POLITICS

Carney: GOP must woo working people chasing American dream

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Photo - Mitt Romney concedes the presidency at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (Getty Images)
Mitt Romney concedes the presidency at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (Getty Images)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Republicans need a new coalition and a new message. The heart of that coalition should be the working class. The message should be populism.

Populist movements in the past have often been ugly because they scapegoated vulnerable minorities. The new Republican populism shouldn't blame the "47 percent" of Mitt Romney's imagination, or immigrants seeking to make a better life. The new Republican populism should declare war on the cronies and special interests who use big government to rig the game in their favor and deny opportunity to those trying to climb the ladder and live the American dream.

It's time for free-market populism and a Republican Party that fights against all forms of political privilege -- a party that champions all who want to work and take risks in order to improve their lives and raise a family.

Romney thought he could win by getting the votes of those Americans who have been successful -- that was the apparent strategic thinking underlying his "47-percent" remarks at a closed-door fundraiser. But any electoral map reveals this as folly.

Upscale white suburbs have steadily trended Democratic. Montgomery County, Maryland, was one of the first. Westchester, New York, and the North Shore of Chicago followed. Philadelphia's white-collar counties and Northern Virginia soon joined the club.

In 2008, Obama made huge gains in the suburbs, pulling in 60 percent in Fairfax County, for instance, and winning the vote of those voters earning over $100,000, according to exit polls. In 2009 and 2010, Republicans bounced back a bit in key suburbs of Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, giving Republicans hope. In 2012 Republicans couldn't have picked a candidate better suited for highly educated, upper-middle-class suburban voters. Romney was successful, risk-averse, smart and nonideological.

The Romney campaign saw this dynamic, and tried to swing the suburbs back to the GOP. Romney campaigned in Northern Virginia's upscale suburbs again and again. In Ohio, he focused on well-off suburbs of Columbus and Cleveland.

This suburban strategy fizzled.

Pennsylvania's four wealthiest counties are the suburbs around Philadelphia. Obama won 55 percent in those "collar counties," which is better than he did statewide. Yes, Romney outperformed McCain in 2008 by two percentage points in these counties, but 45 percent of the suburbs is no formula for winning Pennsylvania.

In Fairfax, Obama beat Romney by 20 points, polling only one point below his 2008 performance.

Republicans like Romney think that successful, family-minded people above the median income should be Republicans. But that's not the case. Even the McLean precinct in Fairfax voted 56 to 43 for Obama.

Plenty of rich Republicans -- and even many conservatives -- live in McLean, but so do hundreds of government contractors, and double-GS-16 couples living large as public servants looking forward to outlandish pensions. Don't forget the dozens of revolving-door lobbyists like former Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan and his lobbyist wife Kimberly Dorgan -- their precinct voted 57 percent Obama.

And the problem isn't only in the D.C. area. Romney barely exceeded McCain's performance in Ohio's and Pennsylvania's upscale suburbs.

Romney probably hit the GOP ceiling in the suburbs. A Republican candidate can't carry states by winning 40 percent of Fairfax, 45 percent of Philadelphia's collar counties, and 53 percent of Upper Arlington, Ohio. It's time to give up on building majorities on a suburban foundation.

The GOP is out of power and it needs to play to the disaffected. The disaffected are not the wealthy, an obvious point that conservatives can't seem to understand. The wealthy got wealthier under Obama, and corporations earned record profits while median family earnings fell. Obama uses these facts to defuse the charges he's a socialist. Republicans should use them to show that Obama's big government expands the privileges of the privileged class.

Instead of trying to convince successful people that Democrats will take away their wealth, why not explain to the middle class that big government is keeping them down?

Americans look at Washington and know the game is rigged against them. Conservatives can promise to level the field by getting the bureaucrats and politicians out of it.

Regulations disproportionately harm small businesses and thus benefit the big guys who can afford to hire Byron or Kimberly Dorgan. Bailouts of existing giants keep entrepreneurs from entering a field.

Every small businessman, ambitious immigrant, and would-be-entrepreneur should be a Republican. So should every working man who sees his tax dollars going to Warren Buffett, General Electric and Pfizer.

Democrats run the game these days, and that game is rigged. Republicans need to woo those are losing the game.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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