John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


How to Appeal to the Suburban Revolutionaries

Posted on August 11, 2014
Brookfield at Estancia.jpg

"Brookfield at Estancia" by Rko202 - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It used to be that the Republican Party had a problem with suburban voters on the left.

The social conservatism of the evangelical wing, with its focus on abortion, used to be a challenge to Republican politicians who wanted to win over the so-called soccer moms.

This was especially true in suburban districts of big urban areas, like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

Republicans now face a challenge from suburban voters on the right.

Indeed, after the fiscal crisis of 2008-2009, the collapse of the housing market around the same time, and the economic downturn that has not quite recovered, the suburbs have become radicalized, all of over the country.

I bet that most Tea Party members, if you did a poll,  live in the suburbs.

And these Tea Party sympathizers are angry with the government.

They are angry that their taxes are too high and their property values are too low.  They are angry that their schools aren’t as good as they once were.  They are angry at the traffic congestion that confronts their daily lives.  They are angry that their local governments are out of money.

They are mad at the bailout of the big banks.  They don’t want any more illegal immigrants in their schools.  They hate common core.

On most of these issues, I agree with them.  (I think the common core stuff is altogether over-hyped).

And while they don’t like Barack Obama, they also don’t like the Republican establishment.

They have lost faith in politicians of all stripes who they believe are on the take and not playing by the rules.

They are worried incessantly about the national debt, but don’t want Congress to touch Social Security or Medicare.

They don’t see a bright future for their kids, and the news at the international level brings them nothing but anxiety.

They have more to fear from the local drug dealer than they do from Al Qaeda, and they are probably deeply concerned about the values being taught to their kids from a media culture that is, frankly, completely out of control.

They communicate through Facebook and Twitter.  On Facebook, they post pictures of their kids.  On Twitter, they express their anger at pundits (like me) and politicians, who they deem insufficiently conservative or too tied to a political establishment that they hate.

They see in the Tea Party a chance to make a difference, to register their protest, to shift the political debate, to get the politicians to finally listen to them.

How does the Republican Party appeal to these suburban revolutionaries?

Well, first of all, it should stress security.   It should become a true conservative party in that it insists on the rule of law, insist on putting bad guys in jail, insists on punishing those who commit robberies, rapes and assorted other violent crimes.

This goes for national security too.  We want a federal government that is going to fight back against jihadists who want to destroy our way of life.

Now, we can have a principled discussion about how to make America more secure.

Do our drug laws make us more secure?  Did prohibition?

Did our blundering in Iraq make us more secure?  Doubtful.

So, as we work to make our nation more secure, we should inject some common-sense into the equation.

Second, it should stress community.  How do we make communities stronger?  How do we return power, money and decision-making back to local townships, smaller cities and neighborhoods?

A party that can promise that more decisions will made closer to home and that understands that the American people are sick and tired of having decisions made for them by some faceless bureaucrat in Washington is the party that can be successful in the long-term.

Third, it should stress optimism.

America is still a great county, and we all should have some greater faith in the future.  We are going to be ok because we have a system of government that ultimately works.

Fourth, it should stress access.

The party that gives its folks a chance to weigh in with their opinions, a party that has the ability to connect in visceral way with its members, will be stronger in the long term.

Fifth, it should stress accountability, both for the elected officials and for those who vote for them.  Nobody gets a free ride.  Yes, politicians shouldn’t make promises that they know they can’t keep, but voters should not vote for politicians who they know make promises that they can’t keep.

We should also be a party that doesn’t put up with people ripping off the system.  Like it or not, we are all in this together, and when one person tries to game the system to maximum advantage, the rest of us lose.

Sixth, it should stress fun.  Politics should be fun.  It’s not as fun as a college football game, mind you, but some of the same elements should be there.  Big crowds.  Excitement.  Marching bands.

Seventh, it should connect real people to real people.  Not numbers.  Not demographics.  Not faceless Twitter handles.  But real, live, breathing people to real people.

There is a great temptation to view voters only through the prism of what they can do for the party.  What votes can they bring?  What money can they raise?  What color are they?  But the real challenge of a political party, especially in this day and age, is to understand that each voter has his or her own challenges, own experiences, own prejudices and talents and expectations.  A political party that views each voter as a special and remarkable human being is a political party that will connect with suburban voters in the 21st century.