The GOP asks them to denounce elites — Hey, that’s voters like them! — and requires them not to believe in climate change. To be a “real Republican” now means to be economically illiterate on trade and immigration. These voters know immigrants aren’t stealing their jobs and that crime is substantially down in most American cities. (After all they work in increasingly diverse workplaces and live in diversifying suburbs — or have returned to gentrified cities.)
In sum, the GOP offends their intelligence and runs headlong into their hard-earned educational accomplishments and life experiences. These educated voters live in 21st-century America, but the loudest voices in the GOP — including the president and elected congressional leaders — do not. The latter believe government is evil, the world can be shut out, climate change is debatable and white Christian America is under assault (because we say “Happy Holidays”?!).
If the GOP were going to be the party of fiscal sobriety, international leadership and free markets, these Romney-Clinton voters were willing to put up with a lot. They’ve gotten by for years saying, ‘Well it’s not like Sean Hannity is the party’ or by self-identifying as “Jack Kemp” Republicans. Unfortunately, Sean Hannity is very much the GOP these days, and Jack Kemp, R.I.P., has been dead for eight years.
However, along with reason, science and respect for democratic norms, the GOP jettisoned much of the real-world agenda such voters had come to associate with their party. If they are going to be asked to associate with the flock of know-nothings who now populate the GOP and they’re not going to get a functional government, then why stick with the party? Many are not. They just do not know where to go.
There exists an opportunity, as Ferguson pointed out, for center-left Democrats to poach these voters. (They might vote in 2020 for a Joe Biden, but never for a Sen. Bernie Sanders.) A new party or sub-party of the old GOP may also “work” for these voters if the Democratic Party veers too far left.
What do Romney-Clinton voters want? Look at successful GOP governors whom these voters supported over the past decade. They chose governors perceived as inclusive and enlightened problem-solvers (John Kasich of Ohio, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, etc.). These voters want a good education system, college tuition that does not break the bank, investment in R &D, a dynamic economy (which requires trade, immigration and U.S. leadership in the world), fiscal sanity and a spirit of sensible compromise. They want the U.S. to be respected in the world and not to bask in the approval of tyrants. They don’t want the government doing everything, but they know we aren’t going back to the pre-New Deal era. They support a safety net but want programs to “work” (meaning, result in fewer impoverished people). These are people who navigate in their daily lives by persuasion and compromise, not bullying and insults. They want, in short, some semblance of civil and effective government and international leadership grounded in American values.
The GOP used to give such voters these agenda items and embody their zeitgeist. It doesn’t remotely do so now. Now it’s the Republican Party that looks irresponsible, irrational, clueless and afraid of the modern world. Romney-Clinton voters are dismayed and conflicted. They will have to decide if they should vote Democratic in 2018 elections because the darned Republicans sit there like lumps on a log while President Trump and his kin run wild. Who’s going to appeal to these voters? We’ll get a hint in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which is filled with Romney-Clinton voters.