Take a look at the track record of right of center parties in recent years, and there is not much for conservatives to cheer about. In the UK, if a general election were held tomorrow voters would return an awkwardly grinning Ed Miliband with a clear 110 seat majority. In the US, over the course of just seven years Republicans have gone from holding the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress to two Presidential election defeats and a Democratic Senate. Republican control of the House of Representatives is small comfort when their job approval teeters at an all-time low.
The GOP's Growth and Opportunity Project is a typical consultants' response. By emphasising messaging and demography they are repeating the worst mistakes of 2008 and 2012. Remember how Sarah Palin was meant to appeal to women voters? It also argues for specific appeals to Hispanics, African Americans, women and youth, the American Left's core constituencies. But identity politics has always been the Democrats' game, and Republicans only play with a losing hand. David Cameron is doing the same thing in the UK by focusing on gay marriage and backing down on entitlement reform.
The conservative way to win is to empower people to rise above the labels campaign consultants use. And movements like the UK Independence Party and Tea Party show us the way. Their card carrying numbers may not be huge, but they have altered the balance of power on both sides of the Atlantic. Their approach is simple: care about the pressing issues mainstream politicians and the national media ignore.
By arguing for withdrawal from the European Union and reduced immigration, the UKIP goes from strength to strength. It is a feat for any minor party to gain a foothold in Britain's Westminster dominated two-party system. Yet they have the vote of more than one in ten Britons, embarrassing the Tories into third place in the Eastleigh By-Election, and boosting the Liberal Democrats' confidence in the coalition government.
The UKIP is doing well because people agree with their position on the issues. According to Oxford University's Migration Observatory, three quarters of voters want to reduce immigration. Seventy per cent want a referendum on the UK's relationship with the European super-state and nearly half favour withdrawal. It's very simple arithmetic to see the Conservative Party would be three points ahead of Labour in the polls today if they absorbed the UKIP's support. An increasing number of Brits only want what the Boston Tea Party stood for way back in 1773: sovereignty and freedom from unrepresentative government.
The Tea Party's message on the deficit and spending also resonates with a majority. The voters' main concern is still the economy, stupid. 'Opinion leaders' like the Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Bill Clinton's former Labor Secretary Robert Reich say the deficit is, if anything, too small. But in every survey most likely voters think it is too big. Four out of five say work rather than government aid is the best solution for poverty, and only sixteen percent think it is possible to balance the budget without cutting spending. It is clear that people want the private economy, not the government, to pay.
What do immigration and the economy have in common? Ask my friend in North Carolina who used to run a construction firm but can only charge a third of what he used to for a job compared to ten years ago. He's had to close the company because he can't compete with illegal labour. His concerns are the same ones highlighted by a recent report that 150,000 European Union Romanians and Bulgarians may arrive in Britain within two years. Academic opinion regarding the effect of low wage, low skill immigration on employment levels may be divided. Perhaps they should heed the message of Thomas Paine, the original English Tea Partier, and get some 'Common Sense'.
America's Tea Party and the United Kingdom's Independence Party are today's minutemen. They remind conservatives of what we have in common, through the centuries, today, and in the future. It is the same core message even the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership champions: Free trade, strong defence, small government and economic growth through innovation. If Republicans and Conservatives can get it right on these basics, the voters will follow.
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