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Republican Problems More Than Failure to Communicate

As Doug noted yesterday, some key Republicans are calling for a less hostile immigration policy. But it’s going to take a lot more than that to fix the party’s problem with Hispanic voters and other growing growing constituencies who reliably vote Democratic.

Pete Spilakos (“Memo To Republican Insiders: If Marco Rubio Is Your First Answer, You’re Asking The Wrong Question“) observes that, “The Republican problem is not that their last ticket was a couple of white guys. The problem is that the entire center-right infrastructure is unable to communicate intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population.”

Crafting a language that is intelligible to people who have not bought into and are not even aware of the dominant center-right narrative of the past forty years. References to the good old days of Reagan mean nothing to them. They aren’t terrified of becoming “like Europe” and don’t know what that is even supposed to mean. Calling something “liberal” is not taken as a criticism.

[...]

The vast amount of money spent by the right-leaning Super-PACs were largely aimed at talking to a small fraction of middle-class white women. They were almost entirely about reinforcing existing narratives in short bursts. They don’t work with people who haven’t already bought the narrative. The center-right would be a lot better off spending a lot of that money between elections making actual arguments at length to people who don’t already agree with them. Then Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation might actually do some good.

There’s little doubt that Republicans are doing a poor job of messaging, outreach, and organization, especially compared to the gold standard that is the Obama machine. But communicating the same tired message more effectively isn’t going to get it done.  As Ross Douthat (“The Demographic Excuse“) explains, while America’s changing demographics are indeed a major issue for the GOP, the problem goes deeper than that.

Republicans are also losing because today’s economic landscape is very different than in the days of Ronald Reagan’s landslides. The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.

In essence, the Republican message is about solving problems that have either already been solved or otherwise no longer resonate with most of the country. We’ve spent three decades cutting taxes and eliminating regulations. Even most Democrats agree that we don’t want to go back to the tax and regulatory policies of the early Jimmy Carter administration (I say “early,” because the deregulation process actually began under his tenure). For that matter, legal abortion is no longer some recent radical policy change foisted on us by the Supreme Court; it’s been a fact of American life for a generation.

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.” It should be possible for the party to reform and streamline government while also addressing middle-class anxieties about wages, health care, education and more.

The bottom line, then, is that the GOP needs to get some new material. Douthat points to some conservative thinkers who are offering fresh ideas:

The good news is that such an agenda already exists, at least in embryonic form. Thanks to four years of intellectual ferment, Republicans seeking policy renewal have a host of thinkers and ideas to draw from: Luigi Zingales and Jim Pethokoukis on crony capitalism, Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein on tax policy, Frederick Hess on education reform, James Capretta on alternatives to Obamacare, and many more.

I can’t say that I’m familiar with all of these men and their work. But the fact that they’re not in their 80s and didn’t do their best work when leisure suits and Whip Inflation Now buttons were in vogue weighs in their favor. So does use of an adjective before “capitalism” that allows for the possibility that the markets aren’t a panacea or the notion that we need an alternative to Obamacare other than bromides about how America has the “best danged health care system in the world.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Geek, Esq. says:

    The problem is that the Republican base cares more about ideological purity than it does about winning. Appealing to Latinos, etc would require moderation and a willingness to adapt to modern times. Unacceptable to an activist base that wants a return to the 1920′s economically and 1950′s socially.

    This is the party of Ayn Rand, not Edmund Burke.

    Eventually, we’ll see the Republicans diminish until each party occupies the appropriate niche–the Democrats are the party of governing, and the Republicans are the party of opposition.

    George W. Bush was as good as the Republicans could do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Also, the Republicans don’t have a Latino or African-American problem. They have a “we don’t care about poor people problem.”

    In the past, they got away with it by playing to racial resentment amongst downscale whites. Problem now is that there are more people of color whose votes are lost than there are “at least we’re white” votes to be gained.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So does use of an adjective before “capitalism” that allows for the possibility that the markets aren’t a panacea or the notion that we need an alternative to Obamacare other than bromides about how America has the “best danged health care system in the world.”

    This.

    I want to note that if someone can not access the “best danged health care system in the world.”, they are going to die. Sooner than later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Also, this is relevant: Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues

    Surprise quote:

    R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.

    “It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

    Also:

    Seventy percent of those who said they had no religion voted for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  5. Barfour says:

    What the Republicans need to do is be RELEVANT. They have to come up with real solutions to problems facing voters. One important thing, I have head many people including Republicans talk about their poor showing among Latinos but I’ve not head anyone talk about their lack of support in African American communities. That is also a big problem that have to be addressed. The Republican party also have to abandon voter ID laws that will inevitably be seen as an attempt to suppress the votes of minorities and younger people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. john personna says:

    Mr. Spilakos:

    The problem is that the entire center-right infrastructure is unable to communicate intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population.

    Again, the self-image is “communicating to.”

    It is not “building a party from.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    This entire post somehow misses a giant elephant in the room, both literally and figuratively.

    The major problem for the Republican Party is the non-voting Republican demographic.

    In 2004 nearly 45 million Republicans cast ballots. In 2012 only around 39 million Republicans cast ballots. And, no, they didn’t all decide to become Independents. The increase among Independents over the past 8 years is less than four million people, compared to six million fewer Republicans, and obviously significant percentages of those additional Independents also consist of disaffected Democrats and newer voters who are starting out as Independents, especially in light of the recent hyper partisanship of D.C.

    No matter how you slice it millions of Republicans sat out this election cycle. Despite four years of Obama and the prospect of four more years of Obama. That’s not a messaging problem. That’s not a packaging problem. That’s not an outreach problem. That’s a people problem.

    The GOP needs to mine for a new voter base, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Hispanics. It doesn’t have to be defined by race or by any demographic. They just need people who are not so cement headed as to disenfranchise themselves and to defeat their own causes, en masse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    And, no, they didn’t all decide to become Independents. The increase among Independents over the past 8 years is less than four million people, compared to six million fewer Republicans,

    Tsar, old people die. A large part of the GOP demographic is old people. That is another problem they have.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  9. MBunge says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “They just need people who are not so cement headed as to disenfranchise themselves and to defeat their own causes, en masse.”

    Here’s a wild idea. If those folks didn’t turn out, maybe it’s not because they’re cement headed. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t see their own causes being championed and advanced by the GOP. I really doubt there was some gigantic pool of climate change-denying, Benghazi conspiracy-believing, tax cuts for rich people-loving, more war is always the answer-endorsing, AYN RAND FOREVAH! voters out there that just didn’t bother to turn out on election day.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  10. scott says:

    Let’s go even more basic. How about the Republican exhibit some basic respect for Americans. Period. The list of disrespected and demonized people sum up to most of the American public. It is one thing to disagree with a comprehensive immigration policy but to cap it with the view that “I’m an American and you’re not” attitude is a total losing proposition. Minorities, unemployed, students, teachers, unions, East Coast, West Coast, liberals, moderates, Muslims, Chicago, San Francisco, etc, the list of groups put down is enormous. Unless Republicans can learn to disagree without being disagreeable, they will not even get out the starting gate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  11. john personna says:

    @scott:

    It’s amazing how much constructive advice we are giving them. Even Rachel Maddow does it:

    Why At Least Two Functional Parties Are Required

    A succinct 3 minute video.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. bill says:

    relevant is a little much, not like they lost by much to an incumbent. the next 3 yrs will see which way we’re heading, even a crappy economy like ours will eventually go up again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  13. jukeboxgrad says:

    As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.”

    This man is, by definition, a redistributionist. But IOKIYAR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    I agree, you’re on the right track. I don’t think you’ll get there, but I will certainly cheer you on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. jukeboxgrad says:

    Problem now is that there are more people of color whose votes are lost than there are “at least we’re white” votes to be gained.

    And in key states, Obama did surprisingly well with the latter group (working-class whites). They are tired of getting screwed by people like Mitt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. jukeboxgrad says:

    not like they lost by much to an incumbent

    Kerry lost by less, but lots of people still claimed GWB had a “mandate.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    A part of the problem is that:

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/seniors_are_americas_new_jews.html

    The Conservative Movement became a version of Seniors Movement, in a country where most of the Federal spending goes to seniors. That´s part of the Republican Formula: taxs cuts on one side, no Medicare or Social Security cuts on the other side. Their biggest beef with ACA was the Medicare cuts and the fact that people other than seniors would be getting health coverage.

    They don´t have a message to other groups, their base finds unacceptable to cut spending on them while they also find unacceptable to raise taxes to spend on other age groups.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    Appealing to Hispanics means giving up the idea of being a conservative party (even though the Republicans have done a bad job of being conservative). However, it is laughable to believe that if the Republicans come up with better idea on how to deliver more entitlements, that they will remain relevant. If comprehensive immigration reform passes during the Obama Administration, the Republican party becomes immediately irrelevant. Then all of those policy wonks can try to convince the Democratic Party of the worthiness of their ideas.

    The idea that the Republicans will ever be able to out maneuver operatives of the Democratic Party like David Axelrod is laughable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  19. superdestroyer says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    No one will waste their time being the party of opposition. As states from Mass., to Maryland to California shows, that when one party becomes dominant, anyone interested in politics will work within that party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @Barfour:

    Being a Democrat is part of black culture in the U.S. The Obama Campaign used modern marketing techniques to figure out how to identify and appeal to voters who were leaning to voting for President Obama. If you look at the demographic group that is fartherest from Republicans or conservative politics, it would be blacks. Most blacks today have never voted for a Republican in any election.

    A republican party that moves far enough to the left to attract black voters would alienate most of the current Republican voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  21. grumpy realist says:

    Slightly OT, but anyone who wants to know more about the whole ORCA debacle should read the article over at Ars Technica.

    Reading this mess, I keep wondering why Romney has a reputation as a fantastic CEO. This is the sort of thing that if it were done under me as a project manager, would have resulted in my immediate firing (and getting hanged, drawn, and quartered.)

    If this is how Romney would have run his presidency, I honestly have to say that I think we dodged a bullet by Romney not getting elected.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  22. steve says:

    About 70% of Asians and 75% of Hispanics vote against the GOP. (Carefully phrased.) Of note, these are the two ethnic groups which most highly value work. I think GOP messaging is a factor, but I also think actual policy is not attracting these voters.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. D. Mason says:

    @superdestroyer: De-Lurking to say this. Do you ever get tired of singing the same tired song around here? Seriously. Democrats didn’t affect some hostile takeover of the government on Tuesday, they simply won handily against a party with stale tactics and no ideas. If the Republicans fade into obscurity, as you predict, the only thing that will happen is that the Dems will tack to the right while a new party emerges to challenge them from the left. Were that to happen, those of us still alive in 50 years will hear “liberal” as an epithet coming from (D) politicians. Grow up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  24. MBunge says:

    @steve: “Of note, these are the two ethnic groups which most highly value work. I think GOP messaging is a factor, but I also think actual policy is not attracting these voters.”

    The Democratic Party highly values work. Barack Obama highly values work. Pretty much everybody in America except college slackers and trust fund babies highly values work. Just because people don’t agree with GOP tax, spending and regulatory polices, that doesn’t mean they don’t highly value work.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I agree, and in all the (deserved) schadenfreude we’re overlooking the fact that Mitt Romney was actually an even bigger fraud than we thought he was. This was the “data guy?” He had crap data and never apparently knew it. He put together a lousy team, never had a winning strategy, and couldn’t even get ads on the air without spending far more per unit than the Democrats did.

    Romney was out-organized, out-worked, out-thought and out-played at every level by the former community organizer who – by the way – had a whole other full-time job, and a notably demanding one at that.

    In short, Mr. Obama, while managing the executive branch of the US government, spanked Mr. Romney, who had nothing else to do with his time but to manage a campaign.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:

    Hear, hear. No group in this country has a monopoly on work. I’ve never worked less than 40 hours a week since I was 16. And, related, the idea that Americans don’t respect wealth is absurd on its face. No people on planet earth worship money like we worship money. And with the possible exception of the Japanese, no one works harder than we do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  27. James in LA says:

    @superdestroyer: Appealing to Hispanics means giving up the idea of being a conservative party

    Demonstrably untrue. You only say it to continue to hide behind your radical racism posing as “conservatism.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. jukeboxgrad says:

    anyone who wants to know more about the whole ORCA debacle

    I think the Orca story is fascinating and important, and it would be getting a lot of attention right now if not for Petraeus.

    I recommend the earlier thread here (and not just because I posted a bunch of comments).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. bill says:

    This is an interesting stat:
    ” Demographic voting in America. You vote based on who you are, not where you live or how well; 93% of blacks, 70% of Latinos, 60% of those under 30, and 62% of single people, voted for Obama. And white married couples over 30 years of age voted for Romney.”

    Not a shocker on the black vote- that stays consistent regardless of who the nominee is. There’s some work to do on the Hispanic vote, maybe when they see they’ve been had they’ll change their minds in 4 yrs?! Young people in college and on their folks health insurance aren’t going to switch so that’s a lost cause. I wonder if married same-sex couples will stick with the trend!?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  30. Mark says:

    Lie down with segregationist dogs in 1968, wake up with the fleas of irrelevance 44 years later. The story of how the GOP lost the black vote after Lincoln risked everything to free the slaves is gobsmacking. 80%+ of the Republicans in Congress voted for the Civil Rights Act in 1964 — but the GOP nominated Goldwater, one of the few who didn’t. Goldwater was rewarded with a complete beatdown, carrying only Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina — states that had never really shown any signs of breaking red before.

    Rather than recognizing that the segregationists were beaten and needed to just go away, Nixon saw an opportunity and ran with it. It worked. Wallace prevented Humphrey and Nixon from recapturing the South in 1968; Nixon was able to take it outright in 1972. For the next generation, the GOP was able to hold on to power by expanding its appeal to Nixon’s “silent majority” — mostly married white Christians in the suburbs and small towns. But the African Americans never forgot.

    I do not believe that today’s GOP is inherently and intrinsically racist or bigoted. But it’s done a terrible job of confronting and controlling the racist and/or bigoted elements within its ranks. That has led to the perception that the GOP is a party only interested in representing the concerns of married white Christians in the suburbs and small towns. Single people didn’t vote for the GOP. Nonwhite people didn’t vote for the GOP. Nonreligious people — a growing segment of the population — didn’t vote for the GOP. People in the cities — who are not all nonwhite, not all unmarried, not all nonreligious — didn’t vote for the GOP.

    These people did not all want free stuff from the government. Some of them voted against their immediate economic self-interest, knowing that Obama’s reelection would lead to paying higher taxes. And these people aren’t all takers; eight of the ten wealthiest counties in the US and nine of the ten wealthiest states voted for Obama. They don’t hate Jesus, God, Allah, Vishnu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc., either.

    You could probably take all the conservatives who hated Mitt Romney more than they hated Barack Obama and fit them into a booth at Denny’s. It wasn’t that Mitt wasn’t conservative enough. It’s that the GOP’s circle just isn’t big enough. The nation is, as everyone notes, deeply divided. But it’s not divided between the various races, ethnicities, religions, or even economic/social classes. It’s divided between the people who think the GOP gives a damn about them (largely though obviously not exclusively the aforementioned married white Christians in suburbs and small towns) and the people who think the GOP doesn’t give a damn about them (pretty much everybody else). The GOP needs to expand the circle of people it gives a damn about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  31. superdestroyer says:

    @James in LA:

    If you have not noticed, I have never said that the government should treat Hispanic differently than anyone else. I leave that to the extreme left and right. However, Hispanics are actually very liberal and have little interest in anything that could be considered conservative.

    Do you really think a demographic group where more than 50% of the children are born to single mothers is interested in less government and more personal responsibility?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  32. superdestroyer says:

    @D. Mason:

    It is hard to argue that I write exactly the same thing everytime when most of the posts are noticing after election what I have been noticing for years. I wrote more than a year ago that ‘Romney had no real chance of winning. Anyone who pays attention to politics knows that if a Republican had to spend money and resources in North Carolina or Indiana, then that Republican is going to lose badly.

    I have written that the Democrats had about 250 electoral votes in their pocket with no real effort. Now people like Nate Silver are openly writing about something that many people have know for years.

    I have written for years that the non-white vote (including the Asian vote) was leaning very heavily to the Democrats. Now that same thing is being written throughout the media.

    Now people have begun to notice how many states the Democrats totally dominant. I have been noticing for years.

    I have written for years that there is no real message or position that will gain the Republican more votes than it loses. Now all of the wonks are beginning to notice the same. thing. What the wonks are really discussing is whether the Republican Party commits suicide by supporting comprehensive immigration reform or dies of the chronic demographic diseases for a longer time period.

    I suspect that in a few weeks, many pundits and wonks will be writing about how conservative politics in dead in the U.S. while speculating how governance and politics will work with one dominant political party.

    I claim no special ability. All one has to be able to do is count and understand the percentage to see where politics is going. What is most amazing to me is the number of people who have written about how brilliant quants like Nate Silver are while refusing to understand what the numbers mean in the future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @superdestroyer: There are no conservative ideals that will appeal to Hispanics? Wow! You guys really ARE screwed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. An Interested Party says:

    The increase among Independents over the past 8 years is less than four million people, compared to six million fewer Republicans, and obviously significant percentages of those additional Independents also consist of disaffected Democrats and newer voters who are starting out as Independents, especially in light of the recent hyper partisanship of D.C.

    Where is the proof of this? A far more credible theory is that many of those former Republicans are now Independents, hence, why Romney received so many Independent votes…

    The idea that the Republicans will ever be able to out maneuver operatives of the Democratic Party like David Axelrod is laughable.

    As is the idea that you will write anything that isn’t drenched in the ethnic grievances of you and people like you…

    There’s some work to do on the Hispanic vote, maybe when they see they’ve been had they’ll change their minds in 4 yrs?!

    Ohhhh, that would be like how white blue collar workers in places like Ohio voted for the President…the auto bailout was a wonderful way to show those people how the GOP has been scamming them for years…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. Jonathan Hendry says:

    “The problem is that the entire center-right infrastructure is unable to communicate intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population.”

    Hell, a lot of conservatives are offended at the very idea of communicating intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population: these are people who get bent out of shape at “press 1 for English”, multi-lingual ATMs, and the idea of printing government documents in multiple languages or providing translation service. (Because, you know, it’s more important to convey that ENGLISH IS NUMBER ONE!!! than to adequately educate drivers about traffic laws so they can function in the economy.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. bk says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Do you really think a demographic group where more than 50% of the children are born to single mothers is interested in less government and more personal responsibility?

    Oh, piss off. And you wonder why your party loses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. superdestroyer says:

    @Jonathan Hendry:

    I think many conservatives realize that eventually states like California will start demanding proficiency in Spanish in order to get a government job. Private employers will quickly follow. Why should people born and raised in the U.S. and who did not immigrate anywhere have to learn Spanish in order to communicate with illegal aliens? How are middle class whites suppose to compete for jobs when Spanish language ability is required?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  38. superdestroyer says:

    @bk:

    Ok, please explain how a conservative party appeals to single mothers and remain the least bit conservative. How does a conservative party appeal to single mothers more than the big government, big spending, big entitlement party?

    I have never found anyone who can give a realistic answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  39. MBunge says:

    @superdestroyer: “Ok, please explain how a conservative party appeals to single mothers and remain the least bit conservative. How does a conservative party appeal to single mothers more than the big government, big spending, big entitlement party?”

    No party can ever appeal to anyone if they refuse to recognize and/or respond to the issues of concern to people.

    What’s conservative about telling a single mom with worries about health care and financial security that she should go ‘ef herself because her problems don’t fit within rightwing ideology?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  40. suyperdestroyer says:

    @MBunge:

    I will take that answer as a no, there is no way that the more conservative party can ever appeal to single mothers more than the big government, big entitlement party.

    I wonder what will happen to the U.S. as more children are more to single mothers than to married couples? How can the U.S. ever limit the size and scope of the government as the government grows to meet the needs of single mothers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2