In a democracy, it isn’t enough to move toward the public on issues of your own choosing; you have to show the voters that you’re interested in what they most care about as well. And on health care, education, jobs, you name it, the current G.O.P. is simply not equipped to meet that challenge.
So long as that remains the case, a Republican Party that takes the direction its elites seem to want to chart could easily find itself in an extremely perilous political position. It would have sidelined the concerns of many millions of voters, effectively shutting their views out of the political process, without necessarily gaining the kind of support in the center that would make that sidelining a net plus. There are plenty of social conservatives, evangelical and Catholic and Mormon, who would be happy to have an excuse to vote for centrist Democrats on economics or foreign policy, plenty of working class voters who would see a pro-immigration, pro-amnesty G.O.P. as yet another reason to stay home. For Republicans to thrive despite these losses, they would need to make substantial gains with other cohorts … and again, it’s awfully hard to see that happening so long as the party’s economic policy conversation mostly consists of office-holders attacking the Ryan budget from the right.
Parties need reliable voters before they need anything else. A party elite can rebel against its own base successfully, but only if there’s a bigger base waiting to be built.