In the waning days of the 1992 presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush trailed Bill Clinton in the polls. The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Bush seemed too aloof from voters struggling economically. At a rally in New Hampshire, the exhausted president started what was probably the fourth campaign speech of the day by reading aloud what may have been handed to him as a stage direction: “Message: I care.”
How little things have changed for Republicans in 20 years. There is only one statistic needed to explain the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. An April YouGov.com poll—which mirrored every other poll on the subject—found that only 33% of Americans said that Mitt Romney “cares about people like me.” Only 38% said he cared about the poor.
Conservatives rightly complain that this perception was inflamed by President Obama’s class-warfare campaign theme. But perception is political reality, and over the decades many Americans have become convinced that conservatives care only about the rich and powerful.
Arthur C. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of “The Road to Freedom.”