There’s a reason conservatives can’t have nice things: we screw them up.
Conservatives took a beating in the fall elections. Afterward conservatives, from the GOP establishment to the grassroots, ran around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to understand what had happened. It was obvious that conservatives needed a way to expand the base. There was, and still is, a lot of arguing — but not many concrete ideas and even fewer actions.
A good starting point that most people on the right can agree upon is that the problem isn’t with conservative principles. No, the problem is with marketing. It seems that almost everyone on the right failed Marketing 101 and can’t grasp the basic concepts of selling a product — in this case, that product is conservatism. One wouldn’t necessarily explain sound money supply to an 18-year-old Latino from Washington Heights the same way one would to a 67-year-old white woman from Omaha.
Yet, as soon as someone suggests that not all people digest information in the same way and that we need to take into account different frames of reference, there’s a portion of the right that jumps to make accusations of pandering. It’s not pandering; it’s called being smart. And we need to be a lot smarter.
For example, when Obama called people who make more than $250,000 a year “rich,” it was stupid of conservatives to shout that people who make a quarter of a million dollars a year aren’t rich. You can define “rich” however you want, but understand that a single mother making $20,000 a year is going to think $250,000 a year is rich. Many people can’t imagine ever making that much money. When conservatives say that a person who makes $250,000 a year is middle class, we sound out of touch.
Conservatives also need to engage demographics such as women and minorities that Republicans have traditionally struggled to attract. Those of you who think the conservative message is so strong that people will flock to it on their own are in for a rude awakening. In politics, perception is important, and as conservatives we must take into account how these demographic groups perceive us. I’ll let you in on a little secret: We’re not perceived well.
In order to change those perceptions, we must step out of the echo chamber and start interacting with people on a personal level.
Twitter isn’t really a form of engagement. I love Twitter as much as the next aspiring politico, but when 90% of your followers are fellow conservatives and the other 10% are liberal trolls, you need to realize that you’re not changing hearts and minds with your tweets. Yes, that Ronald Reagan quote might get you a lot of re-tweets from #tcot, but it’s not converting anyone.
Don’t get me wrong, social media has a place. But in addition to using platforms like Twitter, we need to actually engage with people on the ground level.
Putting on happy hours doesn’t count as engagement either. Sure, happy hours have a role in strengthening the conservative movement, but they aren’t expanding it. Instead of hosting happy hours every single month, conservative groups should tailor events to the calendar and their community.
February was Black History Month. Why weren’t conservative groups partnering with local black organizations to celebrate and highlight the contributions of black Americans? Perhaps they could have brought in local black leaders and invited local congregations from African Methodist Episcopal and similar churches. Or conservative groups could have hosted forums on how abortion disproportionately hurts the black community. Yet I saw very few conservatives using Black History Month as a way to welcome the black community to the conservative movement.
March is Women’s History Month. Conservative groups should take advantage of that and host prominent, successful conservative women at their monthly meetings. They should consider hosting self-defense classes or sponsoring trips to local gun ranges so that women can learn how to protect themselves. Maybe groups can send volunteers to local women’s crisis shelters or host resume workshops and advertise them in the neighborhood. Really, the possibilities are endless.
For a movement that prattles on about private charity so much, we surely don’t do enough of it. We can continue to promote solid conservative values while immersing ourselves in the communities around us. How can certain demographics embrace conservatism if we don’t embrace them and introduce them to what conservative principles are?
Going forward, we conservatives need to dedicate ourselves to changing our marketing, and that includes allowing fresh faces to provide different perspectives on how to message our principles. We continually see the same figureheads saying the same things with the similar delivery. That needs to change.
If we couple that with a stronger ground game, walking the walk and not just talking the talk, we have a shot at reversing the troubling tide of liberalism. However, as long as we continue to ignore the obvious and refuse to engage on the ground with good marketing, the conservative movement won’t expand — and won’t deserve to.
Brittney Morrett currently works as a youth projects manager for a non-profit that promotes economic freedom to the U.S. Hispanic community. She graduated with a B.A. in Middle East Studies from The George Washington University in 2010.