A GOP plan for reclaiming the burbs

Two young conservatives famous for arguing that Republicans must consolidate their appeal to "Sam's Club" voters now offer a prescription for winning the Starbucks crowd.

Published July 10, 2008 2:52PM (EDT)

One of the firmly established theories about contemporary partisan political dynamics is that Republican strength among white working-class voters has been offset by Democratic gains among upper-middle-class suburban voters. The relative value of these categories of voters was the explicit subject of the smartest recent Democratic take on political demographics, the Ruy Teixeira/Alan Abramowitz Brookings study titled "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class."

Interestingly, the two young conservative theorists most thoroughly identified with the argument that Republicans need a new, pro-public-sector strategy to consolidate their white working-class vote have now come out with a parallel strategy to reclaim the upper-middle-class surburbs.

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, authors of the recent book "Grand New Party," focused on "Sam's Club" voters, have now offered an analysis at National Review of how GOPers can appeal to upper-middle-class suburbanites.

Their prescription suggests four policy/message thrusts: support for public-school choice (as opposed to vouchers), a nonregulatory approach to alternative energy sources, an agenda to encourage telecommuting, and a more-cops response to reemerging violent crime trends.

As with the Douthat/Salam argument for appealing to "Sam's Club" voters, their pitch to Starbucks voters is long on message but less compelling in policy proposals. It's not clear to me that any of their four policy prescriptions can really be clearly distinguished from Democratic policies.

But it is refreshing to see a proposed conservative appeal to suburbanites that is not focused on tax-cut bribes or national security fear-mongering. Unfortunately for Douthat and Salam, but fortunately for Democrats, most GOP politicians are still addicted to selfishness and fear as all-purpose political messages.

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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