Republican Party

The GOP Flirts With Class Warfare

Will Republicans abandon Ronald Reagan's principles for Rick Santorum's populism?


The good news about the Republican Party is that its drubbing in the November 2012 elections has triggered some genuine soul searching about the party's contentious relationship with Hispanics. The bad news is that conservatives are increasingly concluding that the GOP requires no fundamental course correction to win elections; it just needs to bring back the 6.1 million "missing white voters" who stayed home. 

The rap against Hispanics is that they love government handouts more than limited government. Will a whiter GOP mean the opposite? Not exactly. 

In June, RealClearPolitics election analyst Sean Trende published a four-part series arguing that what cost Mitt Romney the election was not Hispanics voting for Barack Obama in droves, as Karl Rove, Arthur Brooks, Jeb Bush, and others have contended. These establishment voices, Trende charged, were guilty of "groupthink at its worst." No, the missing swing voters were whites, particularly the kind of "largely downscale, Northern, and rural" Americans once attracted to Ross Perot. 

So what's the best way to court these folks? The emerging consensus is that it will take a new program of "working-class populism," with a dose of class warfare. "The crucial idea [is] that conservatism ought to focus directly on the economic interests of downscale Americans," New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in May.

Some elements of this populist class warfare are perfectly consistent with limited government. Ending the corporate welfare and bailouts that enrich Romney's pals by raiding the pockets of working-class taxpayers is something that most people would wholeheartedly embrace. Ditto closing the revolving door between Wall Street and K Street that allows Big Business to either exempt itself from onerous regulations or rig the rules to block smaller competitors. 

But a GOP that abandons its pro–Wall Street rhetoric and rages against crony capitalism is not sufficient to lure back Perot voters, Trende contends. For that, the party needs an affirmative program to, as Perot himself once suggested, put "?'America First' on trade, immigration, and foreign policy." On immigration, that means handing Uncle Sam vast police powers to wall out foreign workers, hardly a recipe for limited government. On trade, such an approach is code for protectionism, which shields American producers at the expense of consumers. 

The proposals by conservative working-class theoreticians would effectively exchange the economic approach of the standard GOP hero, Ronald Reagan, for that of a two-time presidential failure, Rick Santorum, who sporadically rails against the "radical individualism" of market capitalism. Santorum, the socially conservative former Pennsylvania senator, lampoons Republicans who say "let's just cut taxes, let's just reduce spending, and everything will be fine," while himself defending earmarks because Congress has a "legitimate role" in "allocating resources."

 Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, who has done yeoman's work exposing D.C.'s crony capitalism, has hailed Santorum's populist approach, writing in January 2012 that he "makes a good argument for favoring domestic manufacturing." Douthat similarly argues that the "libertarian populism" of politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), focusing as it does on a balanced budget, a flat tax, and entitlement reform, might be fine in theory, but when middle-class wages are stagnating "distributional issues" must take precedence.

What alternatives do the conservative class warriors offer? Trende hints at reigniting Perot's call for "Medicare for All" to address working-class anxiety about rising health care costs. Others ideas include an expanded income tax credit for the middle class and special credits for getting married and having kids. 

To summarize: A white working- and middle-class GOP would be restrictionist on immigration, militaristic on the border, protectionist on trade, and expansionist on welfare. But at least it would keep out those big-government Hispanics!

Correction: The number of missing white voters that Sean Trende identified were 6.1 million, not 1.6 million as originally stated. The error is regretted.

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    1. “Threatening the fabric of the nation” = “Failing to obey the Top Men.”

      1. If you understand what you’re doing, you are intelligent. Then don’t waste time and move to .,.,

  1. To summarize: A white working- and middle-class GOP would be restrictionist on immigration, militaristic on the border, protectionist on trade, and expansionist on welfare.

    So, the road forward for Republicans is to become an exact clone of the Dixiecrats?

    1. The Democratic leadership is not restrictionist on immigration, militaristic on the border, protectionist on trade. They are pushing for more immigration, they refuse to do anything about the borders and have supported the various trade agreements passed.

      1. Progressives have become insanely anti-trade. It’s only a matte of time before that becomes a plank in of the democrat party.

        1. So what, Party planks are the first thing ignored. The Republican leaderships keeps on saying they will secure the borders but never do. Just like the Democratic leadership says they will restrict trade. Yet Obama just got the Korean trade deal passed and he’s working on the Transpacific deal and one with the EU.

      2. “Democratic” isn’t “Dixiecrat”. And modern Dems keep flirting with becoming openly anti-trade. Not only is there a major undercurrent of it in the party base, but free trade is inherently threatening to people who want command-and-control powers over the economy. You can’t have your wonderful high wages and gold-plated benefit plans in a world where companies can manufacture goods out of country at way lower prices and then import them. You need to tariff or otherwise lock out those goods in order to prop up the local labor cartels.

        1. .”””””You can’t have your wonderful high wages and gold-plated benefit plans “”‘

          You can if you work for Goldman Sachs and their fellow Wall Street financiers and they are against tariffs. Though they are also in favor of bailouts which work even better then tariffs since it goes directly to their bank accounts.

          1. Not even sure what your point is. Dems still have unions and people who want to be in unions as a major constituency (And it’s a larger constituency than investment bankers). Unions and their fans have strong incentives to demand tariffs and protectionism.

            1. You’ve clearly never met a New York Democrat, who, despite having the brainless backing of the unions does everything they can to hurt anyone in a union.

              1. I voted Libertarian despite being a member of the United Steel Workers and still did when I was a Teamster.

            2. And yet the investment bankers get both lowered tariffs and bailouts. What have the unions got in regard to trade and protectionism besides rhetoric?

              And unions except for government ones are almost dead. They don’t have much clout even at the grass roots and government unions don’t care much about trade.

              1. So it opens up an opportunity for the Republicans to go Dixiecrat!

  2. However without a “A white working- and middle-class GOP” who does Shikha Dalmia think is actually going to vote for the Republicans? Should they follow the Libertarian party and fight over who gets the 1/2 percent vote?

  3. You know, if Team Red combines white-trash welfarism with idiotic fear-mongering about teh gheyz, loose women, and mooselimbs, I don’t see how they could lose in 2014.

  4. This is just more bullshit from Shikha. In case she hasn’t noticed there’s a multi-party civil war in the GOP, so no one, not even the establishment douchebags believe that “the GOP requires no fundamental course correction to win elections” That state is complete ignorant of what is happening within the party.

    And the gripe about Romney isn’t that he didn’t propose medicare for all (seriously where did this idea even come from) nor that he wasn’t protectionist enough. The gripe is that he was 1) a pussy that did fight; 2) culturally out of sync with the GOP base. Both of which are true.

    1. 1) a pussy that did not fight

      1. I think that’s a tad unfair. He did fight. He just fought like a girl. 😉

        1. And follows a comic-book religion.

    2. I came to post pretty much that first paragraph. A day after Cruz’s talkathon and she’s going with Santorum and Reagan? At least the Dewey Beats Truman headline writer put the election at the top of the page.

  5. This “missing white voter” will continue to go missing, thank you.

  6. Can we use grownup language please? It’s a bit silly to keep using the GOP slogan “class warfare” when clearly the “war” has been won, and not by poor children on foodstamps.

    The more the middle class is looted of its wealth, the less people are going to buy this bullshit about the poor, beleaguered billionaires constantly under what is allegedly tantamount to coordinated armed assault by people who want to raise the income tax by 3%.

    1. If the middle class is being looted of its wealth, the biggest perps are scumbags like you and your heroes like Obama and Bernanke.

      1. You don’t understand. Not giving is taking. So when the rich don’t give money to the middle class, they are stealing. Also, not taking is giving. So by not taxing the rich into oblivion, the government is giving them money. Also, wealth is money. So when some rich person is worth X amount of dollars, that rich person has exactly that amount of money in the bank. It’s not in assets or invested in things that produce wealth. It’s just static money that could be taken and used to feed starving children.

        See? With enough false premises one can construct logical fallacies that justify organized looting to satisfy feelings of spite and envy!

        1. “that rich person has exactly that amount of money in the bank. ”

          You mean, of course, in his mattress or home vault or buried in the garden. Even if it just in his checking account, some portion is being invested by the bank in job-creating activities.

    2. people who want to raise the income tax by 3%

      A 3% increase in individual income taxes, relative to the fiscal hole the U.S. is in, is barely more than jack shit. So people can be forgiven if they wonder if the U.S. is going to try to balance its budget by cranking up its tax rates to much higher levels.

      1. A 3% increase in individual income taxes

        The democrat equivalent of balancing the budget by cutting foreign aid and PBS.

      2. But it’s still going to be referred to as class warfare.

        1. We’d probably do a lot better if our main export wasn’t death and destruction.

    3. Burdensome GOVERNMENT regulations on small business/basically every activity that a middle class person engages in is looting the middle class. Courtesy of your hero’s in government TONY.

    4. Your post is a gross distortion of the truth.

      and not by poor children on foodstamps.

      The GOP voted to raise SNAP by 57% over then next 9 years, enough to compensate for population and inflation growth. Democrats wanted to expand it.

      The more the middle class is looted of its wealth

      Obama has come out and admitted the obvious fact that he’s raised taxes on the middle class. That doesn’t even count the results of Obamacare which will raise the premiums of all current payers to cover most of the premiums of the newly insured.

      The middle class will pay the overwhelming bulk of the cost of this.

      by people who want to raise the income tax by 3%.

      The top bracket Income tax rate has already been raised by 4.6% and Obama is pushing for more.

      1. The GOP voted to raise SNAP by 57% over then next 9 years, more than enough to compensate for population and inflation growth. Democrats wanted to expand it.

        FTFY. The GOP wants to expand SNAP, and Democrats want to expand it even more.

      2. Don’t forget the special Obamacare love tax of 0.9% plus the additional 2.3% on capital gains plus the Pease exclusions that limit deductions (besides Buffet’s lovely charities, what deductions?) at a 28% rate. The top marginal rate just for the feds is just under 50%, but that’s not enough for Tony.

        Oh, and let’s not forget about that big “fuck you” to dual income professionals. My wife and I seriously talked about getting divorced this year just for tax purposes. Yes, Tony, your precious tax code is that fucked up. Asshat.

  7. Hey Class Warfare, you look sexy. Wanna come back to my place and make terrible policy together?

  8. The white working class is so, like, 1930, dude. Totally irrelevant politically because they were slave owners and won’t let us have fun with our weewees.

  9. Republicans need to engage in class warfare. But class warfare doesn’t have to mean race warfare. Shika needs to look around at the wealth of Washington Dc in contrast with the rest of the country to figure out the kind of class warfare that needs to be waged.

    The biggest and most important lie the Progs tell is that they care about people. People, for whatever reason, love to think their government and their politicians care about them. The Progs live on the lie that they care and no one else does. The wealth that is the beltway puts lie to that. To paraphrase the words of Solzhenitsyn, the progs care all about THE PEOPLE write large but don’t give a flying fuck about people as in individuals. People, to progs are nothing but vile lesser beings there to be molded by Top Men into something better.

    The point that our government exists at the expense of most of America and for the benefit of a few connected politicians, contractors and government senior executives should be made over and over again. The Progs represent the interests of a corrupt and ineffective government sector whose ideas and time should have long past. The guy 20K a year in Cleveland is paying taxes to support some contractor who is driving an Aston Martin in McClain, Virginia. That is the class warfare that needs to be waged.

    1. The People (or public) is everyone but you.

      1. It is the great amalgamation. Probs love the abstract notion of it. But the last thing they would ever want to do is have to actually care about or interact with the individuals who make up that notion.

        1. They want to pay others a living wage to do it for them…

  10. I’ve been saying for a long time that trade protectionism is a big, shiny political apple that’s just waiting there to be plucked by someone. I’m rather surprised it hasn’t happened yet.

    I also predict that it will be the Republicans (or at least a wing of the GOP) that does so. I don’t agree with Dalmia or Trende on the merits of turning the GOP into the Know Nothing Party, but it’s certainly possible that this is the direction the party will take over the next 20 years. Reagan is a long ways in the rearview mirror now, and his ideological cluster isn’t guaranteed to last.

    The Democrats are the party of the ultra-rich, government employees and welfare recipients, so protectionism doesn’t really appeal to any part of their base. But continued high unemployment and hard times in flyover country are virtually guaranteed to increase anti-immigrant and anti-free trade fervor in the GOP at some point.

    1. There is flip side to isolationism, and that is closed borders. If the country turns away from the rest of the world and decides not to play anymore, we won’t have any more interventions. But, chances are that people won’t be too interested in open borders or free trade either.

      1. Yes, it’s all one big, sadly coherent “America First” package. And it is coming to the GOP sooner or later as a competitor to the current libertarian streak in the party.

        The America Firsters haven’t really found their spokesperson yet. Santorum is a weak horse and has way too much baggage to be that guy. Mike Huckabee might have been the guy for it, but he arrived on the scene too early. It’ll be someone like that, though.

        1. It is coming from somewhere. Both major parties have been telling a large portion of the country to go fuck themselves for a very long time now. When someone starts talking to those people and voicing their concerns, look out.

      2. The term isolationism is totally misused. In economic terms it means no trading partners, and that’s just dumb. It’s like trying to get rich by being self sufficient. It doesn’t work for individuals, nor does it work for nations. Then there’s isolationism as far as military intervention. That basically means don’t be world cop. Problem is that people conflate the two. Most libertarians would support military isolationism, but not economic isolationism.

        1. Economic isolationism is madness. The problem is people don’t see two different types of isolationism, political and economic. They see it all as one. And are likely to embrace both or neither.

  11. Republicans need to actually listen to their own anti-government and pro-“free market” rhetoric when it comes to immigration.

    A huge government-run bureaucracy building a fence and policing the border will not keep out the illegal immigrants. Just look to history to see how well walls have worked: Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Great Wall of China come to mind; huge expensive undertakings that failed in their intended missions because the demographics of their respective regions changed for a reason the wall could never stop. What was that reason? ECONOMICS. The people one the “other” side of the wall had the economic incentive to come across.

    America, the richest and most economically productive country in history, shares an enormous border with a Third-World country, where opportunities are few, the standard of living is low and corruption is rampant. There is nothing America can effectively do to prevent people on the “other” side of the fence from coming over here, in huge numbers; they are simply economically incentivized to figure out a way.

    Instead of welcoming this mass of humanity that is willing and fully incentivized to work their asses off and be productive, we criminalize their very existence. We have created an underclass that can be exploited with little recourse against their exploiters. This entire anti-immigration program benefits nobody in society but the exploiters.

  12. Here’s an idea. Lets not encourage politicians to pander to people based on their ethnicity.

  13. You shouldn’t use the S-word around women and children.

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  16. analyst Sean Trende published a four-part series arguing

  17. whites, particularly the kind of “largely downscale, Northern

  18. election analyst Sean Trende published a four-part series

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