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November 26, 2018

What the Trump Wing Must Do to Win Back the Suburbs

The GOP now really has two distinct wings, and something’s gotta give for victory in 2020.

When considering the GOP’s disastrous defeat in the suburbs in the 2018 midterm elections, there are a number of places to look for problems and solutions. One big reason for this shellacking was the lack of unity in the GOP and the conservatism movement more generally. This is because when you look at the GOP and conservatism, right now there are two major wings: An establishment wing and a Donald Trump/MAGA wing.

The dividing line is not so clear-cut: You can have very conservative people who worked for Ted Cruz (like Amanda Carpenter) be firmly Never Trump, while moderate Republicans like Rudy Giuliani are going full MAGA. In a number of cases, it is more a matter of attitude, tone, and political combativeness rather than policy differences. The MAGA wing has justifiable beefs with establishment Republicans and conservatives like Nicolle Wallace for failing to call out abusive language (and worse) from the Left, and in some cases, joining the attacks. Many establishment types have grown sick of President Trump’s tone. The two sides are digging in, neither willing to consider a truce.

It’s more than that, though. Some of the last two years’ policy changes didn’t help the GOP and contributed to the drubbing in the House. For example, consider tax reform. Sure, it did a lot of good things, including the repatriation of money that American companies were keeping overseas, but the cap on the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) hammered the suburbs in high-tax states.

Democrats in some deep-blue states even moved to reduce the tax hit from the federal government due to that change. Granted, the reason they had to act was they had high taxes in the first place, but the GOP never made that case effectively, and as a result, people who were taking a hit saw Democrats moving to help taxpayers. That didn’t help the GOP when many suburban women were already turned off by Trump’s tone, and while the GOP failed to deliver even a “skinny” ObamaCare repeal.

Add the bias from the mainstream media and a Democrat base fueled by anger over the 2016 election, and the GOP not only suffered its biggest shellacking in the House since 1974, but it lost Senate seats it should have won or held in Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, and West Virginia, as well as governorships it should have held in Kansas, Nevada, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Much of this was the suburbs flipping.

So what can the Trump wing of the GOP do to win back the suburbs? We’re not likely to see Trump’s tone change — it’s far more likely that you’ll find oceanfront property in Utah. But aside from that, there are some things that can be done.

One thing may be to restore the SALT deduction — or at least double the cap before it hits. The next step is to do what should have been done in 2010: Come up with a free-market approach to health care that can protect those with preexisting conditions. After that, the GOP needs to look at other issues of concern to the suburbs and come up with good free-market solutions.

The GOP also needs to improve its marketing of these policies — not just on the theoretical principles but to also explain the benefits in real-world terms. A more free-market approach to health insurance that allows a family to buy a policy that meets their needs and that doesn’t have unnecessary bells and whistles could help them save for a vacation. Lower gas prices from reforming EPA regulations could help a family not have to choose between kids’ activities.

For the MAGA wing of the GOP, making inroads in the suburbs is essential. They may not get back all those who have defected from the GOP, but they really don’t need to. They just need to get enough suburban votes to go with those who Trump added to the GOP’s winning coalition in 2016.

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