Ted Cruz: 'Their Message Should Have Been: You Can Build That'

A couple tweaks could wildly improve the Republican Party's outreach to less wealthy entrepreneurial strivers.

Speaking at the National Review Institute's D.C. gathering, Senator Ted Cruz commented on the rhetoric Mitt Romney used against President Obama. "One of the best slogans that came out of this campaign was, 'You built that!' I wish we could take a different tack. That was a slogan that was aimed at the 53 percent," he explained. "It was aimed at business owners. It was aimed at people who already got there. I think their message should have been: You can build that."

That's an interesting thought.

I'd love to see the GOP start to aggressively champion the sorts of issues and cases taken up by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm that frequently represents working-class clients, many of whom are minorities, so that they're empowered to succeed in the free market.

The effect is anything but abstract. Here's the effect their work had on street vendors in Atlanta:
 

Here's the video IJ made when it began representing eyebrow threaders:




They've also represented food-truck vendors in Buffalo, New York, and yoga teachers in Virginia.

In theory, a party that touts free-market ideals would stand up for people like this as consistently and vocally as hedge-fund owners and would-be payers of an increased estate tax. In practice, Republican legislators are far more attentive to free-market causes that affect people who are able to make large campaign contributions or host fundraisers in their living rooms.

The disparity is worst in legislation, but it affects rhetoric too.

Had Romney been as attuned to the needs of businesspeople who sell tacos from trucks or wash cars in parking garages, he would have realized how little many of those self-employed small businesspeople make each year, and hesitated before disparaging the ones who don't always pay federal income tax. Being in business for yourself almost always means trying hard to make it; but it doesn't always mean succeeding. Often it means barely scraping by or failing.

A political party faces different challenges than a libertarian public-interest law firm, but IJ shows that it's possible to advocate on behalf of working-class blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, really helps people in those communities, and dovetails very comfortably with conservative ideology. An additional agenda item might be radically reducing the steps that need to be taken before starting a small business. In the short to medium term, demographic changes might harm the GOP. Why not respond by trying to expand the number of small entrepreneurs in America?
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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