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Hey, GOP, want to win in 2016? Fix fundamental flaw in Republican brand

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FILE -- Jan. 22, 2014: Austin Moore, 18, lines up with other job seekers during a career fair at a hotel in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Reince Priebus recently sat down with Politico to review progress since the release of the RNC’s “autopsy” on the 2012 election one year ago: “We have ‘the tale of two parties’ that we’re contending with,” Priebus astutely said, “We’ve got a midterm party that can’t lose, and we’ve got a presidential party that’s having a hard time winning.”

The ObamaCare debacle looks to make 2014 a good year for the GOP.  But conservatives cannot afford to take 2016 for granted, nor to misdiagnose the fundamental problem with the current GOP brand.

Conservatives cannot afford to take 2016 for granted, nor to misdiagnose the fundamental problem with the current GOP brand.

While Democrats urge Republicans to drop the so-called divisive “social issues,” the truth is the GOP’s gender, youth, and Latino gaps are fundamentally driven by economic perceptions. 

By close to 2 to 1 margins, women, youths and Latinos picked Democrats over Republicans in 2012 on the issue of who would most likely help the economy. (Women: 38 percent Democrats to 24 percent Republicans; Under 30s: 36 percent to 20 percent; Hispanics 38 percent to 16 percent, according to ANES data).

The GOP’s biggest problem? Overall just 34 percent of voters in 2012 exit polls said electing Romney would help the middle class.

And yet Republican candidates and pundits are ignoring the biggest, most surprising news from voters in 2012: 37 percent of voters in exit polls named “rising prices” as their top concern, basically equal with “unemployment” at 38 percent. 

America’s economic problem isn’t just unemployment, it’s the deadly combination of steady mild inflation and stagnant wages that is leading to pervasive declines in middle class working families’ standard of living.

In focus groups with potential swing voters in Ohio conducted by American Principles in Action (where I am a senior fellow), concern about rising prices leaps out: “You notice it as dollars and cents in your budget. Me and my wife have noticed a good 10 percent in everything, and that has made us cut back,” said one focus group member.  “My costs are going up, but not my wages,” one Phoenix voter told the RNC’s Young Gun Focus Groups.

The average middle class working family now has a lower standard of living than they had 5 years ago, with no end in sight.

Instead of naming this pervasive economic suffering, GOP rhetoric continues to be overly focused on the needs of “job creators,” i.e. voters’ bosses (sometimes supplemented by token nods to the poor), while Democrats feebly try to evade responsibility for pervasive middle class economic decline by proposing increases in the minimum wage.

One obvious place Republicans could show they “get it” is relentlessly focusing on the pay cut ObamaCare means for many middle class working families.

Why is only Unite Here, a progressive labor union that represents low-wage service workers, making the argument about ObamaCare that Republicans ought to be making?  

Obamacare “threatens the middle class with higher premiums, loss of hours and a shift to part-time work and less comprehensive coverage”—and a pay cut of up to $5 an hour. 

Unite Here reports that Angela Portillo, a maid at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, says ObamaCare will cost her family the equivalent of a “$3.87 per hour pay cut.”

In the 18 months since the election things are getting worse not better.

Food prices soared in February. Hamburger meat is over $5 a pound. The Labor Department just reported that average weekly wages have been dropping since December, as workers lose hours. Labor blames the weather, not ObamaCare, incidentally. 

But ObamaCare is the perfect storm of the bad Obamanomics: expensive government mandates and intensive regulation crushing the working family economy, combined with special deals for the crony capitalists, bailouts of bankers, and federal reserve policies that give Wall Street zero-interest loans to send stocks soaring, while ordinary people watch Washington steal their purchasing power--And not just through taxes but through inflation that Washington sees as “modest” but working families know is not.

“First you win the argument, then you win the election,” Lady Margaret Thatcher reminded us.

It is time for the Party of Reagan to get serious about addressing this generation’s stagflation, and the failed Obamanomics causing it.

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.