In a country with more than 300 million people, roughly 2 million residents of seven U.S. counties could determine who wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That includes people in Wake County. Columnist and HotAir.com blogger Ed Morrissey makes that argument in his new book, Going Red. Morrissey discussed the book with a John Locke Foundation audience in Raleigh. He also shared details with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Head to http://www.carolinajournal.com/radio/ to find recent CJ Radio episodes.)
Kokai: I imagine some people hearing that intro will say, “Really? This comes down to the people in just seven counties across the United States?” How so?
Morrissey: Well, these are the bellwether counties, if you will, or, in a couple of the places, just the most important counties in seven swing states that, combined together, would move the map from the 2012 election from Democrat to Republican, if Republicans and conservatives could find ways to win these bellwether counties.
… What I was looking for were seven states that Republicans have won fairly consistently prior to Barack Obama running for president in 2008, which [Republicans] ended up losing in one or both of the Obama elections. And I looked for the key counties in seven of these states. And, of course, Wake County, N.C., is a very important county, not just in the 2016 election, but that’s sort of the primary premise of this book. But it’s going to be important down the road, as well.
Kokai: Now you, in finding these seven counties, took a look at ones that, as you mentioned, Republicans had been winning up until 2008. What’s changed?
Morrissey: Several things have changed. One is that demographics have changed, probably nowhere more true than in Wake County. This is a county of change. … It was, at least in the first decade of the 21st century, the fastest-growing county in the United States. You had a lot of people that were moving to Wake County, and they were bringing their politics with them.
But it’s more than just that. The way that Republicans have campaigned has changed, and not for the better. They didn’t learn the lesson in 2008. They’re struggling still to incorporate the lesson of 2012, although the Republican Party famously came up with what they called the Growth Opportunity Project, but what the rest of us called the “autopsy” from 2012. And that is one of the launching points of Going Red.
Kokai: One of the things you also point out in this book is that there are some particular groups that conservatives and Republicans really need to do a better job of reaching.
Morrissey: There are. And, to be honest with you, when I started writing the book, people from these communities actually came to me and said, “You need to hear what it is that we’re saying because there’s a large reason why the Republican and conservative footprint keeps shrinking, and it’s because we don’t go to these demographics.” We don’t open ourselves up to a conversation with African-Americans, with Latinos, to some extent with women, although … there’s a little bit more context to that.
Not to say that we’re going to pander, not to say that we’re going to change our philosophy or our beliefs, but to explain those philosophies, beliefs, policies in ways that matter to those communities. Mostly, though, just to have a conversation, because the way that Republicans and conservatives have been addressing these groups has been through sort of a top-down lecture that more or less says, “You need to be more like us,” rather than, “We really want to know who you are, what matters to you, what your concerns are, so that we can craft a policy, a plan that uses conservative policies to address the real needs of your communities.”
You can’t even do that until you find out what those needs are, and you can’t do that until you start having a conversation.
Kokai: You mentioned in particular, among these groups, African-Americans, Latinos, young voters. All of them are going to be very critical in 2016, and especially moving forward.
Morrissey: Yes, young voters especially. … I’m getting older, and so are the rest of the conservatives that we have, you know? And in order to grow a movement, you have to bring in younger people. I mean, regardless of what the other demographics are, you need to be able to reach younger people and engage them and make them excited about the conservative agenda.
And yet, too often we tend to either just assume that they’re not going to listen to us because … I think it’s a Churchill quote that “if you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you don’t have a heart. If you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you don’t have a brain.” That’s a paraphrase, but that’s roughly what Churchill had said.
We just tend to assume that that’s true and just figure we’re going to catch them when they’re 35 or 40, but that’s not really the way politics work. You have to engage people early. And Barack Obama did that with young people, and, as a result, it’s going to make our job all that much more difficult to reach them in an effective manner down the road. We have to start doing that now.
Kokai: Now, we’ve been talking about some themes that are general to all of these seven counties. Let’s focus on the one that would be probably of most interest to people listening to this show. Wake County in North Carolina is one of your seven counties across the country. What are some specifics about Wake County that people should know?
Morrissey: Wake County is a fascinating place, and I really enjoyed my time here in Wake County talking with folks. The demographics have changed in Wake County from what they were 20 years ago, when this was a fairly reliable Republican county in presidential elections.
It’s changed. A lot of people are moving in from out of state. Some come here to go to college and decide that they just love the environment here so much that they want to stick around. Some are moving here for career purposes. Some are just moving here because it looks nice: the tax rates are fairly low; the cost of living is low compared to wherever else they’re at. But they’re bringing their national politics with them.
… You have an opening then, when people come in from these places, to explain why they like this place so much and why maybe New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, maybe we can explain why they don’t like those places as much anymore, and explain the principles that made this such an attractive spot.
But when we’re talking about people moving in from other places, we’re also forgetting the fact that African-Americans have lived here — the African-American community has been very stable. They’ve lived here for a very long time, and Republicans haven’t done much outreach to them in decades.
And that is a constituency that is going to take a long time to rebuild trust with, but you can’t even start that until you start it. I mean, you can’t get to the trust level until you start having the conversation, start listening to what it is that they’re concerned about.
I talked with Pudgy Miller down here, and he introduced me to several African-American conservatives, and they’re very clear that what they’re looking for is engagement. They’re not looking for Republicans and conservatives to stop being conservative. They just want to know that we’re listening to what the concerns are in their communities and that we find ways of addressing those through conservative policies.