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-CortezTrump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' 'Squad' member Rashida Tlaib faces strong primary challenger MORE (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ihlan Omar (D-Minn.), Jeffrey Epstein and related conspiracy theories, “The Clintons,” former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Comey to release second book, 'Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust' in January MORE, Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeGlenn Greenwald calls charges against Assange a threat to journalistic freedoms Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology Justice Department announces superseding indictment against Wikileaks' Assange MORE and Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneNew HBO documentary lets Gaetz, Massie, Buck offer their take on how to 'drain the swamp' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Brawls on Capitol Hill on Barr and COVID-19 Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing 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 CarterBiden up 4 points in North Carolina, 1 point in Georgia: poll Ex-presidents honor Lewis's contributions to nation at funeral Jimmy Carter honors John Lewis: His contributions 'will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come' 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 Clinton2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Davis: My recommendation for vice president on Biden ticket Pelosi: Trump trying 'to suppress the vote' with attacks on mail-in ballots MORE in 1992.

When John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAsian American voters could make a difference in 2020 Budowsky: Trump October surprise could devastate GOP The Memo: Biden seeks to peel older voters from Trump MORE was the Republican nominee following the 2008 financial crisis, he went on to lose to Democrat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Tuesday's primaries Obama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements Red flags fly high, but Trump ignores them 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).