On Tuesday, Senate Republicans began to float a GOP immigration reform bill similar to President Obama’s DREAM Act. Well, it was only a matter of a few weeks before Republican politicians started to act on the grand take-away mandate from the 2012 election: The minority vote — especially the Hispanic vote — matters.
The 2012 election exit polls showed some pretty stark results. Hispanics voted Obama 71% to Romney’s 27%; 93% of African Americans pulled the lever for Obama; Asian-Americans preferred the incumbent president by more than 47%. Obama won a grand total of 80% of all non-white voters. These results obviously point to serious problems with Republicans' relationships with minority voters.
There are two paths from this election for the party to take.
One, we can give up conservatism. Despite our belief that conservative policies — ordered liberty: limited government; intact families; strong national defense in a world filled with nuclear weapons; a welfare system that helps the poor to gain access to a better life; a working immigration system — work for all Americans regardless of race, some pundits are encouraging Republicans to pull in the oars.
E.J. Dionne posited that Republicans lost because they were “blocking immigration reform and standing by silently while nativist voices offered nasty thoughts about newcomers.” Ezra Klein thinks that “what you see in the overwhelming rejection Romney suffered among African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and young voters. They sensed that Romney fundamentally didn’t respect them and their role in the economy, and they were right.”
If we follow the first approach — change our policies — the GOP will cease to be distinct from the Democratic Party. We’ll slow down the road to unlimited government, but not by much. The GOP can succumb and walk the liberal party line that the needs of minorities, women, and the youth are outside of the principles American was founded upon.
But the point of being conservative is that we think conservative principles are good for every American. Then what’s behind door #2? Communicate conservatism better.
Yes, this is easier said than done. If I had a nickel for every conservative who told me that the Hispanic community should be natural allies of the GOP because of our shared social values, I would have ... a couple bucks. So how to do it?
1) Communicate conservatism.
As much as I respected Mitt Romney’s candidacy and genuinely wanted him to be my president — just look at this photo — when I turned on the TV, I heard one message from his campaign: He would create more jobs. His campaign did not communicate about how the growth of the federal government had led this country astray and conservative principles would get us back on track. He relied on his personal business experience, which unfortunately isn’t a story that relays the benefits of the free market to the groups he lost.
There’s a reason that Reagan is still know as the Great Communicator — he talked about conservative principles and made you want to listen. Just watch this video if you don’t believe me.
2) Get ahead of the other side.
It sometimes feels like we’re just bashing the other side’s ideas. House Republicans deserve praise for attempting to get in front of the massive debt we’ve incurred ($16 trillion and counting) and passing budgets that actually to rein in spending. We need the same constructive plans on the issues that need serious reform, like immigration or the simplifying the tax code.
3) Speak the language.
People with different backgrounds use different dictionaries, even if they are speaking English. Unless I force my medical friends to translate, I have no clue what they are saying when they describe that their patient will have to get a dacryocystorhinostomy (real word). I was recently at a meeting of conservative leaders and one 50-year-old mentioned how our message needed to be “hipper” for young people to relate to it.
“Hipper” is the problem. No one under the age of 35 thinks that “hip” is still a part of our day-to-day vernacular. This means that more minorities, young people, and women who understand and can communicate conservatism should be promoted.
4) Get personal.
President Obama beat Romney on selling how well he knew the electorate’s day to day concerns. By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Obama was more in touch than Romney with people like themselves. The Obama campaign was set up for the past four years in the neighborhoods that carried them to victory. Their Get Out the Vote campaign was in churches, hair salons, and local grocery stores. They sent people who grew up in a neighborhood back to that neighborhood. They knew their electorate.
We may not like their policies, but we can take a page from their politics.
As discussions of tax increases, debt deals, and battles over Obamacare begin again, the next few months will look a lot like the last two years. While conservative principles should not change, how we speak about these issues is vital. And the time to start is yesterday. After all, the Democrats have already begun on 2016.