Republicans’ post-election soul-searching has to go beyond a simple self-reflection about who we are – we know our core belief in small government and individual liberty remains unchanged. Rather than look inward, it’s time to look outward and finally get to know the people we seek to represent.
The days and months and years ahead must be about a nationwide effort to introduce ourselves and get to know the millions of people and thousands of communities that make up our 21st-century America. Equally important, it’s time to think creatively and strategically on how best to engage individual communities with credible spokespeople who can best spark that relationship between a community and the Republican Party.
We all know the GOP has become synonymous with older, white males. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s public perception, and perception is reality.
As we evolve, it doesn’t just matter what we say but who is saying it.
Howie Long and Charles Barkley are two of America’s most popular and successful sports analysts today. That’s because they have credibility: Football fans know that Howie understands football, and basketball fans know that Barkley gets hoops. We respect their opinion because we believe they know what they’re talking about.
It’s the same in politics.
Just as Republicans this year argued that a businessman was more qualified to talk about job creation, we must also recognize that a legislator like Florida state Senator Anitere Flores, who is a leader on the issue of education reform, is an effective spokesperson for engaging Hispanic students on the cost of student loans. In fact, the GOP has more Hispanics holding statewide office than Democrats. Let’s utilize their knowledge and relationships as ambassadors in engaging the Hispanic community.
Or there’s Janak Joshi, a Colorado State Representative, retired physician, and small business owner, who can articulate Republicans’ values when it comes to small business and healthcare policy. And T.W. Shannon, the first African-American Speaker of the House in Oklahoma, and also a Native American, is one of the Republican Party’s most dynamic up-and-coming leaders who can make the case for conservative, fiscal reform.
No citizen will support a candidate they don’t think understands them. After all, the whole point of representative government is putting into office someone who represents your values.
The focus has got to be on inclusion – welcoming minorities, women, youth and all Americans into the party and giving them a voice in shaping who we are, not just a one-way conversation in telling them what we believe.
In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell made it a priority to build relationships with the heavily-Vietnamese American community in Virginia during his bid for governor. Beyond television ads and direct mail, he made it a point to include them in his campaign, making several trips to meet at the Eden Center, the “Little Saigon” of Virginia. He ultimately won Vietnamese-American support in the increasingly-Democratic Fairfax County to become governor of Virginia. Today they continue to be an active part of his constituency.
It’s not complicated really. He earned their support by building a relationship with them and making them a part, not a target, of his campaign.
So if all we’re doing is looking inward, we’re going the wrong way.
Look outward and find out who America is instead. We have a lot of people to get to know.