This column was adapted from an essay published by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

Evidence is accumulating that Hispanic, Asian and even some Black Americans are increasingly voting Republican. GOP leaders are naturally eager to cement these new voters’ loyalties. To do that, they should reexamine a speech Ronald Reagan gave more than 40 years ago.

Reagan’s speech, given on his birthday at the 1977 Conservative Political Action Conference, explored how to combine different types of conservatives into “a new, lasting majority.” To bring together economic and social conservatives, even though they did not see eye to eye on every issue, he argued that this required “compromise, but not a compromise of basic principle.” Reagan’s success in creating this new synthesis set the basis for the modern, pre-Trump GOP.

Today’s Republican leaders face a similar, slightly more difficult task. Their new party will combine four sets of conservatives rather than two. Those sets can be best thought of as animals in a zoo: elephants, TIGRs, RINOs and RAMs.

Three of these are likely already familiar. Elephants are the Republican Party’s core voters. TIGRs — “Trump Is Great Republicans” — are the predominantly, non-college-educated White voters who flocked to Donald Trump in 2016 and have since become staunch Republicans. RINOs — Republicans in Name Only — are the upper-income, highly educated suburbanites who abandoned Trump and the GOP in 2016 and 2020 but are open to rejoining their old party in the Joe Biden era.

RAMs — Recently Arrived Migrants — are the newest, and perhaps the most important, potential members of the party. These mostly Hispanic and Asian voters tend to be working class and strongly identify with American ideals. They, like the TIGRs, are relatively moderate on economic and social issues, but they need convincing that the New Republican Party has a place for people like them.

RAMs started to join the GOP in 2020. Latino areas such as Cuban-dominated Miami-Dade County in Florida and Texas’s Rio Grande Valley shifted massively to the right, and polls in Texas show the shift is still proceeding. Latino areas elsewhere, such as Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago and Los Angeles, also shifted rightward in 2020, and similar neighborhoods in Virginia and New York City moved even more sharply to the GOP in November’s elections. Asian voters also drifted to the GOP in 2020 in places such as California’s Orange County and Beverly Hills. They also moved sharply in the Republicans’ direction in New York City’s mayoral race this month. If RAMs continue this shift, Democrats cannot win a national majority anytime soon.

Bringing these groups together may seem daunting or even impossible. But it is no greater a challenge than what Reagan faced nearly 45 years ago. His era’s social conservatives hated Republicans who were said to have caused the Great Depression. Reagan, a former Democrat himself, was well aware of these obstacles. That’s why he sought to ground the party in conservative principle.

Reagan’s New Republican Party believed in liberty and the family. It supported “the American market system” and “must always stand for peace and liberty in the world and the rights of the individual,” as Reagan said during his 1977 speech. In a world with malign and powerful adversaries, the latter principle required “maintaining a superior national defense, second to none.”

These principles can unite today’s conservative groups as much as they did Reagan’s. Elephants, TIGRs, RINOs and RAMs believe in individual liberty and in the family as the cornerstone of American society. All support free enterprise and believe America’s history and principles are mainly good and worth conserving. There will be disputes among these groups about how to apply these principles, but the principles themselves unite them.

The person who leads this new coalition is crucial, too. Reagan had his Republican detractors, but he easily united the party once he became the 1980 nominee and made George H.W. Bush, a GOP establishment favorite, his vice president. Trump is clearly a problem for many RINOs and is also unpopular among some elephants and RAMs. Current polling shows that he only runs even with Biden in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, even though Biden’s poll ratings are worse than Trump’s were on Election Day 2020. That’s because a significant number of people who disapprove of Biden’s job performance remain undecided between Biden and Trump. This may change by 2024, especially if Americans continue to think Biden isn’t up to the job. But as of today, it looks as though the GOP is stronger without Trump as its head than with him.

Most serious political strategists know that the Republican Party’s future lies in its ability to become, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put it, a “multiethnic, multiracial, working-class” party. Here, too, Reagan was far ahead of his contemporaries (and even many successors). The New Republican Party he envisioned would explicitly reach beyond its traditional, upper-income and business-backed base to attract majorities from all walks of life.

Reagan wanted his New Republican Party to be open to all who shared its principles, regardless of race or ethnicity. Reagan did this by saying this party should “[treat] all Americans as individuals and not as stereotypes or voting blocs.” Reagan’s new party would not be “one based on a principle of exclusion.”

That vision will attract RAMs and bring victory, if only the GOP will embrace it. What Reagan said then is true today: “We are not a cult, we are members of a majority. Let’s act and talk like it.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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