3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020

As we head deeper into the 2020 election cycle, Republican activists and leaders face serious challenges if we are to put conservative solutions into action to strengthen our country at home and freedom abroad.

With media coverage and social media attention driven by the sensational, it’s easy to get sidetracked by “clickbaity” issues and personalities that pull our attention away from the real problems we as a party need to address.

First, here is a list of personalities that for the big picture may be fun to talk about but do not matter: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezNew York man pleads guilty to threatening to kill Omar Funding stopgap would give Congress more time to debate expiring surveillance provisions 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ihlan Omar (D-Minn.), Jeffrey Epstein and related conspiracy theories, “The Clintons,” former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey3 reasons why impeachment fatigue has already set in Day 2 impeachment ratings drop by more than 1 million from first day Chris Wallace on Yovanovitch testimony: 'If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse' MORE, Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeJury finds Stone guilty of lying to Congress Roger Stone jury ends first day of deliberation without a verdict Jury set to begin deliberating in Stone trial MORE and Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneDemocratic impeachment investigators looking at whether Trump misled Mueller Lawmakers spar over upcoming Sondland testimony Himes: 'I don't think it blows a hole in the case' if Sondland testifies there was no quid pro quo MORE. Chances are, if you are a Republican activist, candidate or elected official, one or more of these names is lurking somewhere in your Facebook or Twitter news feed right now. 

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And not one of them matter.

By contrast, here are three that do matter. Spoiler alert: They are more complicated, strategic and impactful, while probably less fun to talk about, than the first list. Here is where Republican brain power and attention needs to be directed — not to spin these problems away, but to solve them.

  1. Republicans have not won a presidential election in difficult economic times in 40 years.

When Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Democrat President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterDoes Trump have a bunch of 'losers' to thank for a growing economy? Jimmy Carter 'up and walking' after brain surgery The Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine MORE in 1980, it was in large part due to the high unemployment and high inflation that came to define the economic record of the former Georgia governor. It was also the last time Republicans won a national election in a challenging economic environment.

The next time a Republican incumbent faced a slow economy, it was George H.W. Bush who was defeated despite having a 91 percent approval rating just a year before he lost to Democrat Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race MORE in 1992.

When John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble MORE was the Republican nominee following the 2008 financial crisis, he went on to lose to Democrat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race Political purity tests are for losers Deportations lower under Trump administration than Obama: report MORE. Both times, Republicans occupied the White House as the economy went south, and Americans turned to the Democrats. As the global economy slows and the direction of the U.S. economy is less certain, Republicans must write a new playbook for how to hold the White House in a challenging economic climate — something that has not happened in four decades.

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  1. Republicans are hemorrhaging support in suburbia.

With much of rural America firmly Republican and Democrats equally solid in the cities, America’s suburbs are the political battlegrounds. Recent polling shows Democrats making significant gains in suburban districts. Texas may be won or lost based on what happens in the communities outside Dallas.

Similarly, the suburbs outside Atlanta, Cleveland, Phoenix and Philadelphia could determine in which electoral college column their respective states fall in November 2020. A plan is needed to reverse Republican setbacks in suburban communities.

  1. California is the canary in the coal mine, not the outlier.

California has become something of a running joke among conservatives nationally. While there is plenty of legitimate ammo for such jokes coming from the Golden State, usually from San Francisco, politically, the joke is on them.

California is not some oddball left coast anachronism running counter to some broad national conservative trend. California is an indicator of what is coming. When Reagan was elected president in 1980, California was 21 percent Latino — now it’s over 40 percent. Meanwhile, the Asian population has tripled. California is electing more Democrats because it is becoming more Latino, urban and coastal in terms of its center of gravity.

A Republican can lose every single Latino voter in 5 percent Latino Iowa and still win a statewide landslide. If they do the same in California and they’re a minor party. America is becoming more urban, and more Latino, which is why states like New Mexico has moved out of range, Arizona is in serious play and Texas Republicans are being forced to spend millions on voter registration.

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There are plenty of soothing things Republicans are telling each other to explain away these challenges. Most often cited appears to be shift in the Democratic center of gravity from the left to the far left. While this may be true, it did not appear to stop Democrats from taking back the House, picking up governorships in battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin, or Senate seats in target states Arizona and Nevada.

Spin is not analysis, and self-delusion is not strategy.

Our social media streams are full of personality-based sideshows that are good for ratings and clicks. Yet, these are not the serious issues that demand attention if Republicans are to retain the ability to drive the agenda nationally. Despite what the calendar says, 2020 is here, and Republicans need to get serious about winning majorities.

Ron Nehring is the former chairman of the California Republican Party and was the 2016 presidential campaign spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).