Several of the participants at yesterday’s AEI forum focused on the need for Republicans to first “listen” to constituencies they want to win over. That is true of course, but one of our insightful regular commenters (Pseudoplotinus) pointed to the risks of this approach:
I found this particularly problematic when the point was made that the GOP has to get better at listening to diverse constituencies. This is true enough as far as it goes. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that what Republicans will find out is that ‘listening’ is really about making members of these constituencies ‘feel’ like they are being listened to in the democratic party sense, which is to say compensate said constituencies with some kind of policy or entitlement to gain their vote.
I think that the risks of the Republicans having that kind of conversation are real, and simply offering a Lite version of the Democrats’ proposals will seem like an attractive (even though ultimately futile) option. I do think that one of the purposes of “listening” is to find points of agreement between conservatives and some members of constituencies that are voting overwhelmingly Democratic. In my personal experience, those points of agreement exist – which is not to say we are talking about down-the-line agreement with the Republican Party platform. There is a lot more skepticism of tax increases and abortion on demand than you would think from looking at some of the subgroup in the exit polls. Listening might also convince Republicans that they need to offer something tangible on health insurance policy to people who have no or very vulnerable insurance coverage instead of the “greatest health care system in the world” stuff that pleases lots of people who have already bought into the conservative narrative. The good news is that moving toward something like what Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru proposed would actually be a move to the “right.”
I also think that “listening” should absolutely not be about paying political consultants to “explain” what members of this or that group thinks. It also should not mean buying into the stories of lobbying groups that are the self-appointed spokesman of this or that constituency. The economic and political incentives of those approaches are way too screwed up. Consultants are not going to save you. Self-interested lobbyists aren’t going to save you. They are going to financially and ideologically rip you off. And if you are lazy enough to think they are going to save you, then you deserve to get ripped off. Listening should involve a combination of survey research and ethnography and the RNC should be working on protocols right now.