First, before recognizing some old chestnuts passed around about conservatives and conservatism, we should ask ourselves whether we want to be spending any time on disavowing others of their presumptions.
The truth is, stereotypes can be hard to break down. But to expand our base, we need to be attractive to people of various backgrounds. And if they are coming from a place of ignorance, rather than ideological bias and malice, there is no reason to ignore an opportunity to tell our own story in our words, rather than someone else’s.
Conservatives are Republicans (and vice versa)
Progressives, independents, and even conservatives themselves use frequently use these words interchangeably, but of course, they are not an equivalent. However, for hardcore ideological opponents, playing that card has a distinct advantage of being able to blame conservative movement as a whole for the mistakes made by the party. Similarly, the Republican party is associated with particular ideological tropes, regardless of the policies it actually implements.
What to do?
First, start by example and use the political party affiliation, and the ideological movement appropriately. Don’t give your opponents any excuses to take advantage of ambiguities; be clear with people who don’t know the difference.
Second, of course, it’s best to push the Republican party towards more conservative positions. But that won’t always be easy or quick.
Third, distinguish what you, as a conservative stand for, versus current policies implemented by the Republican president, top officials in Congress, and the party platform. Some individual party members will inevitably be more conservative than others. Use them as examples of what you would like the party to become, but remember that as a whole, the party can only be judged for its policies at the current juncture. Positions and policies are different; if you are active in the party, you may sometimes be part of public policies you disagree with. This gets confusing, even for other conservatives, so….
Make individualism a top priority. That way, whether you choose to identify yourself based on your ideological position, party affiliation (which may not be Republican! – New York has a Conservative Party, Iowa has the Federalists, etc), you will teach everyone around you to engage with your on the basis of your own views as opposed to something abstract.
Republican Party is for old white rich men
I got news for you – if you define a party by its top leadership and donors, all parties are parties of old white rich men, because those are the people who have had the experience and the success to be in the leadership positions. This may change over time, as people of diverse backgrounds have become more visible and successful, but just look at most of the top Democrats. They are practically indistinguishable from top Republican donors.
Admittedly, it is harder to disassociate Republicanism from this stereotype thanks to the rise of alt-right, so called “white nationalists” (there is actually no such thing), and the terrible PR by the progressives which GOP has never quite dismantled. Though many of these folks have been working class, the stereotype remains intact.
The question is then: how to promote the reality of a diverse, inclusive party where people of all backgrounds are welcome as long as they share substantive common principles… all without playing the identity politics which has brought ruin to the progressives and helped perpetuate this stereotype in 2016?
Once again, refocusing on empowering the individual can help disspell the overall impressions. Yes, the visuals may be important in PR – simply because expectations and reality are not always the same, and during elections, every bit matters.
But don’t do sacrifice principles to diversity.
Instead, showcase talented, hardworking people of all backgrounds who contribute to the movement in substantive ways. And don’t be too lazy, or scared to reach out to groups you may have a lot in common with but which have been the “traditional” base of the progressives.
If you don’t start making the effort to reach out to different communities and working with them, there is no reason or incentive for them to reexamine the status quo.
Conservatives live in the past
The idea that the Constitution is a living document that, like a crystal ball, can be sued for whatever is the immediate need, has been debated to death in law school classes around the country.
And the traditional “look” of bow-tie wearing conservatives droning on monotonously in dusty think tank rooms has not helped matters.
To some extent, this is simply bad PR. Giving voice to younger Conservatives may well shatter this image.
A campaign showcasing conservatives principles in action in the 21st century is certainly doable.
However, we need to balance perceptions of why “conservative” positions are relevant to today with the underlying argument that the present cannot exist without the bedrock of the past.
The principles articulated by the Founding Fathers have led directly to present successes. Failure to stick to them or misinterpretations were at the core of our social and political problems.
That is the core of the battle that we have been losing. The progressives have the advantage of allowing anachronisms to shape the past to their liking. They can read modern feminist or intersectionalist conundra into early colonies, while also claiming that contemporary identity politics are somehow any different from those dehumanizing and mistaken notions of identity.
Focusing on how continuity and evolution can and has avoided the damage of revolutionary approach to improving society needs to find a wider audience. Take it out of the box, dust it off, bring it to the young audiences around the country. Don’t wait for public school unionized school teachers and college professors to move in.
Conservatives favor policies that most people don’t support.
Small government and social conservative policies have borne out the brunt of this attack.
In case of abortion, current trends actually have moved in the opposite directions. Most people do not actually wish for abortions to proliferate. The issue here, however, is the tendency for people, w hether they are progressive or conservative, to focus on the data they like and to dismiss the inconvenient studies.
Saying that abortion, in fact, is not a popular response, for instance, will not change the minds of hardcore ideologues.
But should opinion polls be the brunt of the argument? Perhaps better policies that address deeply emotional issues no amount of data can fully resolve is the answer.
To win on social conservatism, such as pro-life positions, conservatives should be seen not merely as the best advocates for unborn babies and intact families, but specifically, as better advocates for women. (And separately, in a non-alt-right way, for men, as well!)
Speaking more frequently about women’s health issues, advocating vocally not just against Planned Parenthood, but for the many much better options for women. and
Conservatives should be at the forefront of communal support for single parents can transform the image of the conservative approach and bring in many hesitant women into the fold.
As far as small government is concerned, the ACA repeal debacle has to some extent revealed that the progressives may have a point.
Much of the country has moved away from small government principles, and individual fiscal responsibility… as the groups that represent them, be they conservative think tanks or public officials, likewise embraced big government/big spending policies.
Advocating for tax cuts to boost economy is not sufficient. If conservatives want a return to popular support for limited government, they need to focus on cutting spending for entitlement programs, as well as eliminating duplicative, inefficient expenditures and corporate cronyism from the defense budget. Same goes towards weaning off sectors off the economy from agricultural and others subsidies.
In short, the answer here is eliminating hypocrisy and focusing on educating the public as to better options.
The Moral Majority are All Hypocrites
Thanks to the widespread coverage of sex scandals, corporate cronyism, and investigations associated with various Trump associates and their security and business improprieties, progressives are making an increasingly colorable argument that conservatives talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.
There is only thing to be said here: the Republican Party needs to clean up that act, and conservatives need to stop confusing winning elections with accepting the inexcusable.
Politicians may not be beacons of moral behavior, but there is also no reason to accept as paragons for emulation embarrassments who ultimately end up costing more than they win.
The answer, of course, is not to stay home and sulk when awful candidates end up nominating, but to throw our weight early and often behind better people, encourage them to run, and coax finicky donors into supporting the kind of people who can govern. A smart strategy can win an election for an inexperienced or uncharismatic candidate. But there is no substitute for energetic, thoughtful, and incorruptible governance.
Finally, discreditation of character and morality and substitution of electoral votes for principles and a strategic approach is already backfiring.
Republican party numbers are shrinking. Independents are increasingly disgusted with both parties. Electoral participation where candidates have earned opprobrium is significantly less.
And people who place personal gain over public trust, national security, or service to the country do not inspire; they increase cynicism and fear.
Letting political hacks and apparatchiks take the lead in politics has been a mistake.Time for individuals with ideas and skills to step to the forefront in many ways: run for office, support good campaigns (support is what ultimately makes them winnable), write article, educate the public, register voters, work with children and teenagers… serve the country.