So there is a little post-Christmas gift with the new issue of National Affairs. Lots of good stuff, and Henry Olsen continues his project of trying to think through the problem of forming a majority around a conservative policy agenda. I basically agree with most of it, but I would add that in the medium term, Republicans cannot rely on winning just by maximizing their votes among the white working-class. Republicans won 60 percent of the House vote among whites but that is historically abnormal and at least some of the margin among whites is attributable to the combination of the lousy labor market, sluggish growth, and the undivided Democratic control of the elected branches. Republicans need to find ways to win over larger shares of nonwhite voters and do so under conditions less favorable than those we had in 2010. The thing is that many of Olsen's policy suggestions for winning over persuadable working-class whites also make sense for winning over working-class and middle-class nonwhites. Some takeaways:
1. Opinion polls understate the number of ideological liberals. A significant fraction of the public thinks that moderation is that portion of the ideological terrain between Joe Lieberman and Howard Zinn.
2. If they want to really influence policy, conservatives will have to present themselves as the best stewards of the safety net. That means they will have to articulate a vision of the safety net that is sustainable without imposing a crushing tax burden and that the safety net (along with the tax code) will be pro-work and pro-family. Support for some kind of safety net shouldn't seem grudging. The key persuadable voters aren't going to trust you with reforming the safety net if you seem to think it is unconstitutional and you are just going along with its existence until you can abolish Unemployment Insurance, Social Security etc. They also won't trust you if they think that your support for the safety net is some kind of election year hustle. Check out Sharron Angle first talking about "privatizing" Social Security, then talking some confusing nonsense about lockboxes. She came across as both radical and dishonest. The shame is that there was some reasonable policy in there somewhere, but Angle first sounds like she just wants to get rid of Social Security, then there is all the bluster about saving Social Security. The general public might trust conservatives to reform the welfare state, but only if the public trusts that conservatives' real goal isn't to eventually leave people on their own. That means conservatives need to be very careful in their public rhetoric and in having well thought out policy proposals. Check out Marco Rubio for one possible approach. Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan are also pretty good (though Ryan's and Rubio's Social Security proposals differ in important ways - there doesn't have to be one right answer.)