Murphy urges Republicans to talk about “economic freedom.” But Mitt Romney did talk a lot about that, and middle-class voters weren’t impressed, because calls for lower taxes and less regulation are not responsive to their need for more jobs and higher wages. Murphy also urges “reform of government institutions like schools,” but that’s an issue for state and local officials.
In order to appeal to the broad middle-class, the party will have to adopt some economic policies that its big donors don’t want. As Ross Douthat points out on Twitter, that means Murphy may have picked the wrong side of the Republican schism: Social conservatives are more likely to signal openness to pro-middle class economic policies than the “hardheaded business types” who fund the party.
But social conservative interest in non-plutocratic economic policy looks awfully soft. When you look at the 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential primaries, social conservatives threw in their lot with the candidates pushing the most regressive economic policies. Mike Huckabee sounds good rhetorical notes about middle-class economic struggles, but he’s also a backer of the hugely regressive “Fair Tax.” While the donor base drives the Republican Party’s orthodoxy on economic policy, conservative activists are not exactly being dragged along — they, too, are opposed to pro-middle class policies.
The upshot is that the Republican Party is screwed: It’s in for a lot of infighting, but both sides of the party’s internal fight are committed to economic policies that are not saleable to the broader public.
As much as I don’t like to admit it, Josh is correct. I would probably fall on the side that Murphy represents and so would many Republicans that don’t care much about the social issues. But the problem isn’t just the social issues, it’s also the economic ones as well. The party is going to have to go through a wholesale makeover, not just a touchup. None of this means that the GOP becomes the diet version of the Democrats, but it does mean speaking to the economic realities Americans face in ways better than they are currently doing and in ways far better than what the Dems are selling. As Barro says in an earlier piece, conservatives are going to have to get used to talking about redistribution.