How? Look more closely at the election examples Judis cites. Middle-class Americans will vote for tough governors willing to stand up to special interests and to hold the line on costs and taxes. But when politicians stray into debates over which rapes are legitimate, they lead where middle-class America won’t follow. Instead:
1) Be a party for people of conservative temperament, even more than conservative ideology. Quit threatening to shut down the government, default on contracts, or blow up institutions. Don’t keep company with people who fantasize about deploying their basement arsenals to wage war on the government of the United States. “I’m a conservative, but I’m not a nut about it,” said the elder George H.W. Bush. Good advice then, good advice now.
2) Make their priorities your priorities. Heading into their 2005 election, British Conservatives were heartened that all their top policy positions polled high with the public. They lost badly anyway. Even voters who agreed with the Conservatives’ answers didn’t agree about the importance of their questions. Likewise, while many Americans may tell a pollster they are “pro-life,” that does not necessarily mean they want Congress to deal with abortion first and constantly.
3) Honor those who work for wages. Not everybody is cut out to run a business. Those who are do not constitute some superior stratum of humanity. The cult of the entrepreneur in the 2012 campaign excluded and often insulted tens of millions of Americans, who appreciate job creators—but who also insist on respect for their different kind of work and their different contribution.
4) Don’t merely accept the social-insurance state; welcome it. Even reasonably affluent Americans of the 2010s feel less secure than similarly situated people did half a century ago. Not just their jobs, but their entire industries, can vanish with a new invention or a shift in trade relations. Just as corporations will cheerfully pay to hedge risks, so too voters rationally wish to pay a reasonable cost to insure against unemployment, illness, or accident. That’s not mooching, and Republicans need to stop resenting it.
5) The party of aspiration can’t be the party of resentment. There are many people who feel left behind in the modern economy. Their feelings of being disregarded and disrespected demand attention. But the people whose votes could return the GOP to the White House are people who are succeeding—and are frustrated that their government doesn’t seem to do its job as well as they do theirs. They have practical problems they want solved, and they won’t trust for long a Sarah Palin style politician who only articulates grievances.
One last proposal, not drawn from the data, but a good idea all the same:
6) Remember the “peace” part of “peace through strength.” President Obama is leaving his successor an even more chaotic and dangerous planet than he inherited. Republicans will rightly slam him for this record—but their criticism will only resonate to the extent they convince Americans that they want to use that power to deter foreign aggressors, not to stumble into new adventures of their own. With candidates named Bush and Clinton seeking the presidency again, Americans will wonder whether they have drawn the right lesson from the Iraq war. That lesson isn’t “peace at any price” or “blame America first.” It’s “look before you leap.” That most middle class of philosophers, Adam Smith, listed prudence as one of his three supreme social virtues, along with justice and beneficence. Middle-class voters will feel the same way.