Have Republicans forgotten how to win?
After the second presidential debate, a family member remarked to me that he thought the Republicans had a “deep bench” this time around. I beg to differ. While many talented and intelligent people took the stage at the presidential debate, none of them could offer a coherent and appealing reason to support the Republican Party. Why would an undecided swing voter watching the debate decide to vote Republican?
S.E. Cupp offered the best diagnosis for the problem of the Republican Party,
Today's prototypical conservative base voters are infamously principled. Their views are hardened, their heels dug in. They are armed with all kinds of litmus tests and purity tests to make sure the "fake" conservatives are weeded out from the good ones, often to the chagrin of the party.
It shifts with time, but at the moment the ideological guillotine falls on issues like immigration (are you for a pathway?), abortion (are you for exceptions?), guns (are you for universal background checks?), education (do you support Common Core?) and climate change (do you think it's real?). Departing from doctrine on just one of these can cast a foreboding shadow of skepticism upon an otherwise devout and disciplined conservative.
A collection of policy positions on single issues does not amount to a coherent worldview. Republican policy positions stem from a different underlying worldview from Democratic policy positions. What none of the Republican candidates could do is explain that worldview in a coherent and appealing way.
Regardless of where a conservative stands on abortion, a conservative must view permissive abortion laws as a threat to the sanctity of life. If we tolerate late-term abortion, then it isn't too much of a leap to imagine us tolerating infanticide. The more exceptions one makes to a moral principle, the less force it has over society. For this reason conservatives everywhere tend to be extremely skeptical of abortion.
Similarly, regardless of where a conservative stands on immigration in general, he has to be skeptical of amnesty. If thirty years ago we granted an amnesty to tax cheats, and we were debating granting another amnesty for tax cheats, people would come to believe that there were no consequences for cheating on taxes. If we lacked the political will to enforce the border before passing amnesty, why will we gain it after passing amnesty?
While Republican primary voters have litmus tests for candidates, swing voters will not agree with every item on this litmus test. To appeal to these voters, Republicans need to make their case in more general terms. If you see the world as a dangerous and unpredictable place, you will sympathize with the Republican positions, even if you don't agree with them on every issue.
Conservative parties, including the Republicans, can win, but they have to remember how to connect with the average voter. Dishwashers, truck drivers, construction workers, and nurses vote conservative not because they are conservative on every single issue, but because they understand and agree with the underlying conservative worldview. They understand that in a world without rules and borders, they will be the first ones to suffer.