This month, scores of new Democratic officials are scheduled to be sworn into local public office as a result of the blue wave that came crashing down on county courthouses and municipal halls across southeastern Pennsylvania in November. For suburban Republicans who ceded power for the first time in decades, in some cases since the Civil War, the mourning period must officially come to an end. It’s time to get back to work.
As Broad + Liberty contributor Athan Koutsiouroumbas pointed out on these pages shortly after Election Day, Republicans must rethink their suburban strategy and get back to the basics of recruiting strong candidates, building a new donor base, and registering voters. But Republicans must also come to terms with fundamental changes to social reality in the suburbs.
There is little doubt that Democrats, with a lot of outside help, outmaneuvered the previously invincible suburban GOP committees. They registered more voters, raised more money, recruited more volunteers, and drove a record number of favorable voters to the polls. For that, they were rewarded with the opportunity to govern.
In response, Republican State Committee leaders countered that the party made substantial gains in more rural parts of the state. They crowed that they had flipped six counties compared with Democrats’ five, thereby keeping the state’s 20 electoral votes very much in play this year. This is a pyrrhic victory. There are simply not enough voters in the counties flipped by Republicans (900,000) to counter the 2.3 million voters that reside in counties flipped by Democrats. This simple math has serious statewide implications in the long run.
If politics is ultimately an exercise in persuasion, then a party that celebrates converting fewer voters to its cause than its opposition has clearly lost its way. As the Pennsylvania Republican Party folds up its big tent and retreats to its pastoral bunker, Philadelphia’s suburban voters, once the foundation of the party, are signaling an increasing antipathy toward its insolence and moving on with their lives, consistently voting Democrat.
If politics is ultimately an exercise in persuasion, then a party that celebrates converting fewer voters to its cause than its opposition has clearly lost its way.
In order to regain its prominence and become effective, the local GOP must adapt. The various social complexities associated with high population density necessitate that government play a more prominent role than many Republican State Committee leaders are willing to acknowledge, too often resulting in a policy agenda disconnected from suburban voters’ lives. Further, a technological revolution that has commoditized information and expanded access to knowledge has fostered an unprecedented social action movement among an increasingly educated and professional suburban middle class.
The result is a proliferation of advocacy organizations demanding collective action on a range of social challenges that, until recently, were not even considerations in local elections. Liberal activists successfully appropriated this dynamic to prioritize issues central to their radical agenda and convert a broader social action movement into political capital for Democrats. Visit any suburban strip mall these days and you’ll see some left-wing advocacy group demanding petition signatures or various other forms of virtue signaling on climate change, legislative redistricting, gun control, abortion rights, or open borders. The constant uproar in the echo chambers of social justice have overwhelmed more prudential debate on key issues such as local economic development, law enforcement and public education policy.
Any static analysis of the current moment is misguided. To the extent newly elected suburban Democrats reject the Philadelphia City Hall policy playbook, the gains they’ve made locally during the Trump era may well not be an aberration. Yet, that will in large part depend upon how Republicans respond to the concerns of their constituents in 2020 and beyond.
Suburban voters have watched for decades as policy and personnel malfeasance in Democrat-dominated Philadelphia drove up the cost of services in the city while its problems seeped into the surrounding counties. The continued fiscal pressures on public education, as well as a range of opinions on how to properly educate our children, affect all children, from the most vulnerable to the most well off. Larry Krasner’s criminal-justice reform experiment sends chills down the spines of most area voters as they watch a city seized by horrific violence and a prosecutor determined to reduce the safety of residents. And Delaware County just elected a Krasner-lite district attorney.
Suburban voters have watched for decades as policy and personnel malfeasance in Democrat-dominated Philadelphia drove up the cost of services in the city while its problems seeped into the surrounding counties.
Increased violent crime, intractable poverty, struggling public schools and obsolete infrastructure are not exclusive to the city. Suburban voters are watching to see how the new Democratic leadership responds to these issues. And they are issues that Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery County Republicans must confront, and have answers for, if they are to be victorious again.
Terry Tracy is a co-founder of Broad + Liberty.
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