How conservatives can regain popularity in America's inner cities

Democrats are crushing Republicans in the country's biggest metropolises. That can change

Downtown Detroit: Just one of many urban areas that needs help.
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As the GOP considers its post-election rebranding, much debate has centered around a core ideological question: What does the Republican Party stand for? There's also a key political question: How can the GOP increase its mainstream appeal without isolating its base? Finding the answers to these incredibly complex questions will require much dialogue, introspection, and patience. But there is one restorative action that Republicans can and should take immediately: Republicans must once again turn their attention to America's cities.

As evidenced by several recent elections, a considerable majority of urban voters now reflexively tilt toward the Democratic Party. They might not embrace liberals' ideology with zeal, but contrasted with the perceived Republican obsession with "bedroom politics," these metropolitan voters see 21st-century modernity as inherently preferable to theological authoritarianism. And because these urbanites don't see sufficient Republican engagement on challenges specific to the city environment, Democrats have little urban electoral competition. It's imperative that conservatives work to alter this dynamic.

This is hardly unattainable. With a serious strategy, Republicans can win back urban support. For their many years of urban political dominance, Democrats have a less-than-stellar record of achievement. From Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and from Detroit to Los Angeles, too many city-dwelling citizens face unyielding epidemics of crime, intractable cycles of poverty, and local governments predicated upon feeding networks of patronage instead of voter interests.

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To address these failings, Republicans should focus on a four-part agenda to return to our cities.

Step 1: Securing communities

Whether at the national or local level, a government's most basic responsibility is the security of those it serves. Sadly, in America today, many urban citizens have been abandoned to the mercy of terrible criminality. Fortunately, there are solutions. First, Republicans should work to ensure more effective oversight of local police forces. In addition, while police officers deserve both the moral support needed to make tough decisions and the funding support for effective law enforcement, public service must take precedence to all other concerns. Second, through state and federal statutes if necessary, Republicans should strengthen laws to ensure that gang leaders are punished for their crimes and taken off the streets. Third, working with community, business, and religious leaders, Republicans must form new urban coalitions to repair the social conditions in which crime thrives. These coalitions could also provide crucial support for prisoner rehabilitation projects. On this issue, 'Tough on Crime' must mean a more comprehensive approach to empower communities and improve public safety.

Step 2: Economic empowerment

Though important, low taxes cannot constitute the entirety of the GOP's urban economic policy. To help energize economic growth in struggling cities, Republicans must ensure that the ingredients for this growth are available. Communities must be freed of the locked grip of unions — which restrains employment, destroys government budgets, and drives up living costs. New efforts will be needed to attract businesses to establish in urban areas, and stay in them. But urban economic empowerment will also require training schemes to equip the economically excluded with the tools they need to find gainful work. Successfully engaging all of a city's stakeholders to support this multi-faceted approach will be critical.

Step 3: Social mobility

Children deserve a good education and adults have the right to bold aspirations. By adopting this dual approach toward fostering greater social mobility, Republicans can help individuals strengthen themselves and their communities. Republicans can offer voters a bold contrast to the Democratic Party's subservience to teachers unions. Instead, Republicans should offer voters a "standards and choice system." This is a framework that will reward good teachers with better compensation, while excluding poor teachers from the classroom. What we need is an approach that will reward effectively managed schools and empower parents to give their children the best possible education.

Step 4: Responsive government

The Wire is supposed to be fiction, but political mismanagement and corruption runs deep in many American cities. If Republicans can provide voters with local candidates of strong character, we can restore urban trust in our public service. In short, we need local Republican leaders in the dedicated style of Democrat Cory Booker.

It's evident that many urban Americans don't like the GOP. But by returning to our cities, we can begin to restore the Republican brand in the eyes of currently disinterested voters. If we work hard, we can hope to attract a major block of supporters into the GOP's national electoral fold. And even if our return attracts little support in the short term, if given serious effort, it will help challenge damaging notions of the GOP as a party for the few.

In essence, a return to our cities doesn't just make serious political sense by blending compassionate conservatism with sensible conservatism; it makes moral and intellectual sense as well.

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