Emphasis is important, but tone is even more important. Anger can be a good motivator when you’re preaching to the converted, but it’s scary and alienating when you’re preaching to the not-yet-converted. Think of how we feel when we’re subjected to liberal rage. That’s the same way non-conservatives feel when they observe our rage. When we deliver our message with anger — even when it’s justified — people outside of our base find us scary. When people find us scary — or insulting or condescending for that matter — their defenses go up and they can’t be as receptive to our ideas as they otherwise might have been. The liberal establishment, including the media and popular culture, is already doing everything it can to convince America that conservatives are scary. We don’t have to help. We need more happy warriors like Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee. Our best ambassadors are people with sunny and attractive personalities who can nonetheless communicate conservative values with confidence and conviction.
Tone is especially important when discussing social issues. Many Republicans are starting to question whether the party should de-emphasize its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, positions which are major turn-offs to a growing majority of young people. Social conservatives should consider taking their battle to win hearts and minds on these issues outside of the political arena, except when government threatens religious freedom. But to the extent that social conservatives continue to exercise their right to advance their views through political action, they can help their case by adopting the right tone. They should approach those who disagree with them on social issues with respect and humility, not disdain and disgust. They’re not going to browbeat anyone into agreeing with them.
The process of party-building can proceed more quickly in some communities than in others. In the African-American community, those who stray from liberal orthodoxy are typically ostracized as race-traitors. That won’t change overnight. Fortunately, the Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander communities don’t tend to demonize their own for the “sin” of being Republican. (We were able to build a large and enthusiastic core of Romney supporters in the Pacific Islander community this year; our families still love us.) Ron Paul has proven that young people can be turned on to the idealism of capitalism. Young people, of course, have been more harmed than any other group by Obama’s policies, especially the Obama debt explosion. Of course, the problem with young people today is the problem with young people throughout history: they tend not to focus on the future, and hence are not as concerned as they should be about the crippling debt they will inherit from this president.
Building a Rainbow on the Right is a long-term project that will nonetheless yield important gains in the short and medium terms. The good news is that party-building will not require us to divert from our path. Unlike the Democrats, our version of party-building does not involve raiding the public treasury to ensure that each group of our supporters “gets theirs.” For us, party-building primarily involves reaffirming what we believe as conservatives — we just need to find new ways of communicating our beliefs to encourage others to adopt them. The effort we spend engaging with traditionally liberal communities does not pull us away from our base; it actually strengthens our ties to our base because it requires us to find new and more compelling ways to articulate our values. That helps us win over the independents and moderates listening in.
Jack Kemp, who inspired me to become a Republican, used to say that “people don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Flor Gali, a local community leader who won me thousands of Filipino supporters when I ran for office, used to tell me that “politics is about addition, not subtraction.” As we happily embrace the challenge to spread our values across the rainbow, those are good things to keep in mind.
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.