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-CortezHouse progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case Boebert and Omar fight leaves GOP scrambling Dearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized MORE (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ihlan Omar (D-Minn.), Jeffrey Epstein and related conspiracy theories, “The Clintons,” former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyCountering the ongoing Republican delusion How Biden should sell his infrastructure bill 'Finally, infrastructure week!': White House celebrates T bill MORE, Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeJulian Assange given permission to marry in prison Press freedom advocate: Unclear how recent US kidnapping allegations will impact Assange case US tells UK Assange could serve any sentence in Australia MORE and Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneTrump, Jan. 6 panel are set for Tuesday faceoff Countering the ongoing Republican delusion Jan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone 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 CarterThe massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) The Philippines is a frontline of another cold war Cruz: I hope US athletes 'go over there and kick their commie asses' at Beijing Olympics 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 ClintonMaxwell accuser testifies the British socialite was present when Epstein abuse occurred Epstein pilot testifies Maxwell was 'number two' in operation Federal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill MORE in 1992.

When John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE was the Republican nominee following the 2008 financial crisis, he went on to lose to Democrat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHead of North Carolina's health department steps down Appeals court appears wary of Trump's suit to block documents from Jan. 6 committee Patent trolls kill startups, but the Biden administration has the power to help  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).