A poll of Republican “insiders” reveals that Marco Rubio is the early favorite for 2016. I don’t take it seriously as presidential election speculation, but I take it very seriously as evidence of the climate of opinion among Republican functionaries. It reveals a combination of panic and laziness. The thinking seems to be that since Republicans are having trouble with the growing, nonwhite fraction of the electorate, they should nominate Rubio because he is the “The Latino Republican version of Obama/Kennedy — he inspires, he’s handsome, and what’s not to like?” Well if he is the Latino Obama/Kennedy . . .
The Republican problem is not that their last ticket was a couple of white guys. The problem is that the entire center-right infrastructure is unable to communicate intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population. I know lots of people who don’t know anything about Romney other than he was for the rich, tax cuts, and he was trying to take advantage of a lousy economy to win an election. A lot of the country hears almost nothing of what the center-right has to say and what they do hear in nonsense about job creators who really did “build that” and some bromides about “opportunity” that were unmoored from anything in their own lives What they have never heard is a pithy explanation about why any policy would make their lives better. That problem will be mitigated only very slightly and temporarily by picking Rubio for president. The whole idea of looking for a Republican Obama is discouraging because it is really just a search for a short cut to the hard work of winning people over. Two of the main challenges facing the center-right (alongside crafting a prudent and attractive policy agenda) are:
1. Crafting a language that is intelligible to people who have not bought into and are not even aware of the dominant center-right narrative of the past forty years. References to the good old days of Reagan mean nothing to them. They aren’t terrified of becoming “like Europe” and don’t know what that is even supposed to mean. Calling something “liberal” is not taken as a criticism. You have to start from scratch and say as much as possible, as clearly as possible, as fast as possible. This approach cries out for experimentation and it would do a lot more good than nominating an all Latino presidential ticket. This is going to take a lot of listening to real people. Let’s remember that Ronald Reagan partly built his career on a similar kind of experimentation. Part of Reagan’s job at GE was to talk business-friendly conservatism to FDR-loving union Democrat workers. It is too bad that the record of Reagan’s trial-and-error on that job is lost, but his effort is a fair approximation of the present conservative challenge. We are going to have to talk to and win over some Obama Democrats or people who are now growing up in Obama Democrat households just like Reagan had to learn to talk to and win over FDR Democrats.
2. Conservatives have to figure out how to use media to reach more people The center-right messaging system is completely broken when it comes to talking to a very large fraction of the American population. the majority of the country does not consume any of the vast quantity of product put out by the populist conservative media (Fox News and conservative talk radio.) That isn’t going to change. The vast amount of money spent by the right-leaning Super-PACs were largely aimed at talking to a small fraction of middle-class white women. They were almost entirely about reinforcing existing narratives in short bursts. They don’t work with people who haven’t already bought the narrative. The center-right would be a lot better off spending a lot of that money between elections making actual arguments at length to people who don’t already agree with them. Then Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation might actually do some good.
If the above don’t happen, it almost doesn’t matter what else the center-right does. The ethnic or racial identity of the next Republican presidential nominee should be one of the least important considerations.
Update: Edited for spelling - Pete.