To attract disillusioned white working-class voters, the GOP must understand their concerns

One might wonder whether meeting these voters halfway is worth it. But there is no alternative: All other voter groups who might be open to voting for a Republican nominee are farther to the left and oppose conservative consensus on key matters of principle.

Hispanics, for example, strongly favor government intervention in the economy. The Public Religion Research Institute has found that Hispanics favor raising taxes and increasing spending on education and infrastructure by a nearly two-to-one margin over cutting taxes and letting business grow. Upper-income young whites, whom Pew calls the “Next Generation Left,” favor free trade and low taxes but are highly secular and green, opposing the traditional definition of marriage and favoring greenhouse-gas-emission controls. These voters will vote for Republicans, but only for moderates such as former New York governor George Pataki or former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Building a working coalition by focusing on either of these groups, as many in the GOP establishment favor, would trigger a civil war within conservatism.

Winning the support of blue-collar voters means gaining their trust, and that means first affirming the core elements of their worldview. They have to believe that the GOP nominee understands that they have been the losers in the transition to a modern economy. They have to believe that the nominee will be on their side when the chips are down and that he is willing to take on the powerful. A nominee who appears ignorant of or callous toward these views, such as Mitt Romney, will be rejected as long as the Democratic nominee seems marginally acceptable.

This means that they will demand, at a minimum, some form of immigration restriction. America undoubtedly needs some immigrants to fuel its economic growth, especially since the native-born work force is aging. But “open borders” as an end goal of immigration reform will simply not fly with these voters.