GOP candidates must spend more time connecting with mainstream voters

Written by Grant Lefelar

In 1983, the British Labour Party was in shambles. As Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were fundamentally changing the cultural and economic landscape of Great Britain from 10 Downing Street, those in the opposition Labour Party were having a hard time keeping it together. Two years earlier, leaders of the party’s moderate faction abandoned what seemed to be a sinking ship to join forces with the established yet small Liberal Party. Meanwhile, the lefties that remained in Labour were struggling to form an effective counter-message that would appeal to cross-party and independent voters. With the 1983 general election around the corner, Labour, under the leadership of the eccentric yet unpopular Michael Foot, commissioned a rebuke to the Thatcherite regime. That rebuke came in the form of Labour’s 1983 election manifesto entitled The New Hope for Britain. Within it, Foot’s Labour espoused a radical democratic socialist plan for the UK: widespread nationalization of industries, exit from the European Economic Community, nuclear disarmament, and so on. If Thatcher was going to advocate for and implement a right-wing transformation of the country, then Foot and Labour would do the same — this time for the Left. 

The manifesto backfired spectacularly. Shortly after its release, prominent Labour MP Gerald Kaufman famously summed up the 39-page document as “the longest suicide note in history.” With their manifesto, Labour cruised to a crushing yet entirely predictable defeat, losing nearly 3 million votes and the 60 seats that came with them. Thatcher and her Tory pals, who had already been in power for four years, would rule Britain for 14 more. 

40 years and a nearly eight-hour flight across the Atlantic later, Republicans are finding themselves in a parallel position. Instead of embracing Marxist politics that would make Trotsky blush like Labour did, today’s GOP is sprinting to the right — the far-right. 

Ex-President Donald Trump is no surprise on this matter — his swift rise to power in 2015 and ‘16 was based on moving the GOP away from the mainstream by masterfully exploiting the uncomfortable truth that the party’s coterie of conservative leaders barely had any clue what the base truly felt and thought after nearly eight years of Obama. Now, almost eight years since his original rise, Trump and his gang of überloyal lackeys are attempting to plot his comeback in between their efforts to manage his cumbersome court date schedule. 

However, instead of pitching voters on why he deserves to occupy the Oval Office once again with a collection of policies that will appeal to a broad electorate, Trump has resorted to his greatest hits on the campaign trail: election conspiracy theories, vague statements to “dismantle the deep state,” and the occasional Capitol Storming apologism. 

That’s all well and good…for a pro-Trump member of the GOP base. But, for example, let’s just say you’re from the suburbs with a well-paying job, a beautiful home with a two-car garage, and the ability to occasionally read a New York Times story on Ukraine. Well, hearing repeated complaints about how an election was “stolen” from a guy in his late 70s when more important matters are at hand likely won’t make you vote for that person.

Unlike 2016, Trump isn’t running on substance. While many of his policy positions were half-baked and scientifically created to be crowd-pleasers, Trump’s 2016 campaign had some meat to it: a crisis at the Southern border, an economy hurting working families, an out-of-touch D.C. bureaucracy, etc. 

With 2023 slouching its way into 2024, we find ourselves faced with no shortage of issues either: a crisis at the Southern border, an economy hurting working families, an out-of-touch D.C. bureaucracy, etc. Instead of facing those issues head-on, Trump has turned his third straight presidential campaign into a grievance ceremony for himself by rehashing an election he lost through the same conspiracy theories he’s been manically screeching about non-stop for nearly three years. 

Meanwhile, Trump’s distant second and third-place competitors, or alternatives if the “orange man” suddenly finds himself in a legal tangle not even Houdini could get out of, are trying their damndest to alienate mainstream voters.

Once thought to give Trump an actual run for his money, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign has floundered through a combination of bad strategy, an even worse campaign announcement over the social media platform formerly known as Twitter Spaces, and the fact that the candidate has the charisma of post-war Soviet officer. To make up for this early sluggishness, the DeSantis camp has attempted to play straight to Trump’s base. 

DeSantis’ attempts at becoming Trump-lite have garnered a level of bewilderment on par with Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 decision to use playground insults against Trump in a cringeworthy and embarrassingly desperate display that entered the bizarre notion that Trump had “small hands” into pop culture. Instead of half-assed name-calling, DeSantis’ team of terminally online 4Chan dwellers created a stream of fancam videos attempting to forge a cult of personality for the candidate out of thin air. Among the videos was one featuring the Black Sun symbol infamously used by the Nazi SS and another decrying Trump for being friends with gay people. The backlash caused by the videos forced the DeSantis team to fire the responsible staffers as part of a widespread campaign “reboot.” 

Another candidate for Trump successor, businessman and political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy, has bumped himself up to a distant third place in the polls through an almost schizophrenic stream of drivel meant to pander directly to Trump’s base. Despite trying to differentiate himself from other candidates as the man with the plan for America’s future, Vivek has offered ridiculous proposals to force peace in draconian Russia’s favor to end their war in Ukraine, all while giving communist dictatorship China the go-ahead to invade democratic Taiwan after the U.S. gains “semiconductor independence” from the island nation. 

Now, DeSantis should not take complete personal responsibility for the bad behavior of his legions of former staffers, and Vivek’s populist leanings are about as convincing as if Bill Clinton ever calls himself a “feminist.” Seriously, Vivek would say anything put into his teleprompter Ron Burgundy-style. 

But it’s not about whether the candidates are 100 percent behind what they are saying, but a case that their campaigns are saying it in the first place. The GOP’s top three presidential primary campaigns are reaching out to a fringe niche of primary voters — ones who unquestionably follow Tucker Carlson’s every word, believe Zelenskyy is nothing but a puppet of the U.S. war machine, and probably have some crackpot RFK Jr.-influenced views on vaccines. 

Meanwhile, mainstream and moderate GOP voters who don’t fall for conspiracy theories and long for the bygone days when Mitt Romney held the party in his grasp are left out in the cold. While mainstream conservatives are certainly well-represented in the primaries with Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Doug Burgum, and a few more not necessarily worth mentioning, their low-level polling suggests that none of them are the party’s flavor of the month. Instead, we find ourselves with Trump in the runaway position with DeSantis and Vivek jockeying for a far second place. 

If Trump is going to be the nominee yet again, then he must get back to the issues that allowed him to defeat Hillary Clinton — issues that appealed to a wide swath of the American electorate, even though many understandably held their breath when voting for him. 

With rumors of a third-party unity ticket run of disenfranchised moderate Republicans and Democrats with help from No Labels, a centrist political organization, moderates may flee from the GOP to find camaraderie elsewhere. Despite Democratic fears that No Labels may be a “spoiler” for Joe Biden’s second term, there is a much higher likelihood that anti-Trump Republicans will find solace by casting their ballots for fellow GOPers like Larry Hogan and Jon Huntsman Jr. than moderate Democrats turning their back on Biden. 

Biden may be unpopular with only 40 percent of Americans approving of his time in office according to recent polls, but so is Trump, as the former President, who also lingers around 40 percent nationwide approval. Yet, Trump has proven more toxic than Biden, especially when viewing 2022 midterm results when prominent MAGA candidates failed to seize victory in winnable races against Biden’s allies. 

While 2024 will undoubtedly see Trump attacking his political rivals in increasingly bizarre fashion and pandering to the party’s right, he should, if anything, mix that rhetoric with the issues mainstream policy-oriented voters care about: the economy, education, and foreign policy, especially against communist China. Instead, Trump and other GOP populist politicos are penning their own longest suicide notes in history and will meet a foreseeable defeat on all fronts come next November if they do not drastically change course. 

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