Just in time to make a dent in the 2014 midterms and build something sustainable into 2016, RNC Chair Reince Priebus and Sen. Rand Paul have announced this week the GOP will be opening an office in Detroit. After years of neglecting conservatives in blue states, the office is a step in the right direction.
In a co-authored column in Politico this week, Priebus and Sen. Paul write that the GOP is opening a new office in Detroit, considering to expand its outreach efforts to a community hardly known as a Republican stronghold. “Critics might question our efforts, but as Republicans we believe in fighting for individual freedoms and equal opportunity for all, so we will listen to all voters in all neighborhoods, towns and cities,” they write. “Only going where it already has supporters,” the argument goes, will do nothing to expand the influence of the party and only serve to diminish just how they can turn their ideas into legislative action.
They note that a city as ravaged by Democratic authority as Detroit is ready to hear “our message of less government and more freedom… but first, you have to show up.” From a party establishment that has focused so intensely on amassing power through politically malleable incumbents while a thriving conservative movement, the Tea Party, demands a stronger voice on a national scale, this announcement is a breath of fresh air.
The story of Republican expansion in the last decade is a sad one for the establishment. Yes, under President Obama, Republican candidates have fared very well, thanks in almost no part to the Republican Party. Sen. Marco Rubio had to overcome establishment candidate Charlie Crist in an uphill primary. Sen. Paul himself received no love from the other Republican senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. And those are far more fertile states for Republicans than, say, Michigan.
Far more than Democrats, who have managed to find moderate candidates to run in red states, the Republican Party has barely bothered to try. While Democrats are cultivating stars in states like Texas (Mayor Julián Sanchez) and purple Florida (Rep. Alan Grayson, who in returning to Congress the same term Rep. Allen West was voted out in some ways proves this lack of outreach), Republicans have floundered. In states like New Jersey, Tea Party-inclined candidates like Steve Lonegan found themselves campaigning with little national or state-wide help. Lonegan’s impressive last-minute gains in the polls came in part thanks to Tea Party leaders stepping in where the establishment has failed–namely, Sarah Palin and Mark Levin hosting a major event for Lonegan, one he rightfully deserved–aided by the establishment that never properly cared to help. Given the deservedly strong criticism of the RNC when it commits such acts of neglect, this move towards establishing a GOP base in Detroit deserves proper applause.
Of course, there are and should be concerns that Priebus is using Detroit for a short-term publicity stunt now that its bankruptcy is making headlines. Yes, a city this profoundly damaged and mismanaged by Democratic governance should have a burgeoning Republican population–people willing to try something new after decades of failure. But shouldn’t this also be true of Chicago, or Newark, or Los Angeles? Why stop at the city most likely to nab headlines when so much of the country follows its blueprint? Why use Detroit to get your name in Politico and not follow up with similar venues? If Priebus and company wish conservatives to believe their efforts are earnest, we should rest assured they will expand deeper into blue territory. Of course, it is far too early to criticize the Republican Party for not doing enough on this particular effort. It is not too early to note that this effort is long overdue on a massive national scale.
For now, however, the Republican Party appears to finally be accepting the Tea Party’s blueprint that any open office is a line of battle. It took years of proving them right–of fighting incumbents and hammering home a consistent message that changed the dynamic of Congress. It took Sarah Palin just showing up in New Jersey for Steve Lonegan to make the case that being there makes double-digit differences in polls. It took, apparently, Sen. Rand Paul finally convincing the establishment to try something new–and there’s little reason to not put faith in this program until conservatives and Detroit residents can see how it plays out.