It’s no secret among my friends and family, Save Jerseyans, that I grew up in a tough area. I don’t regret it, and I’m certainly not ashamed of it. Growing up surrounded by tough situations can teach you a lot about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not the least of which are the importance of family values on the socioeconomic structure of our country and the value of rugged individualism.
Republicans have all but forgotten to engage with the poorer communities in the Garden State, electing instead to focus on middle and upper-income areas for their vote. They have neglected to spend the time and effort to espouse communities that are ripe for the picking. Communities in which the value of hard work and dedication are more than talking points – they are the very real gateway between squalor and success. So how do we bridge this divide and begin to broaden the coalition of conservatives? How do we begin to bring outlying groups who believe a majority (or all) of what we believe into the fold?
Let’s take a look:
According to popular political theory, if an area has a certain stigma attached to it, it tends to take a liberal view of traditional or family values. According to my experience (and basic principles of brand-building), I hold this view to be false. Growing up in some of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas in the country, there were many times when, even as a Republican, I found myself nodding along with the spirit of individuality and hard-working dedication of my friends and associates. Consider how, when a person grows up having to make sacrifices even at a young age, they often grow up independent, willful, and with the grit a person needs to be successful.
The average, middle-class American (especially politicians) could learn a lot of important lessons by spending even a single day in some of the worse-off areas of their district. Family values are easy to tote (or argue against as archaic) when you’ve never had to spend a day without them. Examples of the importance of purposeful tax incentives in the realm of economic development abound in cities with minimal tax-bases.
Brands aren’t built overnight but we’ve all heard it at every rally/event meant to energize our base: “bring in the millennials and other ‘minority’ groups.” It’s time to stop using this as an inspirational talking point, and begin to put our money where our mouth is. I’m not saying the road will be easy. Building the trust of any group of people requires a mixed investment of time, effort and the tools needed to pick away at the stone foundation upon which their political affiliations lie. It will take consistency, an effort to educate communities on the issues, and a mutual respect for differences. The factions of our party will need to cease their infighting (looking at you, RINO hunters) and band together to build a new party with a wider base than ever before.
The tangible value of public safety, of individual rights, and of bridging the gap are all abound in some of America’s forgotten cities, some of New Jersey’s forgotten cities. The truth of the matter, in my experience, is that many of the most salt of the earth Americans I have ever met have been “born of the storm” as Andrew Jackson put it. If we, as a country and a party, opened our eyes and our ears to listen to these groups instead of espousing them as a talking point and turning our back on them after, we just might learn something about where we came from.
And you know what they say, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you’ve been.”