Independent candidate Ross Perot helped break the Republican grip on suburban voters in the North in 1992; every Democratic nominee has won at least a plurality of these voters since then. How can Republicans recover lost ground in the Northern suburbs? The best advice would appear to be to downplay controversial social issues like birth control, and to emphasize the traditional GOP economic message of lean, efficient, honest government and low taxes. This message worked for over 12 decades, from the 1860s to the 1980s.

If the Republicans were really clever, they would let the Obama administration raise taxes by even more than currently proposed, and then run against high taxes. Historically, suburbanites have been the most tax-sensitive voters. As Bill Schneider wrote in the Atlantic:

Upscale voters are the most likely to say that government has too much power and influence, that taxes should be kept low, and that people should solve their problems for themselves.

The lessons of 2012 are obvious: the Republican future doesn’t lie in an even greater mobilization of rural conservatives, but in winning back the northern suburbanites who for over a century were part of the Republican base. New Jersey, which is dominated by the overflow of population from New York City and Philadelphia, is the most heavily suburban state in the nation. A shorthand way of measuring the Republican Party’s progress in courting the suburbs will be to simply watch the Garden State.