GOP Eyes New Policies to Attract Working Class

In light of the losses in this year's election, some Republicans are arguing that their party needs to develop messages and policies that speak to the concerns of working class Americans.

"The future of the Republican Party is a party that understands that just saying 'limited government' and 'free markets' is not enough," Rick Santorum said in a Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press's Press Pass." "We have to have a message that says how does that work for you."

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, came the closest to denying Mitt Romney the Republican presidential nomination this year. He noted that his campaign designed policies geared specifically to the concerns of working class Americans. During the nomination contests, Santorum got much of his support from those making less than $90,000 per year while Romney did better among wealthier Americans.

Santorum noted that the messaging and visuals of a campaign also matter when speaking to the working class. When Romney criticized President Barack Obama for his "you didn't build that" comment, Santorum noted, he did so surrounded by "small business people and not-so-small business people."

"We could've gone out there with the people who worked for the small business person. The person whose job is reliant, who knows the owner of that business, who says, 'look we built this together and here's how these policies help me.'"

Republicans mostly speak only to those who achieve much, or wish to achieve much, in the workplace, Santorum argued, but many Americans highly value other things outside of workplace achievement, such as family or charity work.

"Republicans tend to come across as, 'we want folks to take risk and we want them to be out there on their own.' A lot of folks in America want to volunteer after they punch the clock at five o'clock. They want to be home with their family. They want to be out with their friends. They want a good job, they want an opportunity to rise, but they're very happy having stability and security in their life and not reaching for the brass ring that Republicans tend to just seem to focus too much on," Santorum said.

Two other potential future presidential contenders, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), sounded similar themes recently at the Dec. 4, 2012, Jack Kemp Foundation Leadership Award Dinner.

"Every country has rich people," Rubio said in remarks after receiving the Jack Kemp Foundation Leadership Award. "But only a few places have achieved a vibrant and stable middle class. And in the history of the world, none has been more vibrant and more stable than the American middle class."

Rubio also spoke about a "growing opportunity gap" and those who "worry that they may never achieve middle class prosperity and stability and that their children will be trapped as well with the same life and the same problems."

Rubio was introduced by Ryan, last year's award recipient and this year's Republican vice presidential nominee.

"We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American. I believe we can turn back on the engines of upward mobility so that no one is left out of the promise of America," Ryan said.

The ideas expressed by Rubio, Ryan and Santorum are not new. Indeed, many of these ideas owe their genesis to the namesake of Rubio and Ryan's awards – the late Jack Kemp.

Kemp, the famed NFL quarterback, congressman and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee, spent much of his political career urging his party to do more to reach out to the working class and minorities.

"I would take a hard look at what Jack advocated and how he approached things," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), National Journal reported, "and it may be a road map for us to start showing that we're not only a conservative party but we're also one that really cares about people who are having a difficult time."

Ryan once worked for Kemp and mentions him often as one of his mentors. In his speech, Ryan also noted that a more Kemp-like approach is in the GOP's future.

"We are speaking to all Americans in this campaign, because we believe, as Jack Kemp believed, that economic growth and equality of opportunity are the surest path to the pursuit of happiness," Ryan said.

In a radio address last week, conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson talked about Ryan and Rubio's speeches. He noted that he too once worked for Kemp and "saw his passion for inclusion, his commitment to the poor and his belief in the common good. If Rubio and Ryan become the inheritors of that legacy, it will be good thing for their party and the country."

The notion that Republicans should reach out to the middle class was also put forth in manifesto published in 2008 by two young conservative voices – Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam.

In Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, they warned, "Some combination of the populist Left and the neoliberal center is likely to emerge as America's next political majority even so, if the conservative movement can't find innovative ways to address the anxieties of working-class America."