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November 13, 2012

The GOP's middle-class problem

(Continued)

The Romney team evidently understood this, and the Republican invoked the middle class constantly. But he had no signature policies to back up the message. Romney's policy play for the middle class was almost a parody of a Wall Street Republican's idea of how to help middle-income families: He proposed to cut capital-gains and dividends taxes for people making less than $200,000 a year.

Romney ended up as an odd combination of an essentially pragmatic politician running on a cookie-cutter conservative agenda. Don't get me wrong: His agenda was far preferable to the president's. But his conservatism had no distinctive flavor and nothing to inoculate it from simplistic attacks.

A different Romney agenda could have provided more substantive reinforcement for his rhetoric: say, a tax plan that offered a generous child tax credit for families, a more explicit replacement plan for Obamacare that emphasized controlling health-care costs, and a proposal to begin addressing spiraling college tuitions.

There is a resistance on the right to a direct appeal to middle-class economic interests, out of an understandable fear of anything that smacks of class-based politics. But the middle class isn't a special-interest group; almost everyone identifies with it. A recent Pew survey found that only 7 percent of people call themselves lower class and 2 percent upper class.

In the wake of Tuesday's debacle, there will be a natural tendency for Republicans to want to try to appeal to specific demographic groups, in a direct counter to President Obama. This is likely to result in much that is foolhardy and ineffectual. Better for Republicans to think seriously about how to identify with the interests of the broad middle of the country, and to convince it that their policies will advance those interests.

This is hardly mission impossible. If Barack Obama can do it, anyone can.

(c) 2012 by King Features Syndicate

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