Feehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs
The path back to a House Republican majority runs through America’s suburbs.
The question is: Can the Trump administration come up with a strategy to mobilize enough base supporters to win back districts that he won in 2016 but Republicans lost in 2018?
Suburban voters have been unreliable GOP voters for more than a generation.
Mark Kirk, the former Illinois senator and a former representative from a wealthy suburb, successfully came up with a strategy in the mid-1990s to crack the suburban voter code by emphasizing local issues like transportation and deemphasizing divisive social issues like abortion.
His suburban agenda was a model for many Republicans and helped the GOP to keep its majority for most of the late 1990s and much of the early 2000s.
That model won’t work in this polarized political environment, so the Trump campaign and the House Republican leadership will have to forge a new model.
The reason many Republicans lost was pretty simple. Suburban voters, especially college-educated female voters, strongly disliked President Trump and they wanted to send him a message of strong disapproval.
Peter Roskam, for example, a good campaigner with a strong track record, couldn’t escape Trump’s unpopularity as he went door to door in his wealthy Illinois district. Kevin Yoder, another accomplished incumbent, faced similar headwinds in his suburban Kansas district.
Those districts are not expected to switch back to the GOP this time around, but there are enough other seats, 31 in total, where if Trump repeats his performance from 2016, his Republican team should be able to eke out a narrow majority.
Twenty-five of these seats are an absolute certainty, I am told by a high-ranking House Republican who has looked closely at internal polling.
For the president and his team, three things have to happen.
First, they have to make the most of the Democrats’ foolish foray into impeachment. Impeachment is a further example of partisanship run amok. Suburban voters have practical issues that they are concerned about, from soul-crushing commutes to work to out-of-control college expenses and all issues in between.
The more time Democrats spend on a partisan fishing expedition, the less time they are tending to the needs of their constituents. This is an opportunity for House Republicans to emphasize how their majority will focus on taking care of problems in their local communities.
Second, Republicans have to seize back the tax issue. In many districts, especially in New York and New Jersey, the president’s signature tax reform law actually hurt Republicans. Suburban voters in high-tax states actually paid more because the law limited the state and local deductions.
No matter which candidate gets the Democratic nomination, they have all promised to increase taxes on the wealthy. And suburban voters are smart enough to understand that when Democrats talk about taxing the wealthy, they are talking about taxing them.
Third, Republicans have to find the right balance on cultural and social issues. They need to emphasize that they are both tolerant and traditional. Democrats are nether.
I betcha most Americans didn’t even know the word throuple, before California Democrat Katie Hill made it a thing before she resigned this week. A court case in Texas, where a mother wants to medically transition her 7-year-old son into a daughter over the objections of her ex-husband, will most likely become a much bigger political issue. The comments of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who basically wants to put the Catholic Church out of business, is a further example of the radicalism of the progressive left.
There is no place for any who hold traditional religious beliefs in the modern Democratic Party and that goes well beyond the abortion issue.
You can be tolerant and traditional. You just can’t be that in the modern Democratic Party.
Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).
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