Lowcountry conservatives need a shift to win back disengaged voters

Exceptionalism, not Isolationism

The Republican Party needs to expand its base.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. At a recent Charleston County Republican Party meeting, Chairman Larry Kobrovsky and other party loyalists said the same thing.

We aren’t wrong.

Numbers don’t lie. Republicans are steadily losing key voting blocs. Millennials aged 18-29 voted for Democrats 67 percent to 32 percent. Older Millennials and so-called Xennials, people like me who aren’t quite Gen X but aren’t quite Millennials, also leaned blue in the last election. Beyond the generation gap pitting an older group versus a younger one, on a national level, wide divisions in gender and race between the two parties are growing larger. African Americans voted for Democrats 90 percent to nine percent. And women voted in favor of Democrats 59 percent to 40 percent.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham noted, we have a “suburban women problem,” but numbers aren’t lying when they indicate that the GOP is struggling outside an older, white male demographic. Whereas traditionally, many minorities, for instance, and immigrants like myself who moved here in the 1980s were drawn to the Republican Party.

In Charleston, Democrats have expanded their base faster than Republicans. In 2012, Republican Tim Scott beat his opponent, Democrat Bobbie Rose, by 75,000 votes.

In 2016, Republican Mark Sanford beat Democrat Dimitri Cherny by 70,000.

In the 2018 midterms, Democrat Joe Cunningham beat Republican Katie Arrington by 4,000, with totals rivaling the 2012 elections with over 285,000 votes.

Sure, people can blame outsiders, claiming that more Democrats and non-Southern Republicans have moved to Charleston County in recent years. But the bigger problem is related to our stand on the issues of the day and our inability to build a coalition inclusive of the changing demographic.

President Ronald Reagan believed in a big tent. He built a coalition of evangelicals, former southern Democrats, and fiscal conservatives that lasted well over three decades.

Today, Democrats are expanding their coalition of traditional liberals by adding issues that Millenials and Xennials care about. Democrats now have a monopoly on issues like climate change, marijuana legalization, and medical marijuana for profit. In campaign speeches, they’re promising to tackle free education and free health care. Who doesn’t want those things?

Instead of putting our own free market, less government solutions on the table, Republicans have opted to deny that any of these issues register with voters. In doing so, we’re missing a prime opportunity to show conservative Millennials, Xennials, women, and people of color not only that we care about the issues important to them, but that we have solutions steeped in conservative principles. Instead of offering traditional conservative free market solutions, we offer lame denials and in the meantime, Democrats get all the credit for wanting to do something. On marijuana and medical marijuana, Democrats have pushed for taxation to fund schools, whereas Republicans have stayed silent, or gone the other way and pushed for stronger enforcement. On free college, Democrats want to tax and spend, while Republicans once again shy away from our strongest issues: fiscal prudence and free enterprise solutions.

Democrat Joe Cunningham resonated with local voters on these issues, even convincing coastal Republican mayors to endorse him, and pulling in centrist Republicans.

What is the Republican strategy for longevity if we’re losing voters under 45, minorities, and women? There’s only one solution: start talking about issues we’ve surrendered to Democrats and come up with conservative solutions.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said, “I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me.” I don’t feel the Republican Party has left key demographics behind, but Democrats have done a better job of gaining them. It’s not too late to win them back.

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