Buried in a typically interesting if occasionally uneven take on the Republican effort to make the GOP credible on issues like income/wealth inequality and wage stagnation, Tom Edsall has a terrifying insight:

Democrats counter this emerging Republican populism with the argument that Republicans have failed to follow up with legislation that would actually do something about the problem of inequality.

The 2014 midterm elections demonstrated, however, that relatively modest shifts in tone — carefully combined with cost-free proposals like making over-the-counter contraceptives available — could help Republican candidates defuse the accusation that their party is out of touch on issues of importance to women and to show that they are willing to take a more pragmatic path.

The allusion is to the success of Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and even more strikingly (since reproductive rights were central to the messaging of his Democratic opponent Mark Udall) Cory Gardner of Colorado, who used the Bobby-Jindal-suggested gimmick of supporting OTC contraceptives as an anti-government gesture that also superficially rebutted Democratic claims they wanted to restrict access to contraceptives. It was clever, if not especially deep or credible. But what Edsall is suggesting is that if swing voters want to vote Republican, such gestures on economic issues could be effective even if they are shallow and insincere.

That’s something for progressives to keep in mind before mocking Republican “populism” too much. A little bit can go a long way if that’s the way the wind is blowing.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.