WHAT THE GOP CAN LEARN FROM NIKE

America’s Creative, Entrepreneurial, Can-Do Majority, and How to Win It Back

By Trammell S. Crow and Bill Shireman

Like many Republicans this year, we are focusing our time and dollars on state and local races, knowing that on the morning after November 7, no matter the outcome, we’ll need to look at our party as a whole, and answer the question: what next?

None of the current paths forward offers the Republican Party a clear answer.  Donald Trump’s popular base is likely to top out around 40% of all U.S. voters, even if he manages a narrow victory against an unpopular Hillary Clinton.  Ted Cruz’s hard-core conservatives amount to no more than 20-25% - almost enough to win one party’s nomination, but not a national election.  Mainstream candidates can’t survive in the primaries, and libertarians lose too many voters on moral, social, and national security issues.  None alone are the future of the party.

But there is a newly emerging Republican base, one that shares core principles with each of these four, but had no candidate among the seventeen who vied for this year’s nomination.  We call them “Nike Republicans,” and if we want to earn a chance at national leadership after this November, it’s time we take note of them.

Nike Republicans aren’t the latest political fashion passion.  They are voters whose political attitudes reflect the values of the Nike brand, and its namesake.  Nike is the Greek goddess of victory and self-empowerment, the strong, fast, purposeful force who overcomes all obstacles.  She is a fitting symbol for a prospective new Republican Party that, like the consumer brand, draws the support of women, young people, and minorities – as well as white men like us.

Nike Republicans, as defined by our opinion research, are Americans who hold to five core values familiar to conservatives:  freedom, responsibility, opportunity, innovation, and enterprise.  Based on our research, they comprise about 55% of both men and women voters in the U.S., along with 40-60% of minority voters, and about 6 in 10 young and millennial voters.

Fiscally, Nike voters lean right.  Socially, they lean left.  Like conservatives, they distrust big government.  Like progressives, they distrust big corporations.  They love their freedom, but also have a strong sense of community responsibility.  They often distrust institutions like religion, but they do seek a higher purpose in life.

Nike voters aren’t what some derisively call “RINOs” – Republicans In Name Only.  They aren’t moderates who split their principles down the middle.  Nor are they independents who don’t care enough to pick a side.  They embrace core principles as strongly as the typical Cruz or Trump supporter, but they think of them differently from the current GOP base.

For example, the old Republican base equates freedom with self-reliance, a core driver of prosperity in the industrial age.  Nike Republicans think of it as individual expression and personal power, reflecting not the do-it-all individualism of the 1950s, but the distinctive individuality more common to a digital economy.

The traditional base thinks of responsibility in terms of personal discipline, the ability to resist emotional impulses and adhere to rules, qualities important to industrial growth.  Nike Republicans think of responsibility as an emotional quality that connects them in duty to others, including the community as a whole, qualities more important in a digital economy.

Opportunity, to the traditional Republican base, means giving everyone a fair chance on a level playing field.  To Nike Republicans, who feel more connected to people different from them, it includes reaching out to help those tackled at their one yard line, whether due to their own failures or abuses by others.

Innovation to yesterday’s base suggests linear progress, including continuous growth in material prosperity.  To Nike Republicans, it means discontinuous and even disruptive digital change, where yesterday’s industries give way totomorrow’s, and material standards of success are exchanged for more experiential ones.

Enterprise to yesterday’s base means hard work and perseverance.  To Nike Republicans, it also means smart work and individual creativity.

 

Republican Principle

How Today’s Base Thinks

How Nike Voters Think

 

Freedom

Prosperity, Self-reliance

Empowerment, individual expression, choice

Responsibility

Discipline

Connection and community

Opportunity

Fairness

Fairness and compassion

Innovation

Linear Progress

Disruptive change

Enterprise

Perseverance

Creativity

 

Nike Republicans have been emerging for years, but it was not until late 2013, after Mitt Romney’s defeat, that the mainstream began to notice them.  That year, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) issued a prescient report, “Grand Old Party for a New Generation.”  The Republican brand, the CRNC reported, had been badly damaged, and nearly destroyed among large blocks of voters, by a succession of campaigns during which critics have defined the party as anti-women, anti-Hispanic, anti-gay, anti-middle class, and anti-environment.

Some of the wounds were self-inflicted, from the infamous “47%” remarks made by Romney to the “legitimate rape” comments made by Rep. Todd Akin in his Senate campaign. Others were salted regularly by media and political opponents to deepen the wounds and keep them fresh.

The damage was significant. “Young voters simply felt the GOP had nothing to offer, and therefore said they trusted the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party on every issue tested,” CRNC found.  Just 28% to 33% of young voters said they had a positive view of the Republican Party.  Over 50% had a negative view.

Among “winnable” young voters – those who sided with Romney on most issues but voted for Obama anyway – the words that most often come to mind when they think of Republicans were “closed-minded, racist, rigid, (and) old-fashioned.” “It is not that young voters are enamored of the Democratic Party,” according to the CRNC. “They simply dislike the Republican Party more.

That made the GOP’s battle for a national resurgence daunting, even before Donald Trump.  Today, our base has grown so demographically narrow that it leaves us vulnerable to the small-minded fears and bigotries of political tribes, unmitigated by contact with good people who happen to see the world differently.

But before voters can be attracted back, they first need to see themselves in the brand.  Yet today, the party which established itself to free the slaves is often seen as a either a rich man’s party, or an angry white man’s one, according to CRNC. “Mitt Romney won young white voters by a 7-point margin but still lost the race. It could be said that the GOP’s young voter problem is as much about failing to gain support from the African American and Latino communities as anything else. With nonwhite voters making up 42% of voters under the age of 30, the issue of party diversity and the party’s success with the youth vote are absolutely inseparable.”

Look Left, Look Right, Move Forward

We come to this as lifelong Republicans who often support objectives of liberals, like environmental protection and equal opportunity, using methods of conservatives, like freedom, responsibility, and markets.  We have found that if we want to understand our problems, it’s important to look to the left.  If we want to understand our solutions, it’s important to look to the right.  Of course, like we learned in school, it’s best to look both ways. The right is often first to understand the importance of standing with tradition, the left is bolder at stepping into the crosswalk. The two together provide a healthy rule-of-thumb: look both ways, then step forward.

In today’s polarized politics, people who champion freedom, responsibility, and enterprise are expected to vote for Republicans.   Those who care about people, community, and the environment are expected to vote for Democrats.  In reality, all six of these ideals are linked.  The first three principles are the “how;” they serve the last three, the purposes, the “why.”

Nike Republicans are principled, but for a purpose.  We champion people – not a uniform class of proletarians, but real individuals in all our diversity.  We support healthy communities – not voter segments tied together by common racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes, but diverse villages where everyone does their part, and we all pull together.  We are dedicated to protecting the environment – not narrow vested interests who profit from greenwashing or crony capitalism, but the clear rules and inspiring innovations that keep air, water, and climate healthy.

The GOP had better move quickly if it wants to earn Nike voters.  American politics is beginning an historic realignment.  Mr. Trump is an early sign of a more a fundamental shift that could take different forms.  It may be triggered by a revolt among donors, or by grassroots groups.  It could result in a reformed Republican Party, or a new party to replace it.  It could turn the Democratic Party sharply to the old left, to the benefit of Republicans.  Or it could bring Democrats new supporters from middle America, narrowing the GOP base even further.  It could unite social liberals with business-oriented conservatives, or anti-corporate progressives with Tea Partiers, or fiscal conservatives with social libertarians, or some combination of these.

What the realignment looks like depends in part on chance, but significantly on strategy.  America’s principles, purposes, and people cannot be divided.  As divided as we are, the Republican Party is in the best position to bring Americans together again, if we act with intention to do so.  It is the most politically viable path forward, and more important, the most-worthy one.

Mr. Crow is the President of the Crow Family Foundation, which operates and manages The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art as well as the Trammell Crow European Sculpture Garden. Mr. Crow is the son of Trammell Crow, founder of the Trammell Crow Company, and his wife, Margaret.

 As President and CEO of Future 500, Bill Shireman helps the world’s largest companies and most impassioned activists – from Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nike, Mitsubishi, and Weyerhaeuser, to Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Oxfam, and the Sierra Club – stop battling each other, and find common ground. Breaking through the traditional left-right divide, Shireman’s books and studies prove that we can protect the earth, promote freedom, and increase prosperity at the same time – if the raging ideologues on both the right and the left would just open their eyes and minds.

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