WASHINGTON, D.C., February 27, 2013 — The Republican Party is out of touch. It has become isolated and inbred, disconnected from the people and from its own history. It is in the process of alienating what grassroots supporters it has left and to a large extent it has forgotten how to be a real political party. It has turned Whiggish, and like the Whigs it is in danger of becoming obsolete.
Party leaders realize that this is happening and that it’s a problem, but they are utterly lost when it comes to finding solutions. Their idea of minority outreach is to attend a meeting of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that will listen to them politely but has already been fully co-opted by the Democratic political machine. Outreach to women means meeting with representatives of church groups, another declining demographic. Their solution to an aging membership isn’t to find a way to reach students, it’s to raise the maximum age limit for Young Republicans membership.
When Reince Priebus decided it was time to improve outreach to women, youth and minorities he had successfully identified the problem, but that’s as far as it went. His solution was not to personally go out and talk to members of these groups. Instead he immediately put together a committee of aging white men to come up with a plan to win over people with whom they have nothing in common.
Not all aging white guys are so mired in the party insider culture that we can’t see beyond its boundaries. We can see how other groups are building relationships with constituencies the Republican Party can’t seem to connect with. Ron Paul connected with young voters, and the Party has done its best to throw away that gift which he offered them. The GOP is virtually handing the votes of women and minorities to the Democrats because they can’t get away from pandering to tiny but vocal special interests whose views most people find abhorrent.
It would be smart strategy to reach out to the Liberty wing of the party, mend some fences and offer them a seat at the table. Then put them to work engineering effective outreach to counter the Democrats. Liberty Republicans are on average substantially younger than the party average, more likely to be members of minority groups, and a group in which women are well represented. Ideologically they fall within the norm of the party overall, but they have views on key issues which resonate very well with independents and minority groups the party needs to win over.
Even the simplest things show how disconnected the GOP is from what it takes to be an effective political party. I’ve done an informal survey of Republican county chairs. They all confirm that their party offices are in nice office buildings, typically sharing space with a law firm. That couldn’t be more remote from the people they need to reach. In comparison, during the 2012 election Democrats moved their party offices into urban neighborhood storefront spaces with open doors so that people could just walk in. They served free coffee and snacks in a relaxed, coffe-house atmosphere that encouraged people to hang out and chat. Just a few volunteers manning these “Obama Store” locations did more to connect their party with key demographics than all the big donor money the Republicans spent in 2012.
Although most Republicans would rather write a check than hand out flyers and go to a fundraiser instead of a rally, an outreach strategy of getting representatives of the party out into the community on a more personal basis would not be that difficult. The ugly secret of Democrat outreach is that they pay a lot of the part-time workers who go door to door or work in outreach centers. It’s usually with union money, but money from corporate donors is just as spendable and Republican college kids need part time jobs just as much as Democrat kids do. The Republican kids who’d take these jobs might lean libertarian, but the Democrat kids are baby socialists and that doesn’t seem to hurt.
It’s quite likely that the cost relative to results would be lower than almost anything else the party could try. Rents in the right kinds of neighborhoods are low and all you need is one paid manager on duty maybe six hours a day at about $10 an hour each. Volunteers could help fill in to keep the costs down. Figure $500 for rent, plus $1500 for salary and expenses and for less than the cost of one four-color mailer you reach the most desirable target constituencies in a very personal way for about a year prior to the election. Further following the Democrat model, you can also sell campaign and candidate related merchandise and take donations to make up some of the expense. Plus you can move your party offices there if you’re brave, expand the space and save some additional money.
Local parties could take this on and not break their budgets. The party in my county could afford it. A smart state party could really make it work, especially a red state which the Democrats have targeted to turn blue, like Texas. Or the RNC could start a pilot project in the top 30 urban markets for a total of maybe $500,000 a year, a pittance compared to what they spend on other projects which return far less benefit, and less than the cost of a typical congressional campaign. They could test it in 2014 to lay the groundwork for a bigger effort in 2016.
This is the kind of thing the GOP used to do when it was a young and vibrant party. If it returned to this kind of outreach it might attract the younger more ethnically diverse demographic it so desperately needs to be revitalized. Party blue-hairs probably need to steel themselves for the reality that younger voters will tend to be more libertarian, but bringing those voters in will hardly destroy the party. Their message of less government and more liberty is simple and easy to sell.
It’s an inescapable truth that the GOP cannot survive on its current base of aging white people. To make it through the next few years, it needs to be a different kind of party that relies on more effective strategies, and stealing good ideas from the opposition inside and outside the party can work.
The leadership might have to become a little fearless. It’s time to put aside old grudges and failed strategies. Outreach centers are a good start. Take it all the way and set them up across the street from the Democrats, challenging them directly. The party has lost the knack for partisan street fighting and forgotten that it builds enthusiasm and a sense of loyalty and team spirit, something the dry old GOP could really use.
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