Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In 2016 Which Political Party Commands The Loyalty Of Working Class Voters?


Nick Confessore's early Monday NYTimes feature, How the GOP Elite Lost Its Voters To Donald Trump, was destined to be the most read political article of the day. Its underlying premise is very much like the one Thomas Frank has expounded in his awesome new book, Listen Liberal-- What Ever Happened To The Party Of The People, except a GOP version. In fact they're remarkably similar. Frank talks about how the Democratic Party abandoned its working class roots for a wealthy professional class. Confessore outlines how the Republican elites have basically done the same thing, opening a gate to Trumpism.

He describes "a party that paved the way for a Trump-like figure to steal its base, as it lost touch with less affluent voters and misunderstood their growing anguish." Elite establishment shill Ari Fleischer told him that the rise of Trump has been "absolutely a crisis for the party elite-- and beyond the party elite, for elected officials, and for the way people have been raised as Republicans in the power structure for a generation. If Donald Trump wins, he will change what it means to be a Republican." American people-- if not the elites-- are eager for that outcome... and for both parties, even if its more pronounced among the GOP masses. Hillary, after all, isn't nearly as loathsome-- she will always be the lesser of two evils if Trump is the nominee-- as Trump. If the GOP elites are able to assert dominance over their own base and insert Ryan as the nominee, Hillary is probably done for-- though the transparty uprising might not be.

That they turned on the ruthless billionaires-- like the Kochs and vulture capitalist Paul Singer-- who control the GOP for their own special interests makes sense-- without Fox and Limbaugh it would have happened long ago-- but that they're turning to fascism (Trump) instead of something constructive and positive (Bernie) is what is really disturbing... and tragic. Now their last remaining champion is Paul Ryan, who wants to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.
As the Republican Party collapses on itself, conservative leaders struggling to explain Mr. Trump’s appeal have largely seized on his unique qualities as a candidate: his larger-than-life persona, his ability to dominate the airwaves, his tough-sounding if unrealistic policy proposals. Others ascribe Mr. Trump’s rise to the xenophobia and racism of Americans angry over their declining power.

But the story is also one of a party elite that abandoned its most faithful voters, blue-collar white Americans, who faced economic pain and uncertainty over the past decade as the party’s donors, lawmakers and lobbyists prospered. From mobile home parks in Florida and factory towns in Michigan, to Virginia’s coal country, where as many as one in five adults live on Social Security disability payments, disenchanted Republican voters lost faith in the agenda of their party’s leaders.

...Many trace the rupture to the country’s economic crisis eight years ago: While Americans grew more skeptical of the banking industry in the aftermath, some Republicans played down the frustrations of their own voters.

While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And where working-class voters saw immigrants filling their schools and competing against them for jobs, Republican leaders saw an emerging pool of voters to court.

...The distance was magnified by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave wealthy donors rising weight in Republican circles, even amid signs that the party’s downscale voters were demanding more of a voice.

Most of these voters had long since given up on an increasingly liberal and cosmopolitan Democratic Party. In Mr. Trump, they found a tribune: a blue-collar billionaire who stood in the lobby of a Manhattan skyscraper bearing his name and pledged to expand Social Security, refuse the money of big donors, sock it to Chinese central bankers and relieve Americans of unfair competition from foreign workers.

The Democratic Party is also reckoning this year with a populist insurgency, driven in part by economic pain and growing anger against Washington and Wall Street. But while Senator Bernie Sanders trails Hillary Clinton in delegates, Mr. Trump’s unlikely campaign has become a seemingly unstoppable force, one that Republican lawmakers, donors and activists are only now fully confronting.

“The Republican Party is being dramatically transformed,” said Foster Friess, a Wyoming investor and philanthropist who is among the party’s most significant donors. Republicans and Democrats alike, Mr. Friess said, had neglected “the people who truly make our country work-- the truck drivers, farmers, welders, hospitality workers.”

...[Paul] Ryan, a devotee of supply-side economics and an advocate for privatizing Social Security, became one of the party’s leading policy voices, and later the House speaker. His “Ryan budgets” — which called for large income tax cuts for the wealthy, lower taxes on capital gains and the shifting of Medicare to a voucher system — became the gold standard for Republican policy, and drew plaudits from big donors for their seriousness and depth.

In Washington, Republicans read Tea Party anger over Mr. Obama’s health care law as a principled rejection of social welfare programs, despite evidence that those voters broadly supported spending they believed they deserved, like Social Security and Medicare. Amid intense anger at Wall Street, Republicans urged voters to blame the recession on excessively generous federal home-lending policies, while moving to roll back regulation of one of their biggest sources of campaign money, the financial industry.

“These voters would have loved someone to stand up and say, ‘We should put someone in jail,’” said Matthew Dowd, a political consultant and former adviser to President Bush.

While the party was drawing more of its money from an elite group of the wealthy, it was drawing more votes from working-class and middle-income whites. Between 2008 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, more lower-income and less-educated white voters shifted their allegiance to Republicans.

These voters had fled the Democratic Party and were angry at Mr. Obama, whom they believed did not have their interests at heart. But not all of them were deeply conservative; many did not think about politics in ideological terms at all. A 2011 Pew survey called them the “Disaffecteds.”

Older white voters with little education beyond high school, under enormous economic stress, the Disaffecteds surged to the Republican Party early in Mr. Obama’s first term. But they were as cynical about business as they were about government. They viewed immigrants as a burden and an economic threat. They opposed free trade more than any other group in the country.

Some conservative intellectuals warned that the party was headed for trouble. Republicans had become too identified with big business and the wealthy-- their donor class. They urged Republican lawmakers to embrace policies that could have a more direct impact on pay and economic prospects for these voters: wage subsidies, relocation aid to the long-term unemployed, even targeted infrastructure spending. But much of the party’s agenda remained frozen.

“They figured, ‘These are conservative voters, anti-Obama voters. We’ll give them the same policies we’ve always given them,’” said James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “High-earner tax cuts, which people are skeptical of; business tax cuts, even though these businesses seem to be doing great. It didn’t resonate with the problems in their lives.”

During the 2012 campaign, the party’s donors rallied behind Mitt Romney, a patrician former private equity executive. Fully exploiting the Citizens United decision, they poured tens of millions of dollars into a super PAC that helped Mr. Romney overcome more populist challengers during the primary. Mr. Romney advocated tax cuts and deregulation, and selected Mr. Ryan as his running mate. At the Republican National Convention, the party approved a platform blasting Mr. Obama for delays in trade deals and pledging to complete negotiations for a new trans-Pacific trade pact. Mr. Trump, who endorsed Mr. Romney, was denied a live convention speaking slot.

When Mr. Romney lost, the Republican National Committee commissioned a detailed review, as did the Kochs and other outside groups. Advisers to the Kochs, finding that Mr. Romney had increased the party’s share of elderly voters, concluded that proposals to overhaul entitlements were not hurting Republicans.

The committee’s review made one notable recommendation on policy: The party should “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” or “our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

But rank-and-file Republicans had other ideas. For many blue-collar Republicans, anger against Mr. Obama now extended to their own party’s leadership, whom they viewed as not only failing to stand up to Mr. Obama, but also as colluding with him to make their lives worse.

They saw illegal immigration not only as a cultural and security threat, but also as an economic one, intertwined with trade deals that had stripped away good manufacturing jobs while immigrants competed for whatever work remained.

...While jobs in places like Buffalo were vanishing, Washington was coming to resemble a gilded city of lobbyists, contractors and lawmakers. In 2014, the median wealth of members of Congress reached $1 million, about 18 times that of the typical American household, according to disclosures tabulated by the Center for Responsive Politics. During the same year, real hourly wages remained flat or fell for nearly all American workers.

...Last March, Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee filed into a Capitol Hill conference room to discuss trade. The Obama administration, negotiating a trade pact with Pacific Rim nations, was seeking congressional approval to fast-track the deal. Opposition was intense not only among labor unions, but among many Republican voters, while the party’s leadership, atypically, was supporting Mr. Obama’s effort.

For help, the lawmakers turned to Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging guru. For two decades, Mr. Luntz had instructed Republicans on how to talk about thorny issues. Do not say “estate tax.” Say “death tax.” Do not privatize Social Security. “Personalize” it.

Few issues were now as dangerous to them as trade, Mr. Luntz told the lawmakers, especially a trade pact sought by a president their voters hated. Many Americans did not believe that the economic benefits of trade deals trickled down to their neighborhoods. They did not care if free trade provided them with cheaper socks and cellphones. Most believed free trade benefited other countries, not their own.

“I told them to stop calling it free trade, and start calling it American trade,” Mr. Luntz said in an interview. “American businesses, American services-- American, American, American!”

While Republicans debated rhetorical approaches, Mr. Trump took a radically different tack. Announcing his campaign a few months later, he spun a tale of unfair trade deals hashed out by lobbyists, backscratchers and incompetent presidents who were stealing jobs from Americans. He would stop the flow of jobs over the border with Mexico, Mr. Trump promised, and build a wall to stop the flow of people.

That message has resonated with lower-income voters, and helped drive Mr. Trump’s string of successes. In Mississippi and Michigan, both of which Mr. Trump won, six in 10 Republican primary voters said that free trade cost the country more jobs that it produced, exit polls showed.

But it has done little to convince Republican leaders that they need to rethink their approach or devise new proposals for blue-collar workers who are hurting.

During a recent interview with CNBC, Mr. Ryan was asked if Republicans needed to respond to less-affluent voters who believed that Republicans were tending only to the interests of those at the top.

Mr. Ryan, who during the same interview called again for the overhaul of entitlements and the reduction of debt, rejected that idea.

“People don’t think like that,” he said. “People want to know the deck is fair. Bernie Sanders talks about that stuff. That’s not who we are.”

But it is no longer so certain what the Republican Party is. This month, as the party’s leading donors met at the Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach, there was plenty of spirited chatter about Mr. Trump, but less discussion of the voters who fueled his rise, and little about what could be done to assuage them.

Haley Barbour, a former party chairman, spoke as women in sundresses and men in dark suits sipped evening cocktails on a patio overlooking the Atlantic. In sometimes subdued tones, he told them that he could not predict what would come next.

“We’re cursed to live in interesting times,” Mr. Barbour said. “Anyone that tells you that they’ve seen anything like this, they’ll lie to you about other things. I don’t know where we’re going to end up.”
If the GOP splinters, Hillary may get some of the establishment dreck. After all, the former Goldwater Girl, president of her college's Young Republicans and fierce avatar of the status quo appeal to a lot of Republicans. More interesting though, would be how Bernie goes after the disaffected working class Republican voters, something we should help him do... by, for one thing, tapping on the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home