The GOP Needs Cities

As the results from the Washington, D.C., Republican convention poured in Saturday evening, I was unsurprised to see fans of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and reality television star Donald Trump frame the victory of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as proof that the Floridian was a member of the dreaded Republican Establishment. They dismissed his wins in Puerto Rico and D.C. as an indication that true conservatives exist solely outside the Acela Corridor, and that city dwellers and minorities don’t accurately reflect disaffected conservative voters who demand to be heard.

Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that less-than-stellar Republican nominees have kept some conservative voters from casting ballots over the years. But the greater electoral disadvantage comes from an unwillingness — at least to this point — of Republicans to invest the time and resources within constituencies that might not have ever given us a chance. As urban populations swell, there’s a hard truth that some conservatives seem unwilling to accept: in order to survive, Republicans need to start winning cities and performing better among minority voters.

So much of what Kevin Williamson writes at National Review is brilliant, but his work on the deteriorating condition of America’s cities is peerless. Williamson has long argued that under Democratic control, urban centers face compounding crime, debilitating poverty and economic immobility. One needs to look no further than the violence in Chicago, the homelessness epidemic in San Francisco, the bankruptcy crisis in Detroit or the staggering unemployment rate in Baltimore for proof of failed liberal policies making life harder for those who live there.

Republicans believe we have a better way. It begins with creating a pro-growth environment for families and businesses to thrive. It includes fiscal discipline, budget management and curbing government largesse. It promotes faith and community-based projects that empower people closest to the problems to have a greater say in addressing them. It encourages stronger families, stronger schools and stronger institutions.

One needs to look no further than the violence in Chicago … or the staggering unemployment rate in Baltimore for proof of failed liberal policies making life harder for those who live there

Unfortunately, there are conservatives who scoff at the idea of winning the trust of city-dwellers. They are the same people who diminished Rubio’s D.C. and Puerto Rico victories, insisting that real conservatism — the kind that “counts,” they say — exists only in the suburbs and rural areas.

This is a dangerous position to hold. Today, more Americans live in cities than ever in history. In fact, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.3 million more Americans lived in urban areas than in the year before. Those residing in rural areas are moving inward to suburbia, and suburbanites are moving inward to cities.

Here’s Williamson’s take on why this matters:

“Republicans for the moment are pleased to be a non-factor [in cities]. But that eventually is going to have to change. There is no city in the United States larger than San Diego with a Republican mayor. A Republican and a pseudo-Republican were, for a time, able to thrive politically in New York owing to the unusual character of Rudy Giuliani and the fact that the millionaire residents of an economically resurgent Manhattan wanted to be able to travel from a Broadway theater to a Soho restaurant without passing through Beirut. (New Yorkers, alas, have short memories, and thus have turned the city over to Bill de Blasio, with predictable results.) Conservatives as such are not players in the real-world politics of our largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia. They are a relatively minor factor in some large metropolitan aggregates such as greater Houston and the DFW metroplex, but as for the cities themselves — not really…

Non-whites, lower-income workers, and those whose economic condition has necessitated welfare dependency at some time do not much trust Republicans, because they believe that Republicans do not have their interests are heart. Republicans have over the years given them some reason to believe that, too. But it shouldn’t be too hard to look at a place such as Chicago and ask: “Does Rahm Emanuel really act in your interest?” The answer is obviously not. Crime, corruption, dysfunctional schools, unsatisfactory public services from transit to sanitation: There’s a great deal of fertile ground for Republicans and conservatives there. Rudy Giuliani won in New York on a single issue — crime — and delivered on it. On a smaller scale, Rick Baker had a very good run as mayor of St. Petersburg, and won 90 percent of the vote in the city’s low-income black precincts on his second go-round.

In the long run, conservatives need the cities. And the cities need conservatives right now.”

I’ve written extensively about effective minority outreach for the Republican Party. We’ve seen it with Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.), Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and others. There are so many who have demonstrated that we don’t have to compromise conservative principles or water down our ideas to win elections. We just need to show up, listen to those who know and indicate a willingness to work in and for these communities.

And what about younger Americans? They voted for President Barack Obama by a 37-point margin in 2012, but they don’t trust presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton very much. If she becomes the nominee, Republicans have a real opportunity to make meaningful gains in the younger voter subset, a group conservatives have traditionally struggled to attract.

“In the long run, conservatives need the cities. And the cities need conservatives right now”

How do we know urban centers matter electorally? 49 percent of Millenials are living in cities, compared to just 28 percent in suburbs, 17 percent in smaller towns and 7 percent in rural areas. They make up the best-educated generation in American history, but they also face significant challenges finding employment. Now is the time for a Republican message of greater growth, stronger communities and more freedom. They are ready to hear it.

But it matters who the messenger is and what that messenger’s supporters have to say about those we’re trying to persuade. It’s awfully difficult to convince someone that your ideas are worth considering if you’re telling them you aren’t interested in their votes, anyway.

If we believe in conservatism, we should believe in it enough to promote it in every corner of the country. It should not be limited to the suburban soccer mom or the rural rancher outside of Laramie. We know our ideas work, and we can help people with our policies.

As so many of our fellow Americans suffer under Democratic leadership that has left them without hope for a brighter future, we have a moral imperative to offer a better choice. We should encourage conservative successes in America’s inner cities, among minority communities and with young professionals. We can adapt to the changing times without budging an inch on what we believe.

America needs conservatism to last. We want every last vote to make that happen. Let’s not turn them away at the gate, but instead, invite them into our home to stay a while.

Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.