My daughter has pneumonia so blogging is going to be light for a little while, but I have a little time now…
David Weigel is a little too snarky (though I should talk) in this post, but he does include a revealing comment from Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz is an exceedingly articulate and seemingly very principled politician who is explaining how the less articulate and obviously unprincipled Romney (my characterization) could have done better. Weigel quotes Cruz talking about the “you built that” line:
I wish we could take a different tack. That was a slogan that was aimed at the 53 percent. It was aimed at business owners. It was aimed at people who already got there. I think their message should have been: You can build that.
The Republican “you built that” rhetoric was a little more inclusive than Cruz’s comment lets on. One of the high points of Paul Ryan’s Republican convention speech was Ryan honoring his mother for becoming a small businesswoman. Just the same, Republicans shouldn’t be trying to fix the “you built that” stuff and should be trying new things. There are several reasons why Republicans should move on from “you built that.” First, persuadable people don’t care and will never care. The entire “you built that” line is a response to one line in an Obama speech that most people have already forgotten. “You built that” is an in-joke among Republican politicians and conservative political activists. Making “you built that” more about small and aspiring business owners might make the line seem less of an apologia for high earner interest group politics, but it still won’t mean much to people the Republicans actually need to win over.
Second, even if “you built that” becomes more about people who aspire to own businesses, it still demonstrates an obsessive Republican focus on entrepreneurs. Honoring entrepreneurs is fine – great even. The Republican party is always going to have a special place in its worldview for the entrepreneur. And that is the point. Everybody already knows that the Republicans are pro-business. That isn’t their problem. People who work jobs, raise families and don’t own businesses have their own interests and the franchise too. The interests of those people overlap substantially with those of entrepreneurs, but not so much that a Republican politics focused primarily on cutting taxes on high earners and letting everyone else reap the resulting indirect benefits is going to have majority appeal.
The point shouldn’t be to try to run a better, more inclusive, more articulate version of the Romney campaign – and especially not an improved version of the Romney campaign’s mistakes (like the forty-seven percent comment.) Whether it is “you built that” or the “forty-seven percent” , the real problem was the strategy rather than the execution. Republicans need a message and a set of policies that offer benefits to entrepreneurs (both present and aspiring) and to working families across the income distribution. This Republican economic politics should focus on growth, but also on growing the disposable income of working families. So Republicans should ditch the “you built that” rhetoric and drop the blanket resentment of the forty-seven percent. Some of those forty-seven percent are decent people working hard for not a lot of money. Republicans could adopt pro-growth and pro-family tax reforms and health insurance reforms that increase take home pay while maintaining health care security. That’s the kind of agenda and rhetoric Republicans should be trying to build.