Republicans need to face the music, economy

Republicans need to face the music, economy

Abraham Gross, Contributing Writer

The Republican presidential candidates have a lot to learn about the priorities of the American people. Polls have consistently shown that American voters care about the economy and unemployment far more than any other issue. Ranking near the bottom of voter concerns are immigration and abortion. Even with the rise of ISIS, the divisive Iran nuclear deal and the ongoing plight of Syrian refugees, foreign policy is still a low priority for most Americans. But with all the fiery assaults on Planned Parenthood and the Iran agreement at the recent Republican debates, it seems like the candidates just haven’t gotten the memo. As James Carville, campaign manager to then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, famously said, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

The failings of Republican rhetoric can be traced to the last presidential election. Mitt Romney promised easier solutions to the fiscal cliff and a reduction in unemployment, using his business experience as qualification for handling the national economy. Romney’s business acumen is arguably what made him a compelling candidate. But Romney’s guarantees were more like those of a tepid investor than an enthusiastic venture capitalist; the unemployment rate is now a mere 5.3 percent, surpassing the Obama administration’s past projections and even Romney’s promise of 6 percent unemployment by the end of 2016. Obama, as it turns out, has exceeded the Republican Party’s wildest dreams.

Of course, there are still pressing issues remaining as the economy has moved into post-recovery mode. While more Americans are working, wages have been near-stagnant for decades. College tuition rates have drastically risen, due in no small part to state cuts for higher education, creating a national debt crisis that burdens new workers. The minimum wage reached its peak value in constant dollar terms back in 1968, and hasn’t kept up with inflation since, despite the fact that there is broad public support and evidence that an increased minimum wage would reduce poverty. The economy needs more work, but so far the most apparent economy-focused candidate appears to be Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has introduced a bill to increase the federal minimum wage and speaks forcefully of America’s continuing income inequality.

The problem for Republicans is not that there aren’t steps that could improve the economy, but none that polish the label of “fiscal conservative” that candidates so enjoy flouting. Instead, Republicans have chosen to stay on more comfortable ideological footing, railing against Planned Parenthood, demonizing Hispanics and fermenting fear over vague foreign threats. Republican candidates may place faith on the hidden hand of the market, but in the marketplace of ideas, their current product isn’t going to land them the job title of POTUS.

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Email Abraham Gross at [email protected].