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-CortezProgressive Democrat confronts Rep. Cuellar at parade, calls for him to debate her: report Ocasio-Cortez claps back after article on her dress: 'Sequins are a great accessory to universal healthcare' Democrats working to ensure Trump's second term MORE (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ihlan Omar (D-Minn.), Jeffrey Epstein and related conspiracy theories, “The Clintons,” former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan 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 ComeyBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn Comey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Trump punts on Stone pardon decision after sentencing MORE, Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeUS lawyer argues Assange put people's lives at risk Protesters in UK call on government to refuse Assange extradition to US Prosecutor defends initial DOJ recommendation at Stone sentencing MORE and Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneSchumer on Trump intel shakeup: 'Disgrace,' 'closer to a banana republic' President Trump's assault on checks and balances: Five acts in four weeks This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate New Hampshire only exacerbates Democratic Party agita Doctors group breaks from health care industry with support for 'Medicare for All' 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 ClintonDo Trump and Sanders hate America? Ex-CIA chief calls Trump intel shakeup a 'virtual decapitation' of the intelligence community Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' MORE in 1992.

When John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Overnight Defense: GOP lawmaker takes unannounced trip to Syria | Taliban leader pens New York Times op-ed on peace talks | Cheney blasts paper for publishing op-ed MORE was the Republican nominee following the 2008 financial crisis, he went on to lose to Democrat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases The South Carolina Democratic primary will be decided by black women Do Trump and Sanders hate America? 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
  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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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).