Ever since the 2012 election loss, Republicans have looked for an economic platform to move away from the “47 percent” argument that ended up backfiring that election cycle. Party leaders like House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan and erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum have urged the GOP to move away from protecting Wall Street and mega-investors and focus economic and tax reforms on the middle class and the manufacturing sector. Ranking Senate Budget Committee Republican Jeff Sessions added his voice to that call yesterday at the Tea Party Patriots’ fifth-anniversary celebration, calling for conservative populism to recapture the declining middle classes, and to ditch Wall Street:

“The elites are failing America, they’re failing the people of America… My party, the Republican party, needs to sever itself from the elite consensus, we need to break from it,” he told a celebration for fifth anniversary of the Tea Party Patriots group, held Thursday evening in Washington, D.C.

“We can tell Wall Street ‘We love you’… but we’re going to be representing Americans by the millions,” he told the audience.

The populist shift is needed, Sessions said, because Republican candidates and their constituents haven’t been able to persuade alienated Americans and low-income swing voters that the GOP cares about them and their interests, even with piles of advertising funded by Wall Street.

“These workers, these Americans, these citizens, are not happy with President [Barack] Obama — they don’t want to be on food stamps… [and] that’s a vote we can get back,” he said.

The speech marks another step by Sessions to promote his populist reform agenda to the GOP’s diverse base and business-friendly leadership.

The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro sounds skeptical:

He’s made no significant steps to build a national following, nor to recruit a team to help him participate in the 2016 Republican primaries.

His disavowal of Wall Street will close donors’ checkbooks, and so will his skeptical comments on trade. But he’s unlikely to gain donations from working-class people, nor from the wealthy but cautious professionals who fear progressives’ scorn.

His base is in deep South Alabama, and his soft-spoken style won’t help him win fans in the Midwest, where millions of election-winning potential GOP supporters live.

I don’t think Sessions is looking to run for president, nor does he have to do so in order to press for a clear economic agenda from the GOP. Neither does Paul Ryan. Both have perches in their committee assignments to develop that agenda, and both have enough heft within the GOP to push for that kind of reform. In fact, given Sessions’ remarks, it sounds as if he’s correctly noting that this message will be needed in the midterm cycle, because while ObamaCare will serve as a powerful indictment of Democrats, it’s not going to be enough to just be the anti-Democrats. Republicans need an argument of their own, too.

Byron York agrees, and sees a big opening in a stagnant economy for a true opposition platform to Obamanomics:

There’s little doubt that economic conditions, coupled with the burdens imposed on millions of Americans by Obamacare, are behind the Democrats’ troubles now, and most likely in November, too.

What is unclear is whether Democrats are fully aware of the peril. Of course, savvy candidates and strategists are, but the new Times poll shows that, as a whole, Democrats have a far more positive view of the economy than everyone else. …

Of course, it’s possible most Democrats do, deep inside, believe the economy is still bad, and their poll answers reflect partisanship more than anything. That’s a danger for Republicans, too, who could overstate the economy’s problems.

But in the bigger picture, there is a huge opportunity for the GOP this November. Large majorities in the Times poll said both parties should do more to address the needs and concerns of the middle class. Seventy-six percent of independents said the GOP should do more, while 72 percent of the same independents said Democrats should do more.

The middle class is where the votes are, and the party that does the better job of addressing “middle-class squeeze” (a term House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has taken to using frequently) will win in November.

Some Republican officeholders and conservative thinkers are devoting a lot of time and energy to coming up with policy proposals for middle-class relief, and the GOP candidates who are most open to those ideas will have a big advantage in attracting votes outside the Republican base.

Well, we’ve been discussing it under the radar for almost seventeen months now. Granted, the budget crises and ObamaCare disaster has occupied much of their time in that period, but with the rollout of ObamaCare proving every bit as disastrous as Republicans warned and the budget settled until late 2015, the GOP needs to put a clear agenda aimed at Main Street economics on the table soon. Five years of stagnation leaves a wide-open target on the Obama administration’s policies and Democrats on Capital Hill who keep excusing regulatory disincentives as “liberating job lock,” or other such nonsense.

Middle- and working-class Americans want real growth and the opportunities it provides, not the embrace of malaise as a goal. The sooner Republicans present a case, the sooner voters will see through the ennui and stagnation.