts of protectionism over the centuries, and I’ve accepted that it’s time for another and we just have to relearn the lessons of the past again. But this won’t last. The key is to find creative solutions to consequences, like retraining programs for displaced workers. I don’t want to hear politicians say they’re going to fight inflation by cutting taxes (I did hear that). Or their opposition to adding IRS agents (a net positive for revenue) while also complaining about the deficit. Or subsidies for coal, a clear market loser. I’m not asking them to take on the mortgage interest deduction, just an end to the nonsense that would be laughed out of an econ classroom.

      Republicans under Reagan were the party espousing the shining city on a hill. USA isn’t perfect, nowhere is. But I’ll tell you what … there is data to support the idea. Where would most people around he world migrate to if given the choice? You already know.

      Who will kill MAGA? I don’t know, but it will happen. It may take years. Until then, I’m a no. I’m not hopeful any of my recommendations will come to pass. I’m just documenting what it will take for me, the precise demographic they’ve lost.

      Most Republicans probably don’t care what I think, but they don’t have much of a leg to stand on. Trump, MAGA and reality-TV politics have woken a lot of people like me up. This was going on for a long time and nobody paid much attention, but they’ve woken the tiger. The dog caught the car, whatever analogy you want. You aren’t complacent, and neither am I. People aren’t sleeping on it. I don’t know what it takes to get back to normal, but I don’t think it’s Trumpism without Trump. We’ll see.

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  3. Dude- just vote Democratic. The mainstream Republican party is just Democratic lite now. The Democratic Party has been a pro-business, pro-Wall Street party since 1992. The modern Republican Party has been a scam since the 1970’s, getting working class whites to vote Republican in return for the promise of supporting social conservatism and the promise that untaxed corporate profits would be channeled back into pay raises and more jobs, both of which have been shown to be pretty bald-faced lies.

    Both the conservative and liberal versions of neoliberalism have been shown to be total ripoffs and con jobs. The rich get richer, much, much richer, and the common man gets a job at Wal-Mart while his kids are turned into zombies and perverts. Goldman Sachs with a rainbow flag is both US political parties and most of the Western world now.

    A lot of people still don’t like this, even though it’s illegal not to. What they can do about it remains to be seen.

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