For Republicans, this week’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District — a district President Trump won by 20 points — should have been a lay-up. Republican Rick Saccone’s apparent loss to Democrat Conor Lamb is a worrisome indicator for the midterms. But it doesn’t mean it’s all over for 2018. Simply put, we Republicans should have nominated a more compelling candidate.
A conservative woman would have had a particular advantage in the district, one of several high-profile seats vacated by male politicians with sex scandals.
Take for example Debbie Lesko, a conservative Arizona state senator. She emerged late last month from a crowded primary to replace Rep. Trent Franks — who was forced to resign after propositioning multiple female staffers. Her main opponent was a married minister with a sexting scandal. With so much attention on creepy men in politics, it’s great to have a woman representing Republicans in the Arizona Eighth.
And in last year’s blockbuster special election for the Georgia Sixth, Karen Handel fended off a tsunami of outside spending to improve on President Trump’s performance in her district – the only Republican to do so in a congressional special election, and the only woman we’ve run for special election.
Back in Pennsylvania, our off-year judicial elections resulted in victories on the Republican side for women candidates exclusively.
With so much hand-wringing about the GOP’s hemorrhaging educated women, female candidates have provided the antidote in key races.
But it’s not just women we need running. To shed the stereotype – at times well earned – that we are the party of old, white, straight men, Republicans should aim to elect a diverse roster in every state across the country. To attract voters who are swinging away from us and for whom diversity is a key value (especially young voters), we need candidates who look more like America as a whole.
Many conservatives are justifiably wary of becoming mired in the navel-gazing obsession with identity politics that has become the raison d’être of the left. Our focus is on individuals and the choices we make; a person’s ability to rise above his circumstances transcends any identity factor.
But if our values are universal, there’s no reason our representatives should be overwhelmingly white, straight, and male. Candidates who reflect our nation’s diversity would demonstrate the broad appeal of our philosophy – and help us expand our base and win more elections.
Take black voters, arguably the least served by Democrats and decades of ill-begotten policies. For most, the polling day decision comes down to turning out for Democrats or not at all.
It’s not helpful for conservatives to denounce these Americans as “voting against their own interests” when our party has largely ignored black voters, mostly living in cities, for decades.
We shouldn’t be so reductive as to assume that black voters will only listen to black candidates. But offering more representation would help. And, if we increased our share of the black vote to 15 percent from the single digits we’ve come to accept as normal, the GOP would put Pennsylvania out of reach for Democrats – as well as major swing states like Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Michigan. In doing so, we’d have spread our message farther afield than most would envision today.
Asian voters should represent a natural constituency for us. Hispanic voters have consistently supported certain Republican candidates. And a growing number of LGBT Americans have “come out” as conservatives – with far more who have tired of progressive groupthink but aren’t being actively engaged and retained by the political right.
All of these groups deserve more engagement from Republicans, and they deserve a party that is willing to field candidates that look like them.
Individual races across the country provide hope. In Michigan, black businessman and veteran John James is challenging entrenched Democrat Debbie Stabenow for the Senate. In Tennessee, Arizona, and South Dakota we have accomplished women running for Senate and governor. In Southern California, Young Kim may help our party survive a blue wave if she can hold on to retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce’s seat. More and more candidates are stepping in who are nonwhite, who are women, who are gay and lesbian.
But what we’re lacking, as a party, is a strong, visible effort to recruit and elect such candidates – and a consensus that diversifying our leaders will help our party.
Conservatives will not be able to preserve our country and its values without appealing beyond our older, whiter, and straighter voting base. Part of the solution is running a more diverse slate of candidates.
If our values appeal to everybody, our representatives should look like everybody.
Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based political consultant who has worked on LGBT and urban issues from the right. @Albydelphia.