This is a problem not just for Republican politicians but for conservatives generally. For roughly 99.9 percent of human history, nearly all of human wisdom was passed on in stories. We are a species that understands things — i.e. morality, politics, even religion — in terms of tales of heroism, sacrifice, and adversity. And yet so much of what passes for conservative rhetoric these days isn’t storytelling but exhortation. Whatever the optimal policy might be, if you can’t talk to people in human terms they can relate to, you can’t sell any policy. The war on poverty, for instance, has been an enormous failure in so many policy terms, but it stays alive because of the stories liberals tell.
Consider immigration. There are reasonable arguments on every side of the issue. But what is unquestionably and lamentably disastrous for Republicans is the way they’ve allowed themselves to get on the wrong side of this story. The tale of the immigrant making it in America is one most Americans love, even those who want to slow or stop any further immigration, legal or illegal.
Go back and watch the video of Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) telling his family’s story at the 2012 GOP convention, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech at the 2004 convention. The same rank-and-file activists who oppose “amnesty” swelled with pride and affection at what this country means for the immigrant and what immigrants mean for the country.