Has the GOP Lost the White Working Class?
Posted on March 31, 2016
The amazing electoral success of Donald Trump among the white working class has shocked nearly every pundit and political expert. Since the wave election of 1968 the white working class has nearly always broken hard for Republicans, whether it was Richard Nixon’s call for law and order, Ronald Reagan’s question “are you better off now than you were four years ago”, George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” or George W. Bush’s “my tax plan is simple: you pay taxes, you get a tax break”. 2016 is different. None of the establishment candidates (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, George Pataki, etc.) have caught on with the white working class. No matter how many times each of the aforementioned candidates talked about tax cuts, cutting government regulation, gutting the Affordable Care Act, or any of the usual Republican standard platforms, white working class voters just didn’t vote for them.
Enter Donald Trump, who has never run for office, never held office, and is as crude and brash as a barker at a carnival. The vast majority of Trump’s rallies have taken place in downtrodden portions of the country that were in the shitter before the Great Recession of 2008. While those of us in the information and creative fields have recovered the wealth we lost in the Great Recession, those in the Rust Belt and other permanently depressed areas of the country are probably worse off than they were before the Great Recession hit. Trump hits the same themes over and over: trade deals don’t work for the average American, America doesn’t win anymore, he’s going to make America great again. If you haven’t finished high school, college is completely out of reach, and your best job is an $11.00 an hour in the service industry with no benefits, Trump’s words resonate a lot more than a cut in the capital gains tax.
Another intriguing aspect of Trump’s campaign is his foreign policy, which like everything else he says is simplistic and inconsistent. He wants to destroy ISIS, but he wants to get rid of NATO and other alliances we have with other nations. His call for destroying ISIS resonates with working class whites, who see Islamic terrorism as an existential threat to Western civilization, but his call to end our alliances, despite being a logical disconnect, also resonates. Why? Because the greatest burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been carried by working class families. The all volunteer force is one of the best paths out of the grinding poverty one sees in Appalachia, the trailer parks of Florida, the rust belt cities of Gary and Muncie, and the ‘hoods of the major cities. Trump has been brilliant with calling for taking the fight to ISIS without calling for additional sacrifice from the very people who have been fighting the wars.
So the question remains: has the Republican party lost the white working class? Perhaps for this electoral cycle, when the anger against those who are on winning side of the economic equation is truly palpable. The GOP is being torn apart by its business sector that wants a cut in corporate taxes and immigration reform so that they can have an abundant supply of cheap labor. Social conservatives want a full throated roar against all the elements in society that they feel are “wrong”, which has been the biggest push behind the wave of religious liberty laws. White working class voters have usually been treated with benign neglect by the GOP leadership, since those at the top of the party pyramid knew that Democratic campaigns for clean energy, same sex marriage, diversity, and stopping climate change were never going to play in Stilwell, Oklahoma and other hardscrabble areas of the country. Voters in those areas were always going to vote Republican, so those at the top of the party could continue to focus on the true power brokers: business leaders and social conservatives. This year it looks like the white working class voter is leading a revolt against the power elites. Where it will lead no one knows right now.
This piece from Thomas B. Edsall brilliantly sums up the contempt that the GOP party elites have for the white working class Who Are the Angriest Republicans?