As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knows firsthand, it’s hard to be a saint in the city if you’re a Republican. Urban areas and states with a high population density tend to be liberal and Democratic. New Jersey, the state with the highest population density, hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988. To get elected in 2009, Christie himself needed a terribly weak Democratic opponent. And his reelection chances looked only so-so until his much-praised response to Superstorm Sandy.
Over at the New Geography blog, Aaron Renn points out that President Obama won 69% of the big city vote, according to a New York Times exit poll analysis. Renn explains:
Some of this is perhaps on account of the racial makeup of the cities, as blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Yet it’s clear that, even among the upscale white urbanist crowd, Republican policies and candidates are finding few takers. .. . Unfortunately, Republicans have largely abandoned the urban playing field, preferring to condemn the cities as cesspools of Democratic corruption, high taxes, and decay. The Republican party today is largely driven by exurban and rural leaders, as well as populist movements like the Tea Party, with values that are not widely shared by urban dwellers. This has not only cost the party votes, but, critically, it has left it on the outside looking in on many debates, as culture is shaped in large urban centers where Republicans have little voice.
Renn, citing the work of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, suggests education, transportation, and deregulation as areas where the GOP can make inroads with market-based solutions. Doing better in the cities, in addition to detoxifying the GOP brand, would also be a political force mutliplier:
Republicans became all but excluded from the cultural/media industry as the 60s generation took over. The party’s response has been to create a parallel infrastructure of think tanks, talk radio shows, web sites, and even its own TV network, Fox News. This worked well in the era immediately following the end of the Fairness Doctrine, but as the so-called mainstream media reacted by shifting to the left, this has left the Republicans often talking mostly to themselves while the national culture gets shaped by Hollywood, etc. A good example is the web site Atlantic Cities, which fully embodies the values of the international urban elite left, with few identifiable conservative ideas.
The 2012 election shows the limits of this strategy. Just as evangelical Christians have decided that they must look to plant their flag in the inner cities – both to reach an increasingly secularized, ,upscale population, and to engage with culture where it is made – Republicans need to start showing up seriously in the cities again if they want to influence the culture. There are already some top-notch conservatives participating in and writing about serious culture (e.g., Terry Teachout). More ambitious, talented young conservatives should seek to enter culture and media industries apart from simply writing for conservative magazines. This battle won’t be easy by any means, but defeat is certain if you never fight.
Over at The American, Danjell Elgebrandt and Tino Sanandaji make a similar point:
As importantly, the educated elites have a disproportional influence on politics and the general culture through the media, the education system, leadership jobs, and their typically elevated positions in the community. Because of this, each voter among the educated elite influences others through a social “multiplier,” making their support more valuable than that of other groups.
If the Left is able to maintain and fortify its position on the commanding heights of the elite-making institutions, especially in the top-tier universities and the media, they will continue to have the upper hand in formulating the political and cultural agenda.
Getting back to Christie, it just so happens that Facebook found Mark Zuckerberg will be hosting fundraiser for him. Just a small step for the GOP in reclaiming some measure of elite opinion. Another good sign for Republicans is Paul Ryan laying claim to the urban conservative mantle of Jack Kemp.
The American Conservative, however, suggests the GOP not get its hopes up.