Ronald Brownstein argues that Republicans need to win over a larger share of nonwhite voters if they are to remain competitive in future presidential elections. Brownstein suggests “comprehensive immigration reform” as the kind of policy Republicans need to make gains among nonwhites. The victory of Tony Abbott in Australia indicates that Republicans can grow their party without obeying the wishes of liberal journalists. Republicans don’t need to move left on immigration or abortion. Republicans need to shift their focus from high-earners to the middle-class and people who are struggling to join the middle-class.

Brownstein argues that winning over the “missing white voters” who sat out the 2012 election would not be enough for the Republicans to form a winning coalition, but Sean Trende (who first wrote about the missing working-class white voters) made the same point.  Mitt Romney underperformed with working-class white voters. Romney also underperformed with Asian-American and Latino voters. Romney performed worse than McCain among Asian-Americans and Latinos despite Romney having the benefit of better conditions. You could look at Romney’s weak performances among both working-class whites and nonwhites as entirely separate and that, in the future, Republicans have to choose between either making gains among working-class whites or making gains among nonwhites.

But you can also look at Romney’s weak performances among working-class whites and nonwhites as linked. In the 2012 exit poll, 53% of the respondents answered that Romney’s issue agenda would primarily benefit the rich. Presumably, many of the working-class whites who stayed home felt the same way (even if they were not willing to vote for President Obama either).

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans are more likely than whites to lack health insurance. John Logan found that, due to residential patterns, middle-class and affluent African-American and Latinos (and even middle-class Asian-Americans) are more likely than middle-class whites to live near people who are struggling economically.   African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans are all more likely than whites to support Obamacare.

Part of what is happening is that the median nonwhite voter is ideologically to the left of the median white voter, but that is not the whole story. On issues like taxations vs. spending or abortion, a larger percentage (though still a minority) of African-Americans and Latinos support the conservative position than voted for Romney in the last election. Just like with working-class whites, Romney underperformed. Romney’s failure to address people’s concerns about health care coverage, his obsession with the high-earners who “built that”, and his contempt for the 47% who had no net income tax liability likely hurt him among both working-class whites and with persuadable (and even right-leaning) nonwhites across the income distribution.

Romney’s failures and Tony Abbott’s win point to a different Republican party strategy than the one Brownstein suggests. You don’t have to support every Tony Abbott proposal, but maybe he can teach us a few things worth learning about how to win as a pro-life, free market conservative. The 2012 Republican strategy was to start with the priorities of high-earners and the business lobbies and then try to craft a rhetoric to sell a high-earners-first agenda to the middle-class. The high-earners “built that” and, if their taxes were cut, then those high-earner job creators would create you a job. Also Republican believed that you could build that too, and when you did, they would have a tax cut waiting for you. Brownstein’s suggestion for growing the Republican party is to find the common ground between liberal journalists and the Chamber of Commerce. The irony is that Brownstein’s suggestion would make the GOP’s agenda even more like that of the business lobbies.

Or Republicans could follow Abbott’s example and build a conservative agenda around the priorities of the middle-class (and those who are struggling to join the middle-class).  Republicans shouldn’t copy Abbott’s agenda. They don’t have to come out for paid parental leave. But Republicans need a middle-class agenda for America’s political context. Republicans could propose tax reform that would cut taxes on middle-class parents.   Republicans could propose their own health care reform that would secure access to health care for working families at a lower cost than Obamacare. Republicans could support an immigration reform that would make our immigration system work better for struggling workers of all ethnicities. Republicans don’t have to move left to grow the party. They have to show how a conservative party can prioritize the concerns of middle-class families.

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