The morning starts early with a run along the shore. Breakfast is on the patio overlooking the ocean where he scans through the morning’s news on his iPad. It’s small, three-bedroom house, but the sea view and the Marin County address took years to achieve.
After breakfast he wakes his partner. They are not married, at least not in some formal manner. They shared a commitment ceremony once on a trip to Cabo with a few close friends.
They each have a child from another relationship. Neither of them are retired, so to speak, but neither of them has a job, so to speak. At middle age they have earned all the money they’ll ever really need in a series of tech jobs in San Francisco. Now they each do some freelance work along with occasional venture investments. He doesn’t own a necktie.
Both of them were Republicans twenty years ago when they came to California, though the party’s rhetoric long ago drove them away. Neither of them has any great love for the Democrats, but they feel stuck. Democrats are dismissive of the business interests so critical to their lives, but Republicans are downright frightening.
They are not among the elite “tech geeks” of Silicon Valley. The serious engineering geniuses likely own a vineyard or an island at this point in their lives. He finished a business major at Ohio State and his partner was a journalism student at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. They gravitated along separate paths to the Bay Area where they built moderately successful careers in software companies.
If Republicans get serious about rebuilding the party for the 21st century, they will need to attract financial support from new quarters. Donors tend to be old, with a set of interests and biases rooted in past conditions. In a slower world this may not have been such a pressing difficulty. It is a serious problem now.
The good news is that America is minting new, relatively young millionaires at a breakneck pace and vast numbers of them are politically uncommitted. The bad news is that most of them are earning their fortunes in geographies and demographics which the Republican Party, as presently configured, is systemically incapable of reaching.
If the Republican Party still exists in twenty years, the couple described above will be among its core donors. That is a promise wrapped in a threat. Survival hinges on our outreach to this emerging class of newly wealthy, but they are deeply hostile to the bigotry that infects the party today.
Bringing them into Republican politics starts by presenting an alternate policy platform. It continues by offering them a vision for how they could fuel a modernist insurgency in the GOP. They will probably only be brought into the party as elements of a dissident wave. They will not walk in the front door. We need to give them a channel through which to confront the Republican Party’s worst impulses from the inside.
At the core of this challenge is a strange social and cultural distortion. From the viewpoint of a Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee, the very successful, happy couple in our scenario is living in a post-apocalyptic hell-scape lifted from their darkest, dystopian nightmares. This generation of successful young people is the living, breathing proof that most of what today’s Republicans believe about the world is bullshit.
Through the standard Republican lens the couple in our example is a broken family, unmoored from religion, blighted by immoral choices, and unemployed. They live under a suffocating nanny state burdened by staggeringly high taxes which supposedly makes economic growth impossible. Yet, in that environment, with these personal moral choices, they and millions like them are, over the course of a few decades, becoming fantastically wealthy, healthy, and happy.
If anything Fox News tells us is true then this couple’s lives, and the lives of all their neighbors, are impossible. Yet here they are, sharing kale smoothies and an ocean view from the patio of their million-dollar home.
As the party’s center has drifted south this disconnect has grown into a yawning chasm. There is very little newness in the donor base coming of age in the red states. For the most part it’s only a younger generation of heirs to the same fortunes in the same industries. The South has grown wealthier, but that wealth has been generated predominantly by the kind of resource extraction that feeds a rentier class. Almost all of the best features of our emerging global marketplace threaten their interests.
A fresh donor base with wealth derived from modern knowledge capitalism is going to be relentlessly at odds with the existing pool of Republican donors. It will be impossible to reach one without at least challenging the other.
New wealth rising from the global knowledge revolution is, by and large, politically uncommitted. The first mass wave of them is coming of age politically (in other words, hitting their late ‘40s) right now. That is very bad news for Republicans. As much as these voters appreciate markets and dread government regulation, their deepest loathing is reserved for bigots. A Republican Party dominated by Southern fried Neo-Confederates is a non-starter for them.
We claim to be America’s business-friendly party, but that claim grows more absurd by the day. Republicans would do well to acknowledge some stark realities about where and how mass wealth is being created in the modern world. Its source is not oil or agriculture. Red state economies create very little of it. And for a large number of the people generating this new wealth, the only “Jesus” who has touched their lives is that guy they know on the development team. His name is pronounced ‘hey-zeus.’ He works miracles – with python scripts.
In blatant defiance of Republican orthodoxy, the global engine of modern capitalism is the San Francisco Bay Area and it has been for twenty years. Trailing behind San Francisco, at a great distance, is Boston, New York, Chicago and the rest of the West Coast. Measured in terms of annual capital investment, the first city in a red state to even show up in a ranking is Austin at number twelve, where it has been losing ground as the rest of the country recovers from the financial collapse. Atlanta is at 14. Houston is at 18. North Carolina’s research triangle is at 24.
San Francisco alone generates 10 times more venture capital investment than the entire state of Texas. Boston, in the heart of deep-blue Massachusetts, attracts six times more investment than Austin. Notice there is no mention here of the rural countryside. Global capitalism is emptying rural areas, spreading festering pockets of poverty across the small towns and farm areas once home to our “real Americans.” New capital is being minted in America’s big cities.
That capital is fueling not just a wealth revolution, but vital advances in the way we do everything from treating diseases to commuting. Having abandoned urban areas a generation ago, Republicans have no meaningful political influence in the places where the future of American commerce is being built. That has to change quickly or some other political institution will replace us.
So how can we attract these largely unattached potential donors who so deeply loathe the party’s fearful, bigoted rhetoric? Perhaps we could start by wrestling with one frustrating question. Why is the focal point of global capitalism a big, socially liberal, largely irreligious, American city with Democratic government at every level?
By confronting some of the awkward answers that might emerge from that exercise, we could begin to piece together the kind of agenda that could win support among the Bay Area’s new elite. An agenda that might emerge from that exercise would also likely unlock access to voters and donors in other parts of the country that have turned terminally blue. Win California, win America.
What would that agenda look like? For starters, it would reflect a willingness to look at the world in realistic terms, stripped of the blinders of ideology and open to the Four Inescapable Realities. It would replace a focus on white cultural fears with an emphasis on markets, fiscal responsibility, and effective, rather than merely smaller, government.
Most importantly, that agenda would be designed to organize an insurgency. Instead of trying to synthesize a sane, commercially focused agenda with the party’s bizarre culture of denial and paranoia, this effort would be organized from the beginning as an open challenge to the party’s status quo.
The existing institutional core of the Republican Party will not be transformed through conference calls and persuasion. Otherwise, the results of the 2012 Election would have led to immigration reform, a new tax plan, and an end to culture war posturing. This effort to build an updated agenda that can rally new donors will have to come from the outside, drawing these new donors to a campaign of internal resistance. Assemble that combination of characteristics in a nascent organization and it would be possible to begin recruiting in places Republicans have ignored for more than a decade.
A generation of millionaires is coming of age deep in the deepest blue states. Those people are open to a new political direction and willing to share their wealth to achieve it. It is time for Republicans to wake up and smell the fresh-ground, single-origin, fair trade organic coffee.
If we can crack open our minds to consider some of the realities emerging around us, we can compete for this new base of support. We don’t have a lot of time, but seizing this window will open access to new resources critical for building the next piece of a Republican future – a new stable of candidates who can win behind the Blue Wall.