First, talk about the interests and anxieties of the middle-class – and focus on the lower-middle-class. That means you should spend more time talking about a wage-earner’s worries about what will happen to her health insurance if she loses her job and has to take part-time work, than about the student loan obligations of a law school graduate. Once again, it is about priorities. You should talk about making higher education and skills acquisition more affordable for everything from the trades to grad school, but you already did decently well among the upper-middle-class the last time you ran for president. This time around, you need to explain how conservative ideas on tax policy and health insurance reform will improve the economic security and increase the take home pay of wage-earning parents. It would be a good idea to borrow the ideas of Marco Rubio and Mike Lee on tax policy and have some lengthy talks with James Capretta on health insurance policy.
You should still talk about poverty, but it should be about more than poverty. It should be about helping those who are already in poverty and Michael Strain has some interesting ideas, but, on one level, policy aimed at the lower-middle-class and (much of) the poor need to be based on what Reihan Salam called the idea of conditional reciprocity. If you are willing to work hard, conservative policy will make your life better. It could be relocation vouchers to go to places where there are better job opportunities. It could be wage subsidies for low-paid entry-level jobs. It could be an expanded child tax credit for middle-class working parents, and it could mean more secure and cheaper health insurance though a combination of health savings accounts and a tax credit for catastrophic health insurance.
Those in poverty are a diverse group who face different kinds of challenges. Nobody has all the answers for everybody. There is also another group who are not in poverty, but who fear falling into poverty with a layoff notice or car that gives out. Don’t make big promises about ending poverty. Nobody is going to believe you. Focus on policies that make poverty easier to avoid and easier to escape.