GOP needs more pluribus

If swing and undecided voters were watching the two conventions carefully, trying to tease out differences between Republicans and Democrats, I suspect many saw a significant split between Republican individualism and Democrat social action. To our detriment, many Republican leaders have begun to embrace a cold, individualistic philosophy that swing voters might believe leaves them on an island, without a boat and paddle. Will we unwittingly force them to swim toward the Democrats for safety? 

This has been a long time coming. It’s not just some fresh take on Ayn Rand individualism. When I matriculated into the polling business in the 1980s, my first employer and mentor Lance Tarrance, an acknowledged expert on wooing split-ticket voters during the Republican realignment, often railed against the “social Darwinism” that was creeping into the party’s ranks. But before it took hold, the communitarianism of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush pushed community, church and points of light to the center stage, leaving the individualists in the wings.

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Yet in the past few years, the go-it-aloners have crept back in, and there has been little resistance. Reagan’s foundational pillars of our democracy — faith, family and community — have been foundering. The family structure has been weakened by social liberalism and rocked by economic stress. Many families are too busy surviving today to worry about much aside from themselves. Churches have also been weakened by recession, and even before the economic turmoil, seemed to be withdrawing from civic and political life. The so-called “religious right” is no longer a significant force in the church, politics or society. And fiscal stress has also eroded the leadership positions of most civic, charitable and community organizations. In a dog-eat-dog economy, many individuals are so busy fending for their own interests that they have little time for joint or united action.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have doubled down since Hillary Clinton’s assertion that “it takes a village” to raise a child. They now believe it takes collective action to do most everything. Because some Republicans define themselves narrowly as anti-Democrats, doing everything opposite, they have led the GOP toward a fiercely stark anti-collective posture, forgetting Reagan, abandoning Judeo-Christian principles and embracing a losing political stratagem, just to avoid being Democrat-like. 

Mitt Romney is the right leader to move the party away from this harsh libertarianism and philosophical objectivism. His Mormon faith is moored in culture that nicely blends individual action with social support. It reflects the values of the West where Mormonism incubated and grew. Westerners can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and look out for their neighbors at the same time. Consider that Mormons don’t send their missionaries out one by one. No, they send them two by two, thereby ensuring mutual support, reinforcement, encouragement and accountability.

In the Broadway play “The Book of Mormon,” there is a big musical number, “You and Me (But Mostly Me).” Elder Kevin Price, a precocious Mormon missionary in Uganda, who resents being sent to Africa rather than Orlando for his mission and soon abandons fealty to his nerdy and inept partner Arnold and fellow missionaries in the area, sings it. His focus on “mostly me” predictably has negative consequences. It’s a morality play with relevance for Romney’s and my GOP. Don’t be a Kevin or you’ll never get to Orlando, much less heaven or the White House.

The swing voters in the election are the young, especially fledgling families and single women. They are Facebook people. They are community food bank people, volunteers and users. They are Jaycees. They are team members in the workplace. They are soccer, Little League and Pop Warner parents. They participate in Neighborhood Watch and the PTA. They are members, in full, of social networks. They are not individualists. Don’t stiff-arm them. More pluribus and less Kevin.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.